"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."
Gone are the days of rigid 9-to-5 workdays and stay-at-your-desk work culture. In the modern office, it’s not uncommon for most employees to work one or two days from home every month.
In fact, a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study indicates 23% of full-time employed workers did some or all of their work from home. Additional research by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com suggests that 50% of the workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks with some frequency. Many Fortune 1000 companies worldwide are now revamping their spaces because the workforce is already mobile.
Those studies repeatedly show that employees are away from their desks 50-60% of the time.
In today’s corporate world, the need for managers, executives, and IT administrators to conduct a recurring remote meeting with key team members from around the state, across the nation, or in different countries has become increasingly common. Of course, this sudden new normal of flexible workspaces and work-from-home opportunities isn’t just favorable for the employees.
Doing business by virtual team meeting can also be beneficial to a company’s bottom line.
Forgoing mandatory office meetings to assign projects and communicate with employees by remote video conference with tools like Skype offer your organization more than convenience. It can reduce overhead costs. Decrease your carbon footprint. And free up time in your schedule.
Mastering the remote meeting format is fast becoming a critical managerial skill. Over time, it may help you retain your most productive workers. And attract younger talent in the future.
But what can you do as a manager to create a remote meeting environment where everyone is inspired to develop as individuals, take on added responsibilities, and work together as a team?
In this article, we take a look at the dos and don’ts of the remote meeting. Learn how to keep off-site employees both engaged and productive. And discover some of the proven techniques to better ensure that all involved parties understand your organization’s unique workflow.
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1. Set the stage for communication and trust
Making telecommuting work for an entire team or department depends on keeping everyone connected through a cohesive communication network. And it involves more than technology.
It takes real commitment to establish an atmosphere of open communication and mutual trust.
After all, giving and receiving feedback is difficult enough in person, let alone when performed via remote conference. Ensuring team members know what is expected of them and showing them appreciation for what they accomplish is not easily captured through remote meetings.
Clarify team expectations
Sometimes, remote employees refrain from idea sharing because their thoughts seem much too visible or permanent in a Slack thread. Once ideas are freely expressed, understanding them in the right context often requires more effort remotely than it would in a face-to-face interaction.
When establishing rapport and building trust with employees through remote meeting and other virtual meeting formats, it’s important to let your team know what’s actually expected of them. Working remotely is still a relatively new concept for some people. And everyone on the team should understand the company’s policy in order to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Provide meetings or check-ins
When managing remote employees, do you make a point of setting up regular weekly meetings with mandatory attendance? Or do you take a less formal approach—allowing employees who work remotely to simply check in and provide updates on their own? Are your expectations of those who work from home or outside of the office any different from the employee who works with you directly? Depending on your work style or team dynamic, either approach is fine.
The basic premise is to have some sense of expectation or structure in place for your team.
If there isn’t a remote meeting protocol for you to follow, create your own. However, the basics of building trust and developing relationships with employees are universal: remote or otherwise.
Talk regularly with each employee
So work hard to connect with your people. When managing a remote team, it’s important to talk with each team member at least once or twice a week. And not just about work. Even taking the first few minutes of the conversation to understand what’s going on in their lives before talking shop can help establish deeper connections. And open the lines of communication for the team.
This doesn’t mean your team will avoid conflict. Quite the opposite. Which may be a good thing.
Incite healthy debate over ideas
It’s the ability to manage conflicting tensions—rather than always seeking cohesiveness—that is the most predictive factor of team performance. Feeling comfortable enough to regularly debate and spar over ideas can actually be productive. A six-year study of group dynamics in 55 teams revealed a 22% better performance for those who allowed conflict as opposed to always agreeing.
Conducting successful team meetings remotely will always be a learning process.
Fortunately, the experience of remotely managing a team will allow you to build more trust and camaraderie with your employees than may otherwise be possible in a traditional office setting.
2. Encourage employee collaboration and participation
Strive to keep every remote meeting collaborative and engaging for your employees.
Remote employees are accustomed to working offline and waiting to receive feedback or further direction regarding their ideas and contributions. But with cloud-based platforms like Lucidchart or Google Docs, remote and on-site employees alike can collaborate on projects together in real time—automatically seeing each other’s changes and responding with insightful comments.
All without having to be in the same location or time zone.
Remote meetings might be the exception to your everyday work experience now. But as more businesses and corporations adopt a flexible workforce model, your skill for inspiring employee collaboration and participation will become essential. And that reality is fast approaching.
Take advantage of video conferencing
According to Harvard Business Review, 87% of remote workers feel more connected through the use of video conferencing. The defined start and end times of the video conference help provide needed structure and a sense of priority for people working from their home offices.
Participants in this form of virtual team meeting also benefit from seeing one another’s facial expressions and mannerisms—picking up on the visual cues and subtleties otherwise missed when limited to a speakerphone conversation or reading through an extensive email chain.
When conducting your remote meetings as a video conference, take advantage of what’s really possible with the format. Share presentations and get real-time feedback from your team. Use it to livestream any events that remote employees otherwise can’t attend—such as quarterly all-hands meetings or training workshops. For team members who are unable to participate live, make recordings of the video meeting that can be shared for viewing at a later time.
Be a better listener
Whether the meeting is remote or not, try to be a better listener by being the last one to speak. Not only does it encourage greater team participation; it may allow you to learn something new.
As leadership expert Simon Sinek explains, “The skill to hold your opinions to yourself until everyone has spoken does two things: One, it gives everybody else the feeling that they have been heard. It gives everyone else the ability to feel that they have contributed. And two, you get the benefit of hearing what everybody else has to think before you render your opinion.”
With the right encouragement, your remote employees will begin to feel more comfortable in voicing their opinions and sharing their insights—becoming active participants in team matters.
3. Provide support beyond the remote conference call
Staying in touch with remote employees by email, text, instant messaging, phone calls, and virtual team meetings is a start. But what the entire team really needs is a shared process flow.
Remote employees need a clear picture of the workflow process and how the system works within your organization. Creating such a process flow can help standardize how work gets done, what steps must be taken, who makes the approvals, and when a project is finally complete.
Without an outline to follow, remote employees can experience unnecessary frustration.
When you’re not working side-by-side with your team, it’s easy for work to become duplicated. To spend too much time at certain stages of a project. Or not enough on others. All without getting the proper course correction and guidance before wasting countless hours of time.
As a manager, you don’t have the bandwidth to individually show everyone on your team the different points in the workflow process. Or communicate every nuance of what needs to be completed for each project. Or what stages should be worked on first. And by whom.
But you can always create and share a visual process flow with your team using Lucidchart.
With Lucidchart’s ease of use, managers can quickly outline workflows with a high-level diagram to make sure everyone understand the procedures for their organization. Lucidchart makes it easy to provide everyone with access to the team’s process flow. When your remote employees complete tasks or make updates to their work, they can export it or publish a live link—keeping everyone on the team informed and always aware of the current state of a project in real time.
Depending on the nature of your work or the type of goods or services your company produces, having such real-time awareness helps reduce duplication of work. It can also ensure that team members only reference the latest version of any project that is collectively being worked on.
The diagrams you can create may even prove helpful for training new team members or when used as a point of reference when completing performance reviews with remote employees.
Making remote meetings better with Lucidchart
The combination of technology and well-defined objectives can go a long way to keeping remote employees happy, engaged, and productive. Whether you seek ideas to make your virtual team meetings more dynamic or need an easier to outline your organization’s workflow, Lucidchart has the tools and resources it takes to achieve your loftiest goals.
Sign up for your free account today.