During the remote meeting
1. Introduce everyone
The video camera doesn’t show every speaker throughout the meeting. Some software shows an icon or picture of who is involved in the meeting, but it is good practice to introduce everyone attending. Managers at OnPoint Consulting post pictures of attendees on the wall when the video is not used, because people are more willing to participate and are more open when they know who’s on the call.
The most important step for increasing meeting engagement in my opinion is for the meeting host to ensure that all attendees are introduced and announced at the meeting, including their role (obviously if there is an extensive list of attendees this might not be possible). If someone feels like their role in the meeting is less important, they are less likely to engage with the group
2. Have small talk before to start
Don’t miss a chance to connect with remote colleagues and help them make their presence felt in the room. Having small talk helps to feel people connected.
Patty Azzarello CEO at Azzarello Group shared a story of a guy who worked remotely and took a picture of himself every day, and whenever he was on a conference call with the group at headquarters, he would email the picture of himself with a note that said something like, “thought you would want to see what shirt I was wearing today”. It may sound silly, but he was exerting his presence — he was well known and respected.
3. Remind of the meeting goal
Remind participants of the meeting goal once starting a meeting. If you use an online collaboration whiteboard, you can easily put a sticker with a meeting goal and what needs to be achieved at the end, so that all the participants are clear with it at all times during the meeting.
4. Give people things to do
Split the roles between attendees: facilitator, timekeeper and scribe to write down action points and decisions made. This helps involve participants in the meeting. For a recurring meeting, change the roles between participants from meeting to meeting by running a kind of lottery, so nobody knows who will be lucky to be the timekeeper or scribe, writing down the meeting minutes. Any kind of game before the meeting usually works well for participants engagement.
Have the remote team members “run” the meeting. They know the agenda and the drill, so they’re perfectly capable of doing it. Give everyone a chance to feel responsible.
5. Have people identify themselves and make sure everyone recognizes each other
This is especially important if some participants aren’t visible to everyone else. A quick, “Hey, Elsie here,” before Elsie speaks, for example, lets others identify the voice (and the face if on video) of each speaker. Keep note of who has spoken, as well to ask nonparticipants to join in.
However, if Elsie is a remote employee, it can be difficult to identify her voice and personality via a phone call. Patty Azzarello CEO at Azzarello Group suggests that these remote employees take a casual Skype call with key office colleagues at any convenient time in order to connect with them “in person”, because it makes a huge difference.
6. Be courteous to others
Avoid side conversations and background distractions. Just like in high school when you didn’t like someone whispering behind your back, side conversations can be confusing and leave people out. Stay on the topic and keep the idea mentioned in rule #9 in focus.
7. Ask participants to contribute
Asking directly for input really helps team members feel engaged. And remember, listeners can only hear one person at a time clearly, so take turns sharing with each other. Michael Sueoka, Head of User Experience at The Mobile Majority considers that it is vital to make every person feel like they have the ability to contribute to the project. Reaching out to everyone in the meeting individually or asking specifically for their contributions is a good way to get people involved. So here are few examples of such engaging hooks.
- Are you happy with it?
- What interests you the most and why?
- What is your favorite/least favorite part?
- If you could change anything, what would it be? Why?
- What’s one thing that could increase your satisfaction with this project, and why?
Clarify expectation that participation is expected and call on people who you haven’t heard from. Mention them by name and repeat the questions – you don’t want to “catch” them, you want to engage them.
8. Be engaging
Boring meetings are tough to sit through. Since you put the work into organizing a great meeting, make it interesting with lively interaction, good visuals, or set up your own meeting traditions. Plan time to break the ice and make some fun asking ice breaker questions.
I’ll send something silly from our office that will “magically” show up in video conference land, in order to forge more of a “connection” with HQ. For example, we name our projects after movies, so I’ll send remote staff a copy of the movie on DVD or a picture of the movie to show in our conference.
To encourage collaboration and engagement during remote meetings, allow individuals to either speak up or ping in their contributions to the conversation online. For introverts, this might make participation and sharing new ideas easier.
What to do after the remote meeting
9. Send a follow up
Remind those who participated the main points of the meeting and the direction post meeting. This both increases the effectiveness of the meeting and reinforces the importance of remote meetings to your team members.
However, it’s only effective when it’s read, so make the letter or chat message as engaging as possible — fill it with gifs, videos, funny pics from the meeting, etc. Make it a habit, so the meeting participants will be waiting for your email each time after the meeting.
10. Check out action items are in progress
It’s vital in remote working relationships that you get very clear and outcome-oriented with performance objectives and expectations for individuals and teams. Discuss them as a result of the meeting, send via follow-up email, and don’t forget to control them when the meeting is done. Otherwise what was the point?
The biggest challenge of remote meetings is to keep people engaged and interested. Feel free to overcome this challenge using the guidelines and tips above. But it is important to remember that when it comes to attendees’ engagement, it really helps to think outside the box and give your own solutions a try.