Remote team meeting etiquette: how to stay polite in a distributed team

Beatrix Bodó 
Product Designer at Frontìra

Nowadays, we don’t have to be in the same space as our team to do our jobs. Instead, we use video conferencing and virtual meeting tools to stay in touch and collaborate across multiple locations.

When we meet face-to-face, it’s much easier to read each other’s intentions, emotions, and body language. How do you create a mindful, respectful environment when you’re remote? Here are some best practices, based on my experiences as a product designer at a 10-person company.

Meeting types

At Frontìra, our biggest virtue is that we love to be in close contact with our clients, using Slack, email, and phone calls. That way, they know their project is important to us and they can track the progress, working together as one team. That’s why we rarely go through with a project completely remote. We always try to schedule personal meetings at important milestones.

Kickoff meeting with the client

The kickoff meeting is our first encounter with the client. We’re getting acquainted, so making a good impression is important. Since some of our team members teach at the best design universities in Budapest, our clients can sense their professionalism and rest assured that they’re in good hands.

Frontìra

is a strategic design firm whose goal is to make businesses more relevant, customer-centric, and ultimately, more human.

HQ: Budapest

Founders: Ákos Csertán, Judit Kertész

Fields of expertise: digital product and service design, product development, innovation strategy


Remote etiquette advice:

  • Have proper equipment (software and hardware). Test your equipment to avoid hold-ups. Agree on the platform you’re going to be using. At Frontìra, we use Google Meet (a simplified Hangouts for scheduling video calls). With its clean UI, it’s easy to set up – even for non-technical people.
  • Schedule the meeting with the attendees’ convenience in mind. For example, Doodle allows participants to suggest possible dates, and everyone can vote for their preferred one. Google Meet generates a meeting link where every participant can join in their browser, without having to install any software on their computer, and it even adds the event to your Google Calendar.
  • Ask for an RSVP. Fortunately, most tools do this for you. Contact all meeting participants and send them an agenda to keep meetings focused. Include every relevant document and topic of discussion.
  • Be early. Show up prepared 5-10 minutes before the meeting starts.

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Status update meeting with the client

After the project has started, we present results at various intervals as we work. Each of us is responsible for our own area of expertise.

Remote etiquette advice:

  • Clear your desktop – If the client unexpectedly asks you to share your screen, don’t make them wait for you to close all of your personal tabs. Closing tabs can also help ensure that your video doesn’t lag.

Standup meetings

In this case, our priority is efficiency. Don’t hold each other up with unnecessary politeness. If everyone on the team is comfortable with each other, go ahead and break the ice with a joke. For example, my coworkers like to project my face onto the wall as a prank.

We’re a small team, from different areas. Standups give us an opportunity to get insight into the work of everyone else on the team, and polish our own skills. Since we each do a bit of everything, we need to coordinate closely with each other.

Remote etiquette advice:

  • Dress properly.  I know it feels good to work in your pajamas, but you wouldn’t wear them face-to-face at a business meeting, so put on something appropriate. Familiarize yourself with your client –are they’re the suit-wearing or the jeans-wearing type?

Standup meetings with the remote developer team

My most important experience was working on our protect.me project. We had a standup with the external development team every day. In order to not take too much time out of the day, we limited the meetings to 20 minutes and just stepped into our office’s Skype booth.

Remote etiquette advice:

– Put your laptop on a shelf and speak standing up. 
Standing is the position of the presenter – it will make you more confident and ensure that the meeting won’t go on for too long.

These quick standups worked because we came prepared every time and built a close relationship with the remote team.

Audiovisual factors

For any type of meeting you have, there are some high-level recommendations that can help you:

  • Sit in a well-lit room, facing a light source. If your situation doesn’t allow this, it’s better to turn off the camera.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Try to be in a place where other people or pets don’t interfere. Minimize background noise by closing the window.
  • Whenever you’re not talking, mute the microphone. This way your meeting partners won’t hear your movements, coughs, breathing and white noise. Most tools have the ‘mute when not talking’ feature.
  • Don’t forget that in multi-person video calls, people can’t tell when you’re looking at them. So when you’re talking to someone, say their name.
  • Don’t multitask. Don’t eat, drink, or carry on side conversations. It’s rude to the other attendees.
  • Point the camera on yourself, an ideal distance from you. For efficient human communication, eye contact and seeing each other’s facial expressions is essential. Don’t make people look up your nose or at the ceiling.
  • Eye contact is important. I know it’s reassuring to look at our own image, especially at first. But in order to make the other person feel like you’re looking into their eyes, you have to look into the camera.

As a general rule of thumb, carry yourself as you would at an in-person meeting. If someone’s making any of these mistakes, or disrupting the meeting, don’t be afraid to politely point it out to them.

Sometimes you’ll have to join a meeting from a suboptimal environment like a cafe, hotel, airport, or conference. If there is too much noise or people are around you, try using headphones. If the internet is slow, sometimes it helps to turn the camera off and use only audio. If the internet is hopelessly gone, switching to phone on the loudspeaker can be your last resort.

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After the meeting

Make sure every person knows what their next task is and when it’s due. Send a follow-up to every participant, including meeting notes and what decisions were made. Say thanks –it’s basic etiquette and it lets the others know that you appreciate their work.

Meetings are often viewed as soul-crushing and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep them short, focused, and remember that you have another human being on the other side of the call. That’s why video conferencing etiquette is so important.

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