Complete Guide to Remote Team Meetings
Meetings are essential to team collaboration: they’re places to strategize, brainstorm, align on shared goals, and come up with serendipitous ideas. Yet many see meetings as a waste of time and energy—which is often because meetings can easily lack intention or structure. Here’s how to make meetings count and avoid common pitfalls when you’re remote.
The importance of remote meetings
While the distance is a challenge, remote meetings are essential for getting on the same page with your colleagues. Having a live conversation allows teammates to bond, have a quick casual conversation, and build the empathy that's so important to team success.
To be effective, remote meetings are:
Focused. Good remote meetings are usually organized when it’s absolutely necessary, so the team can focus and solve a problem together.
Well-structured. Make sure you have a clear format, agenda, and have set expectations. This allows everyone to prepare, think of the possible scenarios, and, ultimately, make sure that their voice is heard.
Success-oriented. Nobody wants to waste time. And unlike with face-to-face meetings, it’s harder to reschedule or walk away without a clear plan or list of action items. Successful remote meetings ensure everyone’s clear on what they need to do when the call is over.
Useful tips when hosting remote meetings
As with IRL meetings, the biggest challenge of remote ones is keeping people engaged and interested in contributing. You can overcome this by using the guidelines and tips below. But it’s important to remember that when it comes to attendees’ engagement, it helps to think outside the box and give your own solutions a try.
Make sure you really need a remote meeting
First thing’s first: ask yourself what the purpose of the meeting really is. When you organize a remote call, the pressure is very high to be productive. Unlike meeting face-to-face, it’s difficult to walk away without a clear plan because you can’t easily talk through something later.
Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before setting up a remote meeting to avoid wasting time:
Can I solve this problem without a meeting? Can you email or chat the person instead? If your problem is urgent, it might make sense to first introduce the idea in a message and then schedule a meeting. This is especially true for remote teams working across different time zones, because it’s harder to schedule a meeting quickly.
Can I answer this question myself? If you’re just looking for information, see if you can self-serve by searching for the answer there on your company wiki first. Even if you don’t find an answer, you might figure out how to approach your problem in the most effective way. At Miro, we use Confluence to store company guidelines, team documents and best practices.
Can I solve this problem during the upcoming meeting? Your team likely has a set of recurring rituals for discussing different types of challenges. For example, if you work in sprints, consider discussing an upcoming challenging task during sprint planning meetings.
Can I create a process that will eliminate this type of meeting? Some meetings can be eliminated with the right process. For example, during a call with a designer, consider formalizing and structuring your briefs so they are clear and don’t require much – if any – follow-up.
Preparing for a remote meeting
To make sure that a remote meeting brings you closer to your goal as a team, there are many factors you should consider. No matter your role, we recommend thinking carefully about the following aspects of a meeting:
The number of attendees. It’s difficult to hold a remote meeting with a large number of people and make sure everyone gets something out of the conversation. Be selective about who you invite. Consider using a responsibility assignment matrix (a.k.a. RACI) to understand your teammates’ responsibilities, and don’t invite “consulted” or “informed” colleagues.
Scheduling. When you’re planning the best time for the meeting, consider checking calendars to see people’s working hours first. Keep in mind that some participants might be employees but others could be contractors who may not have access to corporate tools. Set a clear time limit for the meeting and send a calendar invitation to everyone – and be sure to include video/conference call info.
A clear agenda. Gathering together for a remote meeting takes effort, so don’t waste time. Have a plan with specific items to cover and stick to that plan. Share the agenda ahead of time so that everyone can prepare. In our team, we usually include an agenda in our Google Calendar invite, but you can share it in a document, email, or any other format that works for you.
Technology. There’s a variety of tools you can use for remote conferencing these days. For example, you can select a business phone system or conferencing software like Skype, then combine it with a real-time collaboration tool to work on designs, and use a variety of methods (e.g. polls and chat) to collect input. Whatever you do, test your technology before the meeting and have a plan B in case anything doesn’t work.
A common place to collaborate. If you need to take notes in a Google doc, work in a shared spreadsheet, or other collaborative platform, be sure to share the link with the group in the agenda.
Running a remote meeting
Depending on the format, length, and frequency of the meeting, its structure can be totally different. It can be a quick stand up or a long design sprint exercise. In any case, here are some general best practices that will help you stay focused and get the most out of your collaborative session:
Introduce everyone and present your agenda. The video camera doesn’t necessarily show every speaker throughout the meeting, so make sure to introduce everyone. This rule is especially important for new or fast-growing teams.
Give people things to do. Split the roles between attendees: facilitator, participant, and scribe—this helps involve everyone. For a recurring meeting, rotate the roles among participants. Playing games before the meeting can also help engage participants.
Set clear expectations. Do you want to determine the next steps for a project or remove a roadblock? Do you want feedback? Do you need partners to voice concerns? Don’t end the meeting without stating your intention clearly and making sure that the goal of the meeting is accomplished.
Use an ice breaker to fuel creativity. Icebreakers create an open and relaxed atmosphere that is critical for any form of ideation during a brainstorm. They also encourage participants to communicate and interact differently than normal, which will be useful and set the right tone for the meeting.
After a remote meeting
You will notice that organizing a remote meeting is similar to organizing a face-to-face meeting. Remote meetings often have more technology involved, though, which means you have to be extra careful and consistent.
Send a follow-up. Remind participants about the main points of the meeting. This increases the effectiveness of the meeting and reinforces its importance.
Check out action items in progress. In remote working relationships, it’s vital to clarify and center performance objectives and expectations on outcomes. Discuss expectations during the meeting, follow up via email, and don’t forget to track them after the meeting is over. You can use your team’s preferred task-tracking tool, whether it’s JIRA, Atlassian, or something else.
How to ensure an ideal audio-visual experience
A good audio-visual experience is one of the key factors to keep everyone engaged. You really want to make sure that you connect with the team because when you are using video-conferencing tools, it’s much easier to get distracted then when you are in the same room (and your teammates can clearly see you scrolling through social media).
Here are some tips that can help anyone on the call feel engaged and build a necessary connection with the group.
1. Turn on your camera
Here at Miro, we are strong believers in video conferencing over phone calls. It matters to be able to see eye to eye and read body language to understand each other better.
2. Eye contact is important
Look into the camera to give the other person the feeling that you’re looking into their eyes. 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.
3. Be aware of your surroundings
Sit in a well-lit room, facing a light source, ideally a home office, co-working space, a quiet coffee shop. Try to be in a place where other people or pets don’t interfere. Minimize background noise by closing the window.
4. Mute the mic when you're not talking
This way your meeting partners won’t hear your movements, coughs, breathing, and white noise. Most tools have a ‘mute when not talking’ feature.
5. Don’t multitask
Don’t eat, drink, carry on side conversations, or browse the Internet. It’s rude to the other attendees.
5 important meetings for remote teams
Sometimes you need to schedule a meeting to solve a specific challenge, but in general, it’s good to establish a set of recurring meetings. This will help your team establish a consistent process and align around a shared goal.
As we mentioned before, daily meetings to check in with your team and identify potential obstacles can be turned into asynchronous exercises. But sometimes it makes sense to schedule daily remote stand-ups, especially if you are working on a challenging project with a strict deadline, where good planning and fast iterations are critical.
Here's a template your team can use for stand-ups:
2. Weekly meetings
Depending on the length of your sprints, you can schedule sprint planning sessions once every week or two, or conduct regular check-ups with your team to track projects, discuss interdependencies, report on the OKRs, celebrate team wins, etc.
We're big fans of retrospectives – some teams at Miro prefer to schedule one after each sprint, others just conduct them at the end of each big project. A sprint retrospective meeting, also called an Agile retrospective, is a brief exercise where team members discuss what could have made the last sprint/project better.
Its goal is to allow the team to reflect on the sprint and determine how they can use that knowledge to improve in the future. Get more details on how to run a retrospective.
There are a few different retrospectives out here, but here's one we use a lot:
4. Design sprints
Why are design sprints gaining massive interest among product managers, designers, and anyone else working in the realm of problem-solving and innovation? Short answer: They work.
Ever since its inception within Google Ventures and the release of sprint by Jake Knapp, many companies and agencies have picked up the process and made it part of their utility belt. Google, Airbnb, Uber, and Lego are just a few big players that have integrated design sprints into their workflow to ideate, prototype, and validate ideas fast.
Though Google Ventures created it with collocated teams in mind, remote teams can master them, too. To learn more about running this exercise remotely, check out our guide to making design sprints work for remote teams.
We've also got a handy template for design sprints:
One-on-ones are one of the best ways for managers to build a strong rapport with their teams and create a culture of trust. Unlike stand-ups, status reports, and other types of meetings, one-on-ones are more flexible and create dedicated space for a manager to address an employee’s growth, long-term plans and give personalized feedback. In our team, one-on-ones happen every week and last for an hour.
Here's the template some Miro teams use for one-on-ones:
A knowledgeable facilitator can turn challenges of remote meetings into advantages. For sure, remote meetings require more prep work compared to meetings at the office, but making this extra effort can be a huge plus. If you carefully set up an agenda, test your tech, make sure the desired outcomes of the meeting are clear, and follow up on action items, it can save time and really help your team.