No matter whether it’s due to the pandemic or because you already had an established remote team – if there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that remote meetings just don’t feel the same as meetings in person. That may be in a good or in a bad way, and it is definitely something that also depends on your personal preferences. While some of us love meeting remotely, some others will always find it somehow inconvenient. However, you may not have the choice. And while your team members have the freedom to just hate it, you as their team leader will always have two hearts in your chest: Your personal preference, which might be one way or the other, and the necessity to make it work and get the most out of it.
You will get the most out of it if you establish some rituals, similar to the ones you have for in-person meetings (although they might not have been conscious choices at all!). While rituals sounds like something big, it doesn’t have to be – just keep in mind that everyone will have an easier time to adapt to the remote situation if there are established habits already. Here’s five essential habits that you do not want to miss!
#1 Don’t Lose Your Style
Think of your in-person meetings. What makes them great? If you switch to online meetings, some frustration might arise because they are just not as nice as the in-person meetings. Try to integrate established rituals into your online meetings as well! It may be that you usually had a coffee for your weekly check-in, or that you opened the meeting with small talk. These social functions of meetings must not be underestimated – in the end, they make up a big part of why your team likes to work at the company. If you had an informal meeting once a month where you usually grabbed a beer and just sat down and talked – try to think of ways to convert this to a remote session. Even if it is not possible in all cases to transfer them (I used to bring cake for everybody from time to time…), be aware of what you lose – and maybe establish something new to make up for it.
#2 I Spy With My Little Eye…
Let’s be honest – nobody likes to watch themselves on their webcams. Am I right?! However, if you are in an online meeting, switching on your webcam is essential. The reason is not that you have to monitor your team to know that they are working (I wrote an article on how outdated this view is). Being able to see who you’re talking to simply facilitates the conversation. Understanding what someone says not only depends on the words that come out of their mouth – that actually is the smaller part of what is happening. The interpretation of a conversation highly depends on how something is said. We use a lot of nonverbal cues to decode a message, among those are body language, and facial expressions. If you are presenting a new idea to your team, you will automatically analyze how they react. Are they bored? Do you see a lot of frowning? And so on. You will miss those cues if you’re talking to a computer screen full of profile pictures (or even worse, just a black screen). As the team leader, make sure to make it a habit to switch on your webcam, and ask your team to do the same. If someone does not follow your request, ask them for reasons in a private phone call and explain the reasons why you are so insistent.
#3 The Great Opening
In an on-site meeting, you would know when to start talking. This may not be the case in an online meeting. Some people may join and say hello, or introduce themselves, but some may join silently. Depending on the size of your meeting, it may not be possible to welcome everybody by name – and additionally, it might get a bit ridiculous if you’re meeting on a regular basis. Before you start the video session, think of a way to mark the start of the meeting. If we’re not in the same room, it sometimes helps to make things more explicit. In an old-school meeting, you might at some point just start talking and everybody will be quiet and start listening. Recognizing the starting point of the meeting is easy if your team can rely on your body language and facial expressions as well – but as we have seen before, these are missing or at least reduced in an online meeting. Depending on the tool you use, your video might appear as soon as you start speaking, but it might also just be one video among several others (for example in Zoom’s Gallery View), so identifying the starting point may be hard. The easiest way of marking the beginning of the official meeting part is to just name it: Let’s start. Let’s dive into the topic. Whatever you choose, just keep in mind that remote meetings need to be a tad more explicit than you’re used to.
#4 Introduce Feedback Prompts
Imagine you presented a new project, and after you’re finished, the video call is completely silent. That may be because everybody has their microphones muted (good for them!), and now they don’t know what to do. Speaking up in an online meeting might have a higher threshold for some of us, and it will even rise when it’s unclear what you expect of us. Facilitate the situation by – again – explicitly prompting for feedback:
- You can ask specific people, maybe if there were discussions before and they were not completely on board with the project or there were misunderstandings,
- You can introduce a quick feedback round and announce that you will ask everybody for one or two sentences on the project,
- You can, depending on the tool you use, send your team into different virtual rooms and ask them to discuss the project and their opinions for a few minutes,
- Or you can simply explicitly ask: Are there any questions? Do I need to clarify something again? Do you have feedback?
I wold also recommend that you talk about how to show agreement or disagreement in one of your first remote meetings. Is nodding or showing a thumbs up fine for everybody? Do you want to hear a yes or no if you ask questions? It might feel awkward or unnatural to some of us to nod into our camera, but if it’s the official way to provide feedback, the awkwardness will fade away quickly.
#5 Involve The Introverts
Some of us may actually prefer remote meetings to meetings in person because they make it so damn easy to disappear. While you always should support your team members by establishing a culture that supports as many divers characteristics as possible, you cannot allow them to disappear completely. Even for the introverts, using a camera is a must. Maybe you can compromise and allow everybody to switch of their cameras during presentation phases or in larger meeting rounds if the topic allows. If you ask for feedback, monitor if you get the chance to talk to everybody equally, and the other way round – if everybody gets the chance to talk, or if it’s always the same people. Some of your team members might take a bit longer to reply, and if someone is always quick, they will steal their coworker’s speaking time away. Either request that person to give room to the others, or direct your question to specific people if you have the feeling that they do not reply at all. If you think that someone is feeling quite uncomfortable with the remote situation, address this topic in a private call with them and find out what you could do to help them. However, keep in mind that helping your team members does not always mean that you cannot request anything from them – you have to build a new meeting culture, and you all need to stick to the rules that you agreed on (like switching on the camera). It’s always a fine line between intervening too much and too little into your team member’s behavior and you constantly have to find your way between the team’s and the individual’s benefit.
There is one rule that counts more than anything, no matter how and where you meet: Be yourself. You cannot expect everybody to feel comfortable if you don’t feel comfortable, or if you play a role constantly. Yes, you might have to establish new rituals, but no, you don’t need to jump through every hoop! If you’re not into gamified meetings: Don’t do them! If you’re an introvert yourself: Step out of your comfort zone, but not too much and not for the whole time. There are plenty of options for you and as long as your goal is to establish a meeting culture in which everybody feels comfortable and relaxed, you will make a good job.