At Fluxon, we know a thing or two about meeting remotely: Since our company’s inception, we’ve been proud to have a global team. With colleagues based across three continents, our engineering process is built to transcend borders and time zones.
Our priority is working with the world’s most talented professionals, no matter which country they call home. Many businesses are adopting similar models, refusing to let geography limit their talent pool. But remote work certainly entails distinct advantages and challenges, and we’ve had to think critically about optimizing collaboration across our workforce.
For our team, remote meetings have been a key area of emphasis. To maximize productivity, we’ve innovated new meeting tools and practices – and achieved major improvements in effectiveness and morale.
We want to share our tools and learnings, empowering other remote teams to find a better way to meet. In this post, we’ll explain how we’ve addressed common challenges and suggest some new best practices for meeting remotely with co-workers and clients.
Many of us are all too aware of common meeting pain points, whether they’re held in-person or online. When meetings proceed without clear objectives and structure, they produce more frustration than collaboration – and leave all attendees feeling as if they’ve wasted their time.
One frequent pitfall is a lack of planning. Without established, mutual goals, discussions can meander unproductively. These disorganized meetings are defined by inefficiency: It takes too long for essential subjects to surface, or topics are discussed in an illogical order. Often, the loudest voices consume disproportionate attention, while quieter attendees get entirely overshadowed.
This haphazard approach squanders your team’s most precious resource: time. When you’ve coordinated the schedules of busy professionals, you need to utilize their time as respectfully as possible. Yet, many meetings seem to serve no productive purpose, demanding employees time without defining what they should accomplish.
Other meetings are intended to share information, but the content could be conveyed in a written update instead. There’s a reason that “this meeting could have been an email” memes are so popular: We’ve all sat through those unnecessary gatherings, eager to return to more pressing matters.
More frustrating still, many meetings yield no resolution. When they end, conclusions and action items remain unclear. Attendees mutter vague intentions to “follow up” or “circle back,” but there’s no clarity or confidence about what needs to happen next.
Remote meetings are certainly not immune to these problems, and they can sometimes require more forethought than an in-person meeting might. But they also provide possibilities for connection and collaboration that are so often missing from traditional meetings.
Meeting Remotely: Obstacles and Opportunities
Many professionals worry that remote meetings will compromise communication. If you can’t tap someone on the shoulder or sit across from them in a conference room, how will you ever coordinate your efforts?
While we understand these concerns, we’ve had exactly the opposite experience. Meeting remotely requires a team to be intentional about cultivating strong communication practices.
Because you can’t passively assume that team members will connect in the office, you develop explicit strategies to keep everyone engaged and on the same page. As a result, remote teams can have better communication dynamics than colleagues who share a physical space. They approach cooperation strategically and maximize each meeting’s relevance to overarching goals.
For example, our team dedicates time to dialogue, building it into our schedules. Recurring one-on-one meetings help teammates stay in touch, as do regularly scheduled meetings for larger groups. These meetings are thoughtfully and efficiently structured, in contrast to the mind-numbing tone that in-person staff meetings so often entail.
We’re also dedicated to finding the best technical solutions to support remote collaboration. The right tools can make remote work seamless, and companywide policies can establish best practices. In our team meetings, we ask every attendee to use their video. We find that face-to-face engagement is essential, whereas sound alone is far less effective.
Where platforms don’t exist to meet our team’s needs, we create them. That’s how Dory, our meeting planning application, was born.
We realized that we needed to optimize our team’s approach to meeting, utilizing everyone’s time effectively and respectfully. Because online meetings generally permit just one speaker at a time, we recognized the importance of surfacing shared goals and questions, focusing on what matters most to all attendees.
We built Dory to establish agendas collaboratively, set priorities together, and make sure every voice got appropriate air time. Dory includes a host of features that help us do just that, with built-in tools for brainstorming, hosting Q&As, generating real-time feedback, and creating actionable next steps after a meeting. It has transformed the way we work, so we decided to make it available to other businesses – free of charge.
What lessons have we learned in maintaining a remote team and developing Dory? While every team has specific goals and dynamics, some basic best practices apply across the board.
Constructive Collaboration: Best Practices for Meeting Remotely
Necessary or Not?
Before putting anything on the calendar, pause to consider whether a meeting really needs to happen at all. Modern businesses use a ton of tools to collaborate effectively, and many of them can effectively replace real-time gatherings. In fact, other kinds of interactions are often more appropriate to the task at hand.
At Fluxon, we think critically about the relative merits of communicating synchronously and asynchronously, both within our team and with our clients. Synchronous communication, such as a remote meeting, involves engaging multiple individuals in a single conversation at the same time. Asynchronous communication, such as a daily update sent via Slack, allows people to review and respond to information on their own schedules.
Synchronous communication can be well suited to certain circumstances, facilitating fluid dialogue. Imagine, for example, that two colleagues have contrasting visions for an upcoming project, and both feel passionately about their views. A real-time conversation would likely be most effective in achieving a compromise, whereas a lengthy email exchange could prolong their disconnect.
However, at many organizations, these circumstances arise infrequently. Synchronous communication is often better suited to the rapid, multifaceted nature of modern business. Moreover, asynchronous communication permits recipients more time to process information – and make better decisions.
Before scheduling a meeting, our team at Fluxon always considers whether asynchronous communication would better suit our purpose. When working with our clients, we provide the optimal mix of communication styles, tailoring our approach to their needs and preferences.
With team members in multiple time zones, we know just how challenging it can be to coordinate schedules for even a brief meeting. The first step is consideration in suggesting possible times: Before proposing a window based on your own schedule, take a moment to consider others’ needs.
If you live in California, for example, 4 p.m. might look great on your calendar. But that time could force your East Coast co-worker to stay late at the office and miss a workout class they’ve been looking forward to all week.
Moreover, direct conflicts aren’t the only scheduling obstacle to evaluate. If, for example, a colleague has an important presentation scheduled for 2:00pm, you might not want to book them for a meeting at 1:00pm as well.
Beyond these basic considerations, scheduling is one important way to develop a culture of inclusivity within your company. For example, many companies truly intend to support working parents, empowering them to thrive in both areas of their lives. But when key meetings are scheduled in the late afternoon or first thing in the morning, the logistics of school drop-off and pick-up can get really complicated.
Additionally, working parents sometimes struggle to mention family obligations as scheduling conflicts. When your bosses assume that you can stick around for a late evening, it can feel difficult to let them know about your kid’s dance recital. Clearly, time management can involve some deeply personal decisions for all your coworkers and collaborators.
So when you do try to schedule a meeting, understand that a dialogue may follow, and be accommodating of obligations that don’t directly concern work.
Of course, all team members need to make scheduling sacrifices on occasion. But having empathy in making arrangements is an important way to ensure that all attendees can fully engage.
Similarly, be thoughtful about meeting length. Can you accomplish your goal in 20 or 30 minutes instead of an hour? This efficient approach prioritizes your colleagues’ precious time, conveying respect for their talents.
Invite Widely, Attend Optionally
Clearly, an effective meeting must include all relevant stakeholders. If a key voice is absent, there’s not much you can accomplish without their perspective represented.
However, it’s also important not to demand your colleagues attendance unnecessarily. Sometimes, in the spirit of gathering multiple perspectives, it can be tempting to invite as many members of your team as possible, erring on the side of inclusivity. Unfortunately, this approach often results in unclear participation expectations, and attendees ignoring more pressing priorities.
At Fluxon, we’ve developed a different method, balancing our desire for broad collaboration with respect for our colleagues’ schedules. We tend to be inclusive in our meeting invites, sometimes inviting 30 or more people.
However, we are emphatic that attending is optional, and that deciding not to participate will not be viewed negatively. Aside from specific key stakeholders, each person can weigh attending against other priorities in their own workflow.
Our team finds this approach empowering: They’re welcome to contribute if they can, and encouraged to miss the meeting if their attention will be more impactful elsewhere. If someone needs to show up, they’ll know: Otherwise, they decide.
Establish an Objective: As a Team and in Advance
An objective focuses a meeting, lending productive structure to an otherwise chaotic conversation. When a meeting’s objective is clear to all attendees, every participant is able to contribute constructively. This alignment is manifested in a clear meeting agenda, which moves the discussion toward a desired outcome.
At Fluxon, we attempt to conceptualize a meeting’s objective by completing a simple sentence: “At the close of the meeting, we want the group to…” This brief exercise can provide valuable clarity, surfacing a primary goal for all attendees.
It’s important to note that objectives can differ substantially based, depending upon the undertaking at hand. For example, the objective can be reaching a decision, outlining a plan, or simply generating ideas. However, it’s important for everyone to honor the designated objective once the meeting begins. If the objective is to choose a path forward, for example, you don’t want attendees endlessly generating new ideas.
Similarly, a meeting’s objective determines the role of leadership. If a meeting is intended to generate ideas, hierarchical control is probably unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. If the meeting is intended to reach a decision, however, it’s best for everyone to understand who is making the final call.
However, it can be difficult to determine objectives and agenda items in advance. Before you meet, how can you know which subjects matter most to the attendees? Set an objective arbitrarily, and it may not reflect the real priorities of your team.
Our team sought to resolve this common problem, building solutions in Dory, our meeting planning app. Dory empowers users to submit topics and questions ahead of time, shaping the agenda in conjunction with a meeting’s leaders. Attendees can vote on questions they deem important, allowing you to devote time to real priorities and deal with lesser concerns later.
Keep Small Talk Short
Remote meetings are still human encounters, and our team members appreciate the chance to check in with each other. A little “small talk” can go a long way toward building relationships among team members, especially when they’re connecting across continents.
That being said, chatting can quickly displace the identified agenda, eating up the limited time devoted to key topics. This puts even the friendliest professionals in a bind: While they don’t want to cut off their colleagues, shared time shouldn’t be squandered.
All attendees can do their part to avoid this issue, keeping small talk short and sweet. You can be quick without being cold. Remember, respecting others’ time is an important way to demonstrate your regard for them.
Engage All Attendees
Public meetings, especially remote ones, can be challenging for more introverted participants. While feelings of shyness are certainly understandable, you don’t want to miss out on the valuable perspectives of your more reserved team members.
One possible solution is to solicit feedback from all attendees individually. If someone has been largely silent, the meeting’s leaders might invite them directly to contribute. This simple act enhances a sense of inclusion, even if the response is just, “This all sounds good!”
Our team also allows meeting participants to submit feedback anonymously through Dory. This feature fosters honest discussion, raising difficult questions that participants might be hesitant to pose directly. This approach might not work in all settings, but it has had powerful benefits for our business.
Take Notes as You Talk
Too often, great discussions occur without any record being kept. While keeping notes might sound unnecessary, doing so will boost continuity and accountability in subsequent meetings. When participants rely exclusively on their own recollections, key insights and action items can quickly get lost.
Often, two or more of our team members will take notes, then work together to compile a shared set of meeting minutes. This approach allows the record to reflect multiple perspectives, avoiding any bias or blind spots a single note-taker might bring to the process.
Don’t Forget the Follow-Up
Once a meeting ends, participants rush off to complete their next tasks. Accordingly, it’s important to send a follow-up email to all involved, recapping the decisions and highlighting next steps.
Here’s where notes come in handy: These become the basis of your follow-up email, allowing everyone to stay on the same page. With individual responsibilities clearly specified, everyone knows exactly what to do before your next meeting.
However, these followup notes are most effective when contextualized in connection with the meeting’s content. If other team members review your followup notes a few days later, will they recall what the discussion was actually about?
That’s why Dory includes built-in tools for note-taking, so that your takeaways are always attached to the meeting record. When any team member revisits later, your notes will be seamlessly integrated into a single, streamlined platform. That means no more digging through your inbox or Google Drive to jog your memory about last week’s meeting.
Your Team, Our Tools
Meetings are essential across industries, and businesses can no longer afford to conduct them inefficiently. Just as we analyze other aspects of our work, we must be strategic about the ways in which we connect and collaborate. If your team meets remotely with any frequency, the suggestions we’ve shared will streamline your approach, providing a key competitive advantage.
Thankfully, collaboration tools are currently flourishing. You’re welcome to use the one we’ve built and discover its advantages.
Dory is your comprehensive solution for making meetings better, respecting your team members’ perspectives and precious time. Let your staff develop shared agendas, vote on suggestions, and focus their efforts on real priorities. We know Dory works because it’s transformed the way our own team operates.
Of course, many meetings don’t just involve one team: You’re probably interfacing with clients and contractors. At Fluxon, we strive to be our clients’ true partners, so we innovate constantly on our communication and collaboration. To learn how we can help your brand’s launch and scale exceptional products, feel free to reach out today.