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Being in the presence of others has a place in collaboration. When we meet, we get access to such unique collaboration properties as:
Speed. By being in the same time and space, virtually or otherwise, we can collaborate in real-time. Questions can be answered quickly and information can be shared instantly.
Emotional content. When we’re in the presence of others, we gain access to additional information we may not otherwise get from asynchronous media. Tone, facial expressions, and gesticulations can amplify the message that is being shared.
Improvisation. Quickly sharing ideas and discussing in the presence of others can spark ideas and inspire others in a way that collaborative documents or emails don’t. Jazz happens in the moment.
When a situation arises that can benefit from these properties, it’s time for distributed teams to consider having a meeting, depending of course on the time zone availability of different team members. In most cases, teams will consider asynchronous methods first.
importantAnd remember that although the purpose of most meetings is to make decisions, not all decisions need to be made in meetings.
The following are some examples of situations where distributed teams will want to consider using meetings over other collaboration methods:
Resolving conflict. When conflict between two or more people arises, meetings can bring about faster, more agreeable resolutions than asynchronous attempts. When resolving conflicts, being able to witness tone and body language can be crucial to understanding someone’s emotional state, and the faster back-and-forth allows more perspectives on the issue to be shared. It’s easier to ask questions in real-time, which allows both sides to demonstrate empathy and their desire to reach agreement. This guide on handling disagreement can help in situations of conflict (also see Managing Conflict in Remote Teams).
Solving problems and brainstorming. Getting together in real-time to brainstorm has been found to help the generation of ideas. Before coming together to solve a problem, you may want to consider that letting individuals come up with ideas alone first can produce better results.
Learning and introspection. Spending time together in a live meeting can be beneficial when you need to evaluate quarterly results or the way the last work cycle went. Running retrospectives synchronously can help teams reflect on the work done and determine how they can use that knowledge to move forward.
Planning. A plan is a collection of decisions that outline how a team or organization expects to execute. Converging on a final agreement that outlines the next step to take can happen faster during planning meetings, where alternating modes of command, consult, and consensus can happen at high frequency.
Emergencies. A team responding to a site outage or other kind of emergency can stay in sync faster if they’re on a call rather than monitoring email or chat, because real-time information exchange flows faster and allows people to evaluate data on the fly.
Making decisions. When all asynchronous collaboration methods fail to drive to an outcome in the decision-making process, you may need to hold a meeting to decide. Your company’s decision-making philosophy and approach largely dictates why and when—with what cadence—you do need to get together synchronously; this does not always need to be in person. When you do meet to decide, a clear decision-making process will help you reach an outcome.
For an organization that values focus and understands the cost of being present, defining when not to meet can be even more important than when to do it. Some examples of when meeting may not be necessary include:
Providing status updates. Inquiring if projects or objectives are on track shouldn’t require the presence of team members. The organization can instead adopt an “on track” default method, and build a reaction process for when this stops being the case. Using dashboards and regular status reports over email or other mediums can help make the organization observable, without requiring people’s presence to understand the status of work.
Because it’s scheduled. A meeting being on the team’s calendar isn’t sufficient enough reason for everyone to accept an interruption, or to stay late/work early if they’re outside of a time zone overlap. If the meeting doesn’t have a purpose, an agenda or explicit outcomes, we recommend you not hold it.
Conducting Productive Remote Meetings
Meetings definitely follow Newton’s first law—an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. If you aren’t proactive about making your meetings better, they’ll stay mediocre. If you aren’t proactive about canceling or iterating on meetings, they will stay on folks’ calendars for eternity.Lara Hogan, management coach; co-founder, Wherewithall*
Meetings that are unstructured or disorganized can easily end up in awkward silence, or as a tedious waste of time, because conversation doesn’t flow quite as naturally over video chat as if you were to gather a group into a room.
Here are some sensible starting points for productive meetings for remote teams:
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