8 Tips for Efficient Meetings with Distributed Project Teams

IMG_0789In a recent survey by Wrike, 1,000+ respondents from various organizational levels, 83% of them said they  work remotely at least an hour per day. In addition, a full 66% of surveyed people said they believe their team could go within the next 5 years. With this phenomenon on the rise, it’s more important than ever to learn how to effectively manage your distributed teams. Teams who embrace remote collaboration will stay relevant. And, according to the same survey, respondents would be willing to forgo other high-cost benefits in exchange for the ability to work from home – a win-win situation for both employee and employer.

Communication is essential for keeping virtual teams in sync and making online project collaboration smooth. But too often we see online meetings between distributed project teams devolve into an hour of unproductive chatter, resulting in more meetings and fewer results.

Here are a few tips to keep your meetings efficient and worthwhile:

1. Share your agenda prior to the meeting.

And stick to it! You’ll save a lot of time and effort during the call. If you include accomplished tasks and previous work into those agendas, then you can focus more on the results and planning ahead instead of naming every completed assignment – this is a huge time saver.

2. Keep meetings short and to the point.

According to a survey by Industry Week, 2,000 managers shared that at least 30% of their time spent in meetings were a waste of time. Noah Kagan, entrepreneur of Gambit and AppSumo, suggests setting up meetings for a very specific time period to keep them effective. He too often sees time being wasted exchanging pleasantries. As the old adage says, “Time is money,” so keep your meetings brief and concise. And the longer the meeting, the more you risk disengagement. Once you pass 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, you’ll spend more time (and therefore money) repeating your questions rather than engaging in productive conversation.

3. Create purpose-driven meetings.

Use the meeting space for a specific purpose, and differentiate between your meetings. Daily scrum meetings can be used for reviewing recent accomplishments and current roadblocks, while monthly meetings can be observing the progress at a higher level, with reports and strategy discussions. If you are in a planning meeting, make it known.

4. Have a conversation, don’t give a lecture.

Along the same lines, the most efficient conference meetings have dialogue because they are solving problems or creating action plans. If the meeting lead spends the majority of the time talking AT participants instead of WITH them, it creates opportunity for background email checking, solitaire playing, and coffee brewing. Not efficient. (P.S. – Have you watched this humorous viral video about conference calls yet? See 2:18 for the woman playing card games instead of participating in conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ)

5. Speak face-to-face whenever possible.

A study by Albert Mehrabian found that 55% of conversation is communicated through body language, so incorporate video functions whenever possible to minimize miscommunications (and cut out those opportunities for background activity.) It could create lag problems, thus use your best judgment, but connecting a name to a face boosts rapport. And enjoy the interaction! In another Wrike survey, “good mood” ranked as the 2nd most powerful efficiency catalyst; it is conducive to making employees feel more at ease when collaborating on ideas. Yes, share a few pictures and tell a few jokes. We just gave you the green light to have fun during a meeting.

6. Start questions with the name of the person you’re addressing.

Avoid two people answering your question simultaneously. Not only will they know to pay attention when you state their name (therefore evading the possibility of having to repeat the question), but Bob won’t start talking the same time as Anna and spend the next 2 minutes saying, “No really, you go ahead. I can wait.”

7. Take notes or record the call for future reference.

You probably won’t remember everything said during the meeting tomorrow, so take notes or record those high-level meetings. A great practice for note taking is to do so in a real-time collaborative space. All participants can add notes to the document during the meeting for others to see and elaborate on. Taking notes also helps update people who missed your meeting.

8. Wrap up the call with results.

Most importantly! – once the meeting is almost complete, use your notes to create deliverables from the call. Plan concrete action steps and next deadlines. This way everyone ends the call feeling accomplished and able to directly jump into his or her next task. Ingrid Vanderveldt, Entrepreneur in Residence for Dell Inc., always wraps up her meetings by reviewing action items. Meetings without deliverables feel purposeless and inefficient.

Change takes time. Even if you can’t make your meeting tomorrow morning 100% efficient, it’s important to continue improving as the remote-work trend escalates. What does your distributed team already do to keep meetings efficient and worthwhile?

RE_sbdib_guest_blog_post_-_smbizdoitbetter@gmail.com_-_Gmail_-_2014-04-05_14.05.11Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, a popular provider of task management software. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager with 10+ years of experience in the IT arena, advisor to several fast-growing ventures, popular blogger and contributing author in tech and business media (Inc., Wired, Pando Daily) Also, Andrew frequently speaks about project management, business and innovation at such events as E2 Innovate, PMI Global Congresses, Enterprise Connect, IBM Connect and more.

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  1. One additional suggestion: take roll call. “Is everyone here?” doesn’t tell you who isn’t there and, if your meetings are like many I’ve participated in, everyone says “I’m here” at once and it becomes unintelligible, or nobody says anything!

  2. On your first point… “Share your agenda prior to the meeting”

    Yep. Going into a meeting without first letting people know about its scope will only result in sub-optimized decisions and endless questions that should’ve been answered beforehand.

    Some even say that the big decisions have to be made before the meeting starts. More on that here: http://tcrn.ch/1iEvLZ5. This isn’t our blog, but it’s a worthwhile read. We share good reads like this and have similar articles on our social networks and Bolton Remote email newsletters.

    We encourage our clients that use our Bolton Remote remotesourced teams to be effective with their remote meetings. Agenda sharing is part of our remote practices.

    On Speaking Face-to-Face Whenever Possible

    Purely audio remote meetings can still be effective as long as everything is communicated clearly by the parties involved. But, as you said, audio-visual meetings are still preferred since seeing visual cues can really make a difference in driving certain points.

    Moreover, having video means the inclusion of visual aids and live demos during meetings; this increases engagement and focus, while decreasing the chances of participants getting bored in the meeting.

    Quick question: What videoconferencing tool do you think tops the list? We currently use Skype, while some of our Bolton Remote clients rely solely on Sqwiggle. If you work with remote teams, we’d love to hear what works for you.

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