Distributed Work: Meeting with Efficiency

Distributed work is a hot topic in this time of uncertainty, with many guides on how to be most productive, ergonomic and professional while working at home, away from a centralized office and colleagues. But what about working efficiently? Efficiency and outcomes should be top of mind, especially in group situations like meetings.

Meetings are expensive. Don’t be wasteful unless you’re just socializing over video. Meeting calculators exist to understand the cost of inefficient meetings, but you can put the passive aggressive meeting calculator behavior aside and make your meetings more efficient with the following tips.

What are meetings for?

  1. Meetings are for a collaborative group of decision makers to reach a decision that couldn’t be facilitated asynchronously.
  2. Meetings are for a group of people with the same goal to check in on a regular basis on defined and open topics, so they can track measurable progress towards the goal.
  3. Meetings can also be for distributed teams to set aside time for group socializing, but this isn’t the kind of meeting we’re discussing here 🙂

Pre-meeting

  • Include an agenda with a clear outcome for the meeting.
    • If you receive a meeting invite that isn’t clear, don’t hesitate to ask the owner to clarify to the attendees.
  • Include pre-reads. Pre-reads should be sent at least 24 hours before the meeting and clearly labelled if it’s required or optional to read.
  • Not sure if you should add someone? Ask yourself: is their data/experience critical to decision making towards the meeting goal?
    • When in doubt, mark them optional and let them decide.

During a meeting

  • Be on time, end on time. No exceptions. If you have trouble with this, set 25 minute meetings so you have time to make it to other meetings.
  • Turn on your camera if there are distributed attendees. Look each other in the eye. Dialing in to a group meeting from the phone causes poor audio quality and disconnection.
  • Be present or decline the meeting.
  • Define the meeting leader. This is usually the organizer. They should drive the agenda.
    • For recurring meetings, consider rotating the meeting leader so everyone has an appreciation for ownership and driving the meeting agenda.
  • Define a notetaker to scribe agreements, action items with owners and due dates, and parking lot items during the meeting. 
    • For recurring meetings, consider rotating the notetaker role so everyone has an appreciation for accountability.
    • Do not share your screen as note-taker. No one needs to see you typing live.
  • Create a parking lot for off-agenda topics that come up. Don’t spend time if it’s off-agenda.
  • No deck or doc “reading” in meetings – either send the deck/doc ahead of time OR define the first 15 minutes of the meeting as “quiet” for everyone to read the deck. The latter should be avoided because we are not elementary school children.
  • Offer constructive criticism of ideas, not people.

After a meeting

  • Notetaker email agreements and action items to group.
  • Meeting owner sets next meeting, if needed.
  • Review if meeting goal was met. If not, adjust your meetings.

Other distributed meeting ideas

  • Ditch the whole number. Setup meetings for 12, 17, 20 minutes if that’s what you need. Don’t be afraid to end a meeting early once the goal is accomplished.
  • Group chat until you come to an impasse and need to meet.
  • The classic Sapient POAD approach breaks it down more explicitly:
    • Purpose: Why are we having this meeting?
    • Objectives: What do we want to accomplish by the end of this meeting? What are the 1-3 things that we can check off by the end of the meeting? Specificity is key.
    • Approach: How will we get there from here? List these as steps.
    • Deliverables: What will we produce by the end of the meeting?

Thanks to my colleagues at Publicis Sapient for contributing to these ideas: Raj Shah, Ralph Zenger, Leah Buley, Matt Neenan, Rahul Agarwal, Kerstin Fels, Bhumika Sharma, and Marc Ottersbach.

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