May 29, 2020
May 29, 2020
Contributor: Mary Mesaglio
Run more effective, more efficient team and individual remote meetings and keep your team better connected.
COVID-19 changed the way so many people work. Although Gartner offers a lot of great advice about the technical challenges of remote work, I’d like to offer something a little bit different: How to work from home successfully as a human.
It happens that Gartner employs over 2,000 experts, the vast majority of whom have been working from home for years. I myself have been working from home for 20 years. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t like to work in monastic seclusion. I am a deeply collaborative worker and find it difficult to get work done unless it’s with someone else. This is all possible in a remote work environment.
Download Now: Action Plan to Evolve Culture and Leadership for a Hybrid World
On my team, collectively, we have centuries of combined experience working from home. (Out of kindness to my colleagues, I won’t tell you how many centuries, but it’s a lot.)
What we’ve learned over our centuries is a lot about remote meetings and how to make them effective. And all meetings are not created equal. Each type of meeting requires a different approach. For example, a team meeting requires one approach and a 1:1 quite a different one. Below we have gathered some of our best practices.
One important caveat before we begin: everybody’s different. That sounds obvious, but here’s why it’s important. It’s our experience that remote working tends to exacerbate personal and cultural differences. Leaders need to be cognizant of that.
Let me provide a few examples of how this plays out, using my own experience: Many of my colleagues swear by having multiple monitors; I hate having more than one screen. Some colleagues love standing desks; I don’t. Some colleagues thrive on a really structured day. But some others among us need to mix it up, as routine messes with our creative brain.
So take the tips below and expect to personalize and change them according to what you and your team need. One size definitely does not fit all in remote work environments.
In a remote environment, meetings are your lifeline, your connection, your glue to the rest of the team. You don’t need in-person meetings to create social cohesion as long as you run fun, un-soul-destroying remote ones.
A good rule of thumb is that if the in-person meeting is terrible, the remote version of the same will be exponentially more so. This means that, in a remote working environment, the way you run meetings becomes crucial to the productivity and cohesion of the team.
If you’re thinking, “Yes, but this has always been true,” you’re right. But as noted above, working remotely tends to expose in-person practices that are already problematic. If there is one thing you should do right now, it’s to examine your meeting culture, and your assumptions about what good looks like.
Different kinds of meetings are affected in different ways by remote work. Let’s examine those.
Team meetings are a different breed than generic group meetings because they provide the team glue when you cannot rely on casual conversations, shared lunches or water cooler conversations.
As a leader, your goal in a team meeting is not only to inform. Your job is to make the team meetings as valuable as possible, which means making them a vector for social cohesion, as well as a place where hard decisions are made, especially now.
So use team meetings to cement relationships, get people talking and provide a space for all-way communication, especially during a time of crisis. But in addition, decide as a team that you are going to disagree, talk about the elephant in the room, make tough decisions and keep moving forward through this crisis.
Read more: 4 Actions to Be a Strong Leader During COVID-19 Disruption
Also, have at the ready ways to encourage people to talk. A good rule of thumb is to make the team meeting 50/50, whereby the leader of the meeting talks for no more than 50% of the time (at the outside limit, less if possible), and the other 50% is reserved for collaboration, conversation and discussion by your people.
If the team isn't used to speaking up, try changing your approach. For example, encourage people to use the chat function to ask questions or rotate who leads the meeting. Use humor and informality to get people talking, but just like in-person meetings, don’t force anyone to speak or put anyone on the spot.
In this time of crisis, employee isolation is a real worry. Make sure you have meetings with each of your team members often. Let them set the cadence. Some people find more than once every two weeks is invasive and unnecessary, and others need multiple calls per week. Especially now, you might need to increase your individual meeting cadence to ensure everyone is okay and feels included.
Work might not be what’s occupying your employees’ psyche at a given moment. More likely, employees are wondering if they are going to lose their house or their job, or whether an elderly loved one might fall sick. Instead of jumping into business as usual, copy the approach of a colleague at Gartner: Start by asking about their health, then their families and how everything is going, and only then their work.
If you’re geographically distributed around the globe, the chances are that different teammates are experiencing different circumstances, some in total lockdown, others emerging from it and still others yet to experience COVID-19 directly.
They cannot rely on casual encounters or lunch in the cafeteria to cement new relationships. Pay special attention to anyone who is new to the team and is suddenly working remotely. You might need to have more meetings with new workers or set up meetings between them and teammates proactively.
Remote work can be difficult, and remote work during a pandemic has its own set of needs. Ensure that your meetings are inclusive, effective, and well-run to reduce frustration and build team camaraderie during challenging times.
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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:
Gartner COVID-19 Resource Center
*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.