HR & Leadership

How to Stop Having So Many Remote Meetings

April 29, 2020

We’ve just hit the one monthiversary of remote work as the new normal. The how-to posts, downloadable Zoom backgrounds and virtual team building ideas have slowed down, and the world is settling into working from home. It hasn’t been easy juggling kids, co-working partners and concerns about health and job security, but it looks like we’re slowly figuring it out.

Except for meetings, that is. The data we’re seeing from thousands of tech companies tells a different story. While we would have expected a reduction in meetings accounting for the environment, we’ve surprisingly seen meeting volume increase, if anything:

This surprising metric is indicative of a larger problem but an even greater opportunity for remote teams.

Meeting culture: The silent assassin of team culture

Want to get a quick read on your company culture? Just look at your meetings. It’s all there: the interpersonal relationships, the power dynamics, the team camaraderie. For many organizations, meetings are a reflection of the company’s broader processes and health.

Related: The Ultimate Remote Work Resources Guide

At Hugo, we’ve seen this firsthand. The company was founded on the idea that we could make meetings more effective. The more we worked to change our meetings for the better, the more we noticed a correlating positive effect in other aspects of how we worked.

It makes sense, right? Meetings are where decisions get made. They’re where knowledge gets shared. Nearly everything important that happens in a company originates from something that happens in a meeting.

Now layer on the fact that we’re all operating with a completely remote workforce, where more than 75% of interpersonal contact is occurring in meetings. It’s easy to see the destructive impact that poor meeting culture has on your team.

But it’s not all bad news—there’s an opportunity. This tightly coupled relationship between meeting culture and team culture means some simple tweaks to the way you meet can easily influence your team’s DNA.

The impact of remote work on meetings

Just a few weeks ago, when we left the office for the foreseeable future, we predicted the number of meetings would rapidly decrease as sales pipelines dried up, business relationship building slowed and economic uncertainty hit.

Instead, the data shows we simply tried to port our existing way of working to a remote world. The volume of internal meetings skyrocketed. All those “quick questions,” “ideas I wanted to share,” and “watercooler conversations” were now transformed into team meetings.

Ironically, more meetings is the last thing we need while coming to terms with the challenges of working from home in the midst of a global pandemic.

So here are our four recommendations on how to build the ideal remote meeting culture—to enable you and your organization to not only mitigate the challenges of the times but turn meetings into a force for alignment, effective decision making and positive impact on your team’s culture.

What ideal remote meeting culture looks like

Asynchronous > Synchronous

One of the reasons why meetings can be so costly is because they require everyone in the room (or on the call) at the same time. No matter the attendees’ timezone, location or schedule, meetings demand attendees drop what they’re doing.

Historically, this was an acceptable tradeoff to enable collaboration—a necessary cost to keep everyone on the same page. But in 2020, with the right tools, organizations demanding meeting after meeting are hurting team culture unnecessarily when it’s not possible to collaborate on our own schedules. For example:

  • Record a video. You can communicate your idea, feedback or perspective with the same fidelity as a meeting with a short video using products like Loom.
  • Share what happened in a meeting. Not everyone who needs to be aware of meeting outcomes needs to attend the meeting. Shareable meeting notes are easy with Hugo—but regardless, recognize that the value of a meeting can (and should) be for many more than just meeting attendees.
  • Leverage project management tools. Agreeing on next steps, providing feedback and status updates ideally belong in the place where work is managed. Why not use your team’s existing project management tools like Trello to comment, mention teammates and collaborate on work? We constantly hear of important actions falling between the cracks as meeting actions are converted to tickets and tasks, and statuses from tools are transformed to updates in meetings. This can be avoided, while working together asynchronously.

The 4-hour meeting week

Our team has a rule that limits internal meetings to just four hours per week. You might be peeking at your calendar right now, saying, “But I have four hours of meetings… today!”

Let’s be clear: We love meetings. But do you know what we love more than meetings? Progress. Getting stuff done.

So with a rule that creates meeting discipline and an appreciation of the cost of meetings, we’ve been able to drive the team to find other ways to work together—without the need for yet another meeting.

For example, we no longer use meetings to “update” each other. That can happen effectively in an agenda or before the meeting. It’s easy to establish effective note-taking and knowledge sharing from the meeting, so you don’t have to be there.

Have the courage to say “Not Attending” if you think the same quality of discussion and decision making can occur without you in the room or on the call.

Embrace the huddle

One of the culprits of the explosion of internal meetings in recent times is the temptation to set up a meeting to have a conversation just because we’re not in the same office. We’ve realized that the quick shout out across the office, the tap on the shoulder or the conversation at the Bevi machine (the modern-day watercooler) is not akin to a meeting.

Embrace the ad hoc meeting (or huddle as we’ve started calling them) and realize you can reach out to teammates for a quick five-minute chat. A calendar event is typically at least 30 minutes, and the desire for social interaction while remote should not dictate a meeting.

In fact, one of the best ways to maintain normalcy in these times is to reach out for a chat as you normally would. The “Got a minute?” message via Slack is the new calendar invitation via email in 2020.

Surviving the next few weeks

We’ve all accepted that a return to normal is not yet around the corner. It’s not easy to focus on thriving as a team in an environment where business survival is itself a challenge.

So to make positive inroads into your team’s culture, look at meeting culture as the lowest hanging fruit. How you meet determines how you work, and subtle changes to your team’s meeting habits can make the biggest difference in how you navigate the next few weeks and beyond as a newly remote team.

To learn more about how great teams have fewer, shorter, better meetings, download the Vital meeting handbook here.

More on remote leadership

Co-founder and COO<br>Hugo

Darren Chait is the Co-founder and COO of Connected Meeting Notes company, Hugo. Starting his career as a corporate lawyer in sunny Sydney, Australia he made the move to San Francisco to start Hugo with a longtime friend, following years of shared frustrations with unproductive meetings. Darren also writes for Quartz, The Next Web, Thrive Global and numerous blogs, has appeared on well known podcasts and speaks at conferences around the world. <a href="">Hugo.Team</a>