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The pandemic has been remarkable in many ways.

As the virus emerged, so did social isolation. With that came the rise of social media outlets like TikTok and its millions of videos poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of corporate and remote work.

These videos are amusing, but they've brought to light a serious concern that the world is still learning remote meeting etiquette three years into working from home.

We need meetings to do business and exchange ideas–there's no escaping that fact. But running a meeting productively today takes a thoughtful approach no matter if you're meeting to brainstorm ideas or decide something.

At Ten Spot, our mission has always been to manage flexible and remote teams better. When employees are perennially busy, the most impactful and valuable thing leaders can do to respect their time is rethinking the approach to remote meeting efficiencies.

With that, remote leaders can help their teams be more productive, quickly resolve challenges, meet deadlines, foster team collaboration and happiness.

5 Steps to Run Efficient Meetings

Step 1: Reframe your approach

If you're asking whether having a meeting is the right choice, that's the wrong question.

Meetings are a necessary part of doing business. The right question then is, "How can we be effective in the right context to meet the needs of our employees and the organization?"

An important first step is knowing your employees' preferences through the help of employee user guides.

At Ten Spot, we've experienced many benefits from embracing the powerful use of employee user guides. From happier employees to improved efficiencies and a more productive team, employee user guides are great for achieving scalable results.

It's something built right into our hiring processes, too, where all employees complete a brief questionnaire that has equal parts personal and professional questions. Sharing work habits and preferences is as essential as learning someone's favorite hobbies and foods.

You can use these guides to frame up how you structure your meetings. If half of your team prefers doing stand-ups via email or Slack, try that out. If you learn that 90 percent of your group likes walking during brainstorms, you can adjust your approach to holding more active calls.

Tailoring the meeting structure also shows you understand, see and hear your employees, which all employees want.

Step 2: Rethink the tempo

It's hard to know when the 1-hour meeting became the standard for most organizations. But when most people are tuning in from their laptops or know what to expect, we find the attention spans are shorter, and it's easier for people to glaze over.

John Medina, a molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, has found that the average attention span length is 10 minutes. As he frames it, "You've got 10 minutes with an audience before you will absolutely bore them. And you've got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, 'Am I going to pay attention to you or not?' The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out."

Play around with how long you hold meetings and challenge yourself to add variety. At Ten Spot, we're fans of the 15-minute meeting for one-on-ones, status calls, or clarifying tasks.

The 25 or 55 minutes approach for decision-making meetings, brainstorming sessions, or strategy calls may also work well.

A final point, meetings also need to start on time.

Approximately 11 million business meetings are held every day, and over 30% of those meetings start late.

Even worse, as time goes by, people become more and more annoyed as they sit and wait for the meeting to start, which cuts into the session, resulting in fewer ideas, lowered productivity, and increased crankiness.

Avoid that altogether by getting started on time. For example, if it's a Zoom meeting, record the session and share the content afterward. It will help loop everyone in (including people who came late or weren't there) and ensure anyone can review the information when needed.

Step 3: Run with an icebreaker

Meetings, by default, can feel very transactional. With all the benefits of working from home, the number one thing workers still miss about being in an office is in-person co-worker interaction, which has not changed since October 2020.

Meetings over video provide significant and valuable facetime and a comfortable setting for employees.

Companies can encourage collaboration across teams when employees feel more comfortable with their colleagues. Working together builds empathy which encourages team members to consider other points of view before taking action. And when employees take the time to think about how their decisions will affect others, those decisions tend to benefit the company better.

With the right icebreaker activities, team members will quickly learn what they share in common while gaining a better understanding of and respect for each other's differences.

Starting with an icebreaker helps bring that all together. To do it successfully:

  • Keep it short: use leading language such as "Share one thing" or "You have 30 seconds to tell us." You only need a few minutes to get a conversation going.
  • Choose familiar and straightforward activities: Make participation a no-brainer.
  • Set rules to maintain professionalism: Choose an activity that doesn't require oversharing.
  • Think about your group's dynamic: Come back to your user guides to select an activity that feels inclusive and comfortable

Fun icebreakers to try:

  • Emoji-based questions
  • Two truths and a lie
  • Guess the meme

Step 4: Rally around inclusivity

Inclusivity is even more important for remote teams, and it's less about who's at the table and more about encouraging participation from everyone.

It goes back to creating a safe space and getting everyone in the mindset to feel comfortable sharing information in ways they prefer, which will ultimately benefit the team.

It's also important to consider all the different ways people can be involved and engaged.

  • If you know someone who prefers listening, encourage them to take notes and share them with the team afterward.
  • Putting the team into small breakout groups is a great way to get people working together and accomplishing tasks.

Step 5: Review and assign ownership

After every meeting, the team leader or facilitator should summarize the discussion with notes and action items using your business's tools. It can be a Google doc or a summary added to the calendar invite. If you're recording the session, be sure to state the takeaways at the end of the meeting so that people can reference the takeaways when you distribute the video link afterward.

Your meetings should constantly evolve, and it's a good practice to check in with your employees afterward to ask them for feedback. Ask your team what they liked, if they have suggestions to improve and if they found the meeting was a valuable use of their time.

Running productive meetings takes practice. Yet by listening and understanding how your team likes to work, getting everyone involved, making it personal and a way to connect, and leaving with clear takeaways, you can ensure you're running effective remote meetings that encourage productivity and boost morale.

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