How To Run Collaborative Remote Meetings That Don’t Suck

Atlassian recently did a study to find what were the biggest distractions in the workplace. You might not be surprised to hear that culprit number two was meetings. So here’s our guide to running collaborative, productive meetings that don’t suck.

Ben Ralph
August 5, 2020

Some Hard Truths About Meetings

According to the study, on average employees go to about 60 meetings each month, with attendees saying that half of all these meetings were a waste of time. This adds up to about 31 hours of unproductive time each and every month.

Putting the numbers aside for a second, it’s not hard to imagine how someone’s energy might be sapped through sitting through countless, pointless meetings.

Even when we manage to invite the right people in the right room, Atlassian found that:

  • 91% of people daydreamed during meetings
  • 96% of people have straight up missed meetings
  • 39% of people have slept during meetings
  • 45% of people felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings
  • 73% of people did other work, while attending meetings
  • 47% of people complained that meetings are the #1 time-waster

Add on top of that meetings that are now largely facilitated through screens, and you’ve got yourself a lot of disengaged and bored teams.

Why Are Video Meetings Are So Hard?

As much as technology has enabled us to work from anywhere, with others who might be anywhere, it’s still not as good as a face-to-face meeting. Why?

The Lag

It might be a split second or it might be a couple of seconds — no matter the length, it’s a killer for the micro-interactions that occur in face to face conversations, like nodding while someone is talking, or waiting for the right moment to join the conversation. This dissonance is taxing on our emotional processing power as we try to play catch up.

Looking At Yourself

The distraction of looking at yourself — not for vanity but to monitor our own reactions — is commonly found. Do I look interested enough? Do I look tired right now? Constantly having a self-narrative about how you appear is something we don’t typically have visual feedback for.

Learning Curves

This will only get better over time — and hopefully this is fading as a problem for many of us — but the frustration and productivity decrease with learning new tools is real. Often we’re focussing so much on “how can I use this tool best” that we fail to look instead for “how can I achieve this outcome” from meetings.

The danger of bad meetings

The danger of one bad meetings, is that is often spurns three more bad meetings. Because the question that needed to be asked and solved in one, didn’t have the attention or focus to achieve it, there’s now the temptation to bring other people in to help, or simply spend more time in deliberation.

This means that our actual work is often pushed to the sides of and interrupted frequently by meetings. When we don’t have enough time or focus to do our actual work, it can lead to stress, working overtime and ultimately unproductive and unhappy teams.

This little tool is a brilliant reminder that your team’s time does actually have a cost associated with it — as much in easy to measure things like dollars as in less measurable things like mental wellbeing. If we think about every meeting as an investment, or an opportunity, how do we make sure we get the most out of it?

Getting to good meetings

A good meeting, on the flip-side, is one that helps us make progress towards a goal, or reach a conclusion on a problem we’re working through. Here’s how to get there.

First, we need to understand that meetings don’t occur in a vacuum. When you enter a session you bring with you all the past experience (or baggage) from previous sessions you’ve attended.

What we need to do is create a strategy to improve all the meetings we run, which then contributes to a positive feedback cycle — with a focus on engagement, focus and quality.

Increasing Engagement

What we mean by engagement, is getting the most from the people that you have. The goal here is to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone is capable and eager to contribute. You’ll know you’ve achieved psychological safety where everyone feels like they can have an opinion and there can be healthy conflict, instead of silence or agreement.

Amplifying Focus

What we mean here is, how can we then take those engaged people and focus them on achieving one thing for the meeting. The goal here is to generate momentum by avoiding distractions, reducing cognitive load and focusing participants attention. What this can look like is shorter, sharper meetings where teams are able to converge and finish pieces of work before moving onto new things.

Enhancing Quality

What we mean here is being able to make progress towards our goal faster, by fixating on achieving outcomes in a session rather than ticking off agenda items. If we haven’t progressed our ideas or reached any conclusion together, you’ll know the agenda items didn’t translate to anything meaningful.

Remote Meeting Facilitator Cheatsheet (Download)

To help you identify and experiment with different solutions to problems with engagement, focus and quality — we’ve put together a checklist for facilitators which you can find here, or download free from our platform, The Lab Book.

We’ve also included a few more worksheets and templates to help you plan your next remote meeting — including how to set the scene, how big or small to go, who to invite, and how to create a blueprint for your time together.

Planning collaborative workshops


Reach Out!

Ready to find the perfect fit for your project?

Do you need a world-class team to help you deliver your digital product? We’ve got just the people for you.

Let’s Talk!