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How to keep focus in remote meetings

Rosie Carley, Senior Director, Human Resources, International Business Partner - LogMeIn

Remote working is now considered the new normal by 73% of the UK population with 68% of UK businesses offering a flexible workspace policy, and yet, despite this change we are still very much in a traditional meeting culture – from Monday morning kick-offs, to mid-week check ins, to week end wrap ups. Whilst it is important to check in with remote employees, there needs to be a careful balance. With too many meetings, there is a risk that employees will be left with little time to actually get the work done. This can lead to frustration which is only exacerbated by those meetings that are poorly organised – adding further fuel to the fire.

So how can businesses get their meetings back into shape to ensure they are the most productive they can be? Here are six tips looking at how organisations can create more structure, produce clearer results and lead to more enthusiasm among employees:

  1. Who’s in the virtual room

According to a study by Sharp Electronics, some employees spend up to 16.5 hours of their 40-hour week alone in meetings, and we’re sure that number has only sky rocketed in recent weeks with most employees working from home amid the CORVID-19 pandemic. With only short breaks between meetings, employees are left at risk of feeling unproductive as they are unable to finish a task. This can create an activity backlog as employees to-do lists grow longer, impacting wider teams and, more importantly, impacting job satisfaction and workplace mental health.

One approach to counteract the proliferation of meetings and the increasing frustration of employees is to draw up a list of all meetings. This can be used to decide which meetings to keep and which are no longer necessary. If new meetings for individual employees are added, a previous meeting should be discontinued. In this way, there is no longer a meeting surplus. Another, perhaps more ambitious way to prevent drowning in meetings is by implementing meeting-free days across the company. No meetings are scheduled on this day and employees can concentrate on their actual tasks.

It’s worth noting that not all colleagues are always needed for a meeting. Managers should carefully consider who is really needed in the meeting, holding true to the motto “too many cooks in the kitchen”, this also applies to meetings. By ensuring that only those employees who can add value to a meeting are present, meetings are sure to run more productively. What’s more, participants will feel encouraged to be actively involved rather than simply a silent listener. With the knock-on effect of leaving unnecessary attendees with more time to tick off their to-do lists.

  1. Adapting to the new normal

Today’s workplace is truly global, previously it may have been unusual to be making cross-contient contact on a daily basis but as the world is adapting to a new normal of working from home, it is important to make the most of remote meetings. This is where unified collaboration and communication technologies can help, acting as the closest equivalent to being in the same room.

Video conferencing is particularly helpful here, providing a much deeper level of immersive communication for rich discussion compared to chat or phone calls. But for this to happen, there is a greater reliance on IT capabilities – a stable WLAN connection is crucial for uninterrupted audio and video. Hardware is also an important component. Without functioning microphones and speakers, audio-visual transmission is difficult to guarantee. If employees use external microphones and loudspeakers, they should ensure they are checked before the meeting.

  1. Be prompt and punctual 

To avoid meetings being unnecessarily long, it is advisable to keep to a strict schedule and a clear agenda. Punctuality is a first step in this direction – if colleagues are late, even if it’s the meeting leader, the meeting should begin without them. Extending a meeting as a result of late arrivals will quickly set a precedent of late starts becoming the norm. This behaviour not only deprives fellow employees of valuable time which can be spent doing other tasks, but also has a direct effect on other teams by making employees late for subsequent meetings.

  1. Remove all distractions

It’s hard to imagine a meeting without someone pausing to reply to an incoming email or message from another colleague. But this shouldn’t be the case, if meetings are expected to run efficiently, answering emails and messages can no longer be used as an excuse. This is not only distracting, but means that meetings can often lead to no clear actions as a result of attendees not paying attention – no wonder many office workers find them a waste of time.

Adopting a no smartphone or email policy within important meetings is a sure way to limit these distractions. By doing so, attendees can consciously focus on the meeting agenda and make meaningful contributions to drive decisions forward, rather than dealing with distractions.

  1. Keeping track of minutes

Taking minutes in a meeting is a useful way to ensure colleagues who are unable to attend meetings can still benefit. They should include what decisions were made and key actions from the meeting.

In the modern workplace, unified communications and collaboration technologies mean entire meetings can be recorded, providing an efficient way for employees to catch up on anything they might have missed out on. What’s more, many of them now include a transcribing feature – which is quicker than any note taker – meaning absent attendees can get a full picture of what was discussed, who made specific points and what the next steps are.

This transcript can then serve as reference, allowing employees to create action lists and subsequent agendas which can then be sent on via email. Ensuring all colleagues are kept up to date and responsibilities are not lost.

Whilst we all agree that meetings are a necessary evil, there are solutions that can be implemented which can help change this stigma. By making these adjusments businesses and employees alike can change the face of meetings and in turn everyone’s attitude towards them. Small changes can go a long way and with the potential to create a more motivated and productive workforce, it really is a no brainer.

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