To remote or not to remote, that’s the question. Depending on who you ask, You’re bound to get some very different answers.
2017 was marked with a variety of huge companies like Yahoo and IBM reducing or eliminating their telecommuting policies.
Of course for every behemoth like IBM there’s dozens of small, agile start-ups boasting completely distributed workforces.
While some companies are likely hesitant to embrace a remote workforce due to cybersecurity, most of those that avoid it likely do so for reasons relating to culture and productivity. The thinking is ‘my employees are going to be more productive and innovative if they are in the office interacting with their team members face to face.’
However, those who embrace a remote workforce see it differently. By enabling your employees to live and work where they want, they’ll be happier, more intrinsically committed, and you’ll also be able recruit with a much wider net—as you’re not constrained by geography.
Which of these philosophies is the right one? Like most things in life, neither. And both. It’s not one of those issues that can be generalized, so I won’t try to do so here.
What I will do is lend some advice towards companies that are embracing remote work. Because if you count yourself among that group, there’s one thing that you’ve likely yet to master. Meetings.
Remote meetings can be both painful and unproductive. It’s hard to communicate, nonverbal cues are basically thrown out, and you find yourself wondering what just happened to the last hour of your day.
However, this doesn’t have to be your remote meeting experience. Sure, we’re not at the point yet where a remote meeting is as good as the real thing, but we’re getting there. So, let’s take a look at some tools you need in your toolbox if you’re going to make the most out of a remote meeting.
This one is probably a bit of a no-brainer. I suppose you could rely strictly on audio conferencing, but there’s no need to run in mud when a perfectly fine track is available. Video conferencing allows you to see the people you’re talking to, making communication a whole lot easier.
The vast majority of video conferencing tools enable you to hold a conference with multiple people, and any one worth its salt will let you share screens.
Additionally, you should consider whether or not you want your video conferences recorded. Some might feel a recording feature is a bit intrusive, but it can be a great help of keeping an objective record of things.
If you work on a creative team, the idea of a remote meeting likely seems like a foolhardy endeavour. Generally speaking, I’d agree. However, there are some tools that are making it easier and easier for creatives to collaborate without being in the same room.
Interactive whiteboards take the benefits of a traditional whiteboard and amplify them. Once all of the meeting participants join a meeting, everyone has access to the whiteboard and is able to write and comment on it. This is a terrific solution for meetings that need a non-restrictive visual commentary.
One of the great features included with most digital whiteboards is the ability to comment on what is on the board. If somebody draws a diagram that needs further explanation, users can leave a comment that won’t show up on the board and clutter it, but will be accessible by clicking or hovering.
You will want to make sure you do your research on the different products available as some may restrict the number of people able to actually interact with the whiteboard.
Have you ever missed something in a meeting and leaned over to the person next to you to ask what it was you missed? Well, that’s a little tough to do when the only other person in the room with you is your sleeping dog Michael (that’s right, I give dogs human names).
Sure chat tools like Slack have proven to be distractions, but the positives drastically outweigh the negatives.
Tools like Slack let you instantly chat as well as share files, images, video and more. They also enable you to have group conversations. A tool like this is a must have for your business in general, but they’re also needed in meetings.
You can make sure everyone in your meeting is on the same page with team collaboration tools. For example, if you’re running a meeting and need everybody to navigate to a webpage, all you have to do is drop the link in your group conversation and everybody is there.
This software is often easy to use, intuitive, and ultra-useful.
It’s hard to walk out of a meeting and remember what it is everybody said. That task grows exponentially more difficult when you’re seeing a staticky picture of your coworker whose voice is breaking up thanks to a shoddy internet connection.
The best way to ensure you leave a meeting without asking the question ‘what just happened?’ is to take notes. Now, note-taking software is not for everybody. If you consider yourself more of an analog type, you might find a digital notebook cringeworthy.
However, if you can get past this software being a harbinger for the fast-approaching digital world, there are quite a few benefits.
Some are simple and let you easily take basic text notes, while others let your record audio or write directly onto your tablet’s screen. No matter which tool you select, using one will make it easier to organize and share your notes.
There’s no getting around this one. You need a file sharing tool. If you’re going to have a remote team, you need some way for everybody to access documents regardless of the hemisphere they’re joining the meeting from.
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to file sharing software, but that doesn’t mean you can just randomly select one.
Some products will let you annotate and edit live documents. Others enable you to version documents (this is particularly useful for creative projects). There’s also security. Chances are you don’t want just anybody to access your files, and if you go with an established tool, the security is probably top notch. However, try a cheaper alternative, and you might be playing with fire.
It’s a good idea for every company to have some sort of idea management software. It essentially serves as a suggestion box for how a company is run. This software isn’t designed to help meetings, but nevertheless, it can do just that.
It’s probably not necessary to introduce something like this into a remote meeting with only a handful of people, but if you have large meetings with plenty of remote workers, you’ll find this is a must have.
The software allows anybody with permission to make a suggestion or put forth their idea. You can create different categories, so that you know what suggestions apply to what meetings.
Let’s go through a use case for why this software might be useful for a remote large remote meeting.
You have a once-per-sprint meeting for your fully distributed development team of 25 people. In the meeting you cover a variety of topics, but it mainly serves as a retrospective for the previous sprint and a look ahead at the sprint to come.
You want the meeting to be collaborative, but it’d be impossible for everybody to be able to talk without it becoming a cacophony of folks trying to get their ideas heard. With Idea management software, team members can put forth their thoughts and ideas without the resulting chaos. Not only will people have their voice heard, but the ideas will be recorded, so you can always go back and look at what ideas were most popular during the meeting.