As Director of Program Development at Rebel + Connect, my main job is to understand the unique human challenges of working and leading remotely.
My secondary role is to identify the experts who address these phenomena in a rebellious, harmonious, adventurous, impactful, and connected way.
Recently our team put out a survey “Remote Team Market Research” (we are still collecting responses 😉) to learn a bit more about our fellow remote workers’ current experiences of living in a digital world.
"What's your biggest challenge/problem when it comes to leading a remote team?"
One participant wrote:
"Biggest challenge with being a remote employee is not having in person meetings which help foster enthusiasm for projects. Goal setting for the company and position is often easier to do in person too."
Other participants echoed this struggle to develop strong human connections in a remote setting:
"Helping them feel connected to our mission and ensuring they still feel part of a team and community."
"Maintaining sense of belonging, supporting those who need more interpersonal contact, oversight."
"People often are absorbed in computers even during in person meetings Prefer they tune in to the meeting only."
"Team building; everyone gets along well but with a remote team that personal connection is vital."
At Rebel + Connect we geek out on remote work and human connection, so we feel that pain and we promise…
...it is possible to keep the positive human connection common on co-located teams and also gain the benefits of a remote team model.
We strongly encourage leaders of remote teams and fully distributed companies to rebel against the remote work norm of social isolation by making retreats part of their company culture.
We also recognize that retreats are a big picture long-term strategy.
Remote teams also need tools and tips that can help humanize their day-to-day interactions.
While you may not be able to host a remote team meeting that exactly resembles a co-located one, that doesn’t mean that remote meetings are fundamentally less effective.
As our Network Provider Lisette Sutherland of Collaboration Superpowers often says, leading a remote team isn’t rocket science, you just have to be intentional. (Stay tuned, as Lisette will be our featured guest expert in May 2017 with appearances on our podcast, in our Facebook group, and co-hosting a live training!)
Remote work forces you to be intentional in a way that you do not have to be when your team is co-located.
Co-located meetings are not fundamentally easier, rather co-located meetings are simply more familiar.
You are very lucky that your brain is wired to automate behaviors you engage with often. You also instinctively mirror the behaviors of those around you.
Both of these truths make it metabolically less expensive on a day-to-day basis to be in your version of the world, while maintaining harmony with others.
In a co-located setting or during co-located in-person meetings, many things happen implicitly or naturally, because you have become accustom to doing these many things in certain ways.
Remote work can be harder and can sometimes feel foreign and awkward. It would, because for many people remote work is new and unfamiliar… and therefore metabolically more expensive.
But ask yourself: what would your life be… what would our world be… if you rejected everything new to remain comfortable?
Boring at least!
How then do you overcome this sense of discomfort and learn to facilitate and lead exceptional remote team meetings that not only get the job done, but ensure team members walk away with a felt sense of membership and purpose?
Rebel against the tendency towards a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality.
Since when do 100% of co-located team members love team meetings?!
Since when do 100% of co-located team meetings get the job done?!
HubSpot reports that 47% of participants in a survey conducted on “Why We Hate Meetings” said, “They’re not productive.”
Many people romanticize remote work, because they envision a world with less time wasted on poorly run team meetings.
In fact, a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that “in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.”
There are good and bad meetings in both camps, so remember that a meeting is what you make of it.
Reframe the word ‘in-person.’
Just because you are in the same room as another person or a group of people, doesn’t mean that everyone or anyone is on the same page or even fully present.
Both co-located and remote meetings have the potential to be plagued by participants who are distracted by what came before, what’s to come, and/or real-time multi-tasking.
Consider that it is possible to have a fully present real-time virtual meeting.
At Rebel + Connect we would strongly recommend to anyone who asks that remote teams use a video conferencing platform such as Zoom.
We would even dare to suggest that this type of meeting is superior.
A video conference on a platform like Zoom can be accessed from almost anywhere (Duh, right? #remotework plug shocker!).
Take a second to think about what this means, even for a co-located team.
If you integrate video conferencing options into all your team meetings, then team members can participate in a meetings even when they are home sick, traveling for work, and/or uptown preparing to meet with an important client.
Additionally, you can record all your meetings in a compact format (audio and video files), the faces of the participants and the presentation content are all in one view!
Team members can watch back the meeting recording whenever they need to reference something discussed. Less note taking, more active listening and engagement!
Department heads can watch back meeting recordings of teams they oversee.
Votes can be captured.
Notes can be transcribed.
God forbid you have a lawsuit that materializes, you have a video record on your team performing with the utmost integrity (😉).
Reframe that in-person is somehow more professional!
Before you buck at my choice of words, know that I am not suggesting you start the meeting with a prayer or a trust fall.
A ritual is merely a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order with a particular intention. Rituals help people make meaning.
Every co-located team member has a pre-meeting ritual that may look something like:
Walk down hall
Enter conference room
This is surely followed up by a similar post-meeting ritual:
Leave conference room
Walk down hall
Arrive at desk
While each individual’s ritual varies a bit and may even deviate from time-to-time, every team member walks through the same halls funneling towards the same room at the same time goes through the same door and then sits in the same type of chair.
This is an implicit collective ritual that (for better or worse) puts people in the ‘meeting’ mindset.
The same is true on the back end. Team members exit the meeting and the ‘meeting’ mindset when they stand more or less together, exit more or less together, and disperse more or less together.
This creates a collective sense of arrival and commencement paired with a collective sense of closure and departure.
This ritual gets lost in a remote context, but can easily be recreated.
For example, at Rebel + Connect we start each meeting with a one minute moment of silence, participate in what we call the “abun-dance” to literally shake off any funky stale vibes and energize the team, and then we do a “popcorn” check-in where each person shares 5 words to about how they are feeling in that moment.
At the end of the meeting we do these same actions in the reverse order: 1. “popcorn” check-out 2. “abun-dance” 3. moment of silence.
Each team is different and there is no one size fits all remote team meeting ritual.
Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in your team meetings?
What mindset does you team need to access if they are to succeed?
What are the company values and how might you bring these to life at the start and end each meeting?
So there it is... my advice for leading smarter remote team meetings:
Later this month we are hosting a living virtual training,
During this training, I will dive a bit deeper into creating rituals and also expand upon check-ins.
Additionally, I will address tools and tips for creating a culture of meaning in between meetings and retreats, during the time when your team members are actually working remotely.
It is possible to have the freedom you and your team seek, while still being part of something much larger than yourself.
You don’t have to take my word for it...
Do you have helpful tips and tricks for leading smarter more productive team meetings? Share them in the comments section below!
Rebel + Connect creates custom retreats for remote teams. A Colorado based company owned and operated by Charlie Birch, Rachel McGehee, and Summer Weirich, we operate remotely and service clients from all over the globe. Join us as we create cultures of meaning and celebrate human connections in a digital world!
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