We’ve all been there. The frustrating meeting: disorganized, without an agenda and far too many attendees – both in the room and on the phone. When you’re done, you feel like you’ve wasted an hour of your life.
For remote employees, it’s even worse. Because they’re not physically at the conference table, they miss the non-verbal cues and side conversations, while those attending in person often forget who’s on the other end of the speaker phone. It’s no wonder that people multitask during conference calls.
The problem is you need remote workers to contribute. You need their information, knowledge and feedback. Think of a sales manager in another state who can share what customers are saying. Or a franchise owner who’s identified problems with a new point-of-sale system.
To make your remote colleagues feel connected and valued, here are 16 ways you can help them feel like they’re in the conference room along with everyone else.
1. Make it mobile-first.
The first step toward changing this dynamic is to provide remote employees with the right tools. They need to the ability to join meetings from any device – mobile, tablet, desktop – and any operating system. A cloud hosted phone system, like MiCloud Connect, puts them in the room with a single click and makes it easy to collaborate with colleagues.
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2. Ensure a strong connection.
Nothing is more aggravating than a poor connection that makes it difficult to hear others or contribute to the conversation. A cloud phone – a Voice over IP (VoIP) based business telephone platform – enables your remote colleagues to connect to any conference call with one click, from any device, via the Internet.
3. Set a clear agenda.
It’s been said many times but it’s worth saying again. Distributing an agenda days before the meeting is essential. Choose a unified communications solution with a built-in agenda capability that enables you to send the meeting plan with the invite. This way remote employees aren’t at a disadvantage. Everyone is on the same page from the get-go.
4.Choose the right time.
A convenient time for participants in one time zone might be the kids’ bedtime for participants in another. This is a common complaint of remote employees. Everyone in the room thinks 3 p.m. is a perfect time for the next meeting, but the remote colleague is in the awkward position of reminding the group that it’s not a good time for them. It’s the job of the meeting leader to be conscious of this and proactively find times that work for (mostly) everyone. In some organizations, meetings rotate times so that everyone “shares the pain.”
5. Share expectations for participation.
With the agenda, let participants know you expect everyone to come prepared to fully contribute to the conversation, no matter where they’re located. Ask everyone to read through the agenda and reach out to the meeting leader with any questions or feedback.
6. Invite the right people.
Not surprisingly, conference calls with too many participants are less engaging. Stanford University Professor Robert Sutton found that the magic number for a productive team is five to six people, no more than 10. But success is about more than a number. A sure way to increase inclusion and participation on a conference call is to have the right people involved.
7. Establish meeting ground rules.
When you’re calling in remotely, it often feels like you have to fight to be heard. Set ground rules for how people should communicate during the call. For instance, one person speaks at a time with no interruptions. Or ask your team what they feel the ground rules should be. A remote colleague might suggest, for instance, that everyone say their name before speaking since she isn’t in the room. This also serves to remind the people in the conference room that remote colleagues are on the call.
8. Start with introductions.
So simple, yet so important. Ask everyone to say “hello,” give their name and role, and explain why they’re on the call. Small talk can help make everyone feel included, especially remote colleagues. If the call’s a video call, make sure everyone is on video (not audio). If someone can’t be on video, ask them to post a photo of themselves.
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9. Invite participation.
Since it’s easy to forget who’s calling in, it’s the job of the facilitator to make sure everyone contributes. Keep track of who has spoken – and who has not. Ask direct questions to those who haven’t contributed like, “Ashley, what do you think of this idea?” Use a cloud business communications service, like MiCloud Connect, that enables participants to give their input via cloud collaboration tools such as chat, IM or polling.
10. Manage speaking time.
One of the hardest tasks for a meeting leader is controlling who speaks and for how long. This is particularly difficult for remote colleagues, who often find they can’t get a word in edgewise. The meeting leader must be aware of this dynamic and counteract it. For example, if one participant is rambling, the leader can interrupt gently, acknowledging and reflecting back their contribution before moving the discussion on, or asking for input from another participant.
11. Speak clearly.
When speaking to someone face-to-face, you get a lot more information. Speech clarity isn’t as important because the listener is picking up non-verbal cues, too. That dynamic is missing for those not in the room. Therefore, it’s important that the facilitator speak clearly and slowly, with more pauses to make sure everyone is following.
12. Make it visual.
Use collaborative conference software that allows anyone on the call to share their screen. Use visuals to keep everyone engaged. Ask different participants to share documents.
13. Break it up.
When planning the meeting, be conscious of keeping it interactive. For instance, stop after three slides to ask questions. Assign different items on the agenda to each participant. In this way, the remote worker feels like an important contributor to the meeting.
14. Rotate roles.
Effective meetings need more than a leader. Other roles include a notetaker and a time-keeper to keep the agenda on track while the leader focuses on content and presentation. A good practice is to rotate these roles. Sitting in the passenger seat is very different from being the driver. When meeting participants share responsibilities, they feel more ownership and engagement. This is particularly important for remote workers, who often feel peripheral.
15. Create a shared workspace.
Remote employees need access to the same information as everyone else on the team. In the past that meant dialing into the mainframe. With the cloud, it’s so much easier. Choose a cloud business phone system that provides a virtual shared workspace containing all documents and communications pertaining to the team’s efforts. With a click, remote workers can see all the team’s work in one place.
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16. Record the call.
Sometimes colleagues have to drop out of a call early, or something comes up that prevents them from attending. Use a cloud-hosted communications and collaboration solution to record the call and store it in the shared workspace. Drop the meeting minutes in the workspace, as well.
Conference calls have always been challenging, but with more team members working remotely, it’s essential for businesses to make sure they contribute and feel included. Choose a cloud business communications solution that gives you the tools to create an inclusive, collaborative workspace.