Remote Meeting Management 101

Meetings with remote participants are harder than other meetings.  We humans are better at conducting conversations when we have the full range of information from body language and facial expression to work with. But sometimes we have no choice but to communicate with our colleagues who cannot be together with us — and if we value their contributions, we’ll find a way to make this work.

There’s a range of variables that can make this easier or harder.

– Technology.  Ease of use of the technology, fitness for the purpose you’re using it for, and the participants’ familiarity with the tech in question are all aspects of this question.

– The purpose of the meeting – is it one way information dissemination, or do people need to come to new agreements?

– Time zones.  My nightmare scheduling scenario has people in India, Israel, US East Coast, and US West Coast.   Unfortunately, sometimes that’s team I need.   The best you can hope for is to make everyone equally unhappy with the scheduling.

– Is everyone remote?  In my experience, it seems easier to get remote meetings to work out equitably if everyone is working at the same level of remote-ness or technological access.  It is very difficult not to over-privilege the people who happen to be in the room if  some are together and some are far away.

Here are a few things I try to do when remote meetings are necessary.


On a broad, cultural level, an organization that wants to include remote participants needs to become convinced that this is going to incur extra cost (both in people’s effort and in investment in technology) and that these expenses are worthwhile investments at the organizational level.    The remote people should not be the ones incurring all of the expense in addition to the disadvantages of being remote.    The goal is to include them as valued colleagues and collaborators.

Define the communication technology you’re going to use and reach out about that early enough that people can correct their access issues if possible.  If the meeting is important, it might be possible to set up a prep meeting in which the communication can be tested or trained on.

If at all possible, make that communication channel use video.  A technology that makes it clear who is present in the meeting and who is not is preferable to one that allows for silent lurkers and other unacknowledged participants.  It’s difficult to make space for contributions from people when you don’t know they are present.

The Meeting Itself

Meetings with remote participants may need some more structure than other meetings.  All of the things that make a meeting successful go double for remote meetings: thus, agendas, note takers,  and meeting minutes are a key part of the success of the meeting.  If you are leading the meeting, consider having someone who has a side channel to you (private chat or co-located) who can be deputized to be observer and time keeper and notice if someone is falling through the cracks.

Try to have a shared artifact – an electronic whiteboard, a Google doc, or something, in which the progress of the meeting can be made visible.  This may give another channel for people to make contributions in parallel to the conversation.

It’s really important in remote meetings not to interrupt or talk over the ends of other people’s sentences.  Without the support of body language to help with turn taking and with the likelihood of more variation between conversational cultures [citation needed], it’s much harder to recover people’s participation if they feel sidelined.

If it’s a come-to-an-agreement kind of meeting, it’s extra hard to know whether you’ve got buy-in or just silence.  Call on people by name,  ask each person to chime in to their assent on the agreement specifically.  The recap at the end of the meeting, with actions and follow-ups and agreements made, is a good point to check in on this.  Leave twice as much time for this as you’d leave in a similar face to face meeting; if there are too many people to call on by name, it indicates that you may have too many people for a working meeting anyway.

Avoid ending the technologically accessible part of the meeting and then continuing with the “after meeting” discussion with just the people physically present.

Good luck! This is just the 101 and getting this right for your organization is not trivial or easy.  It is important work though and work that dramatically expands the pool of allies you can gather to conquer the world, run a con, or whatever other task you have set for yourself.