Rules for remote control

David Dunbar, head of Advise Anywhere, BT Global Services, knows all the pitfalls of remote meetings –  he shares his top tips for success.


Like many people, my time is increasingly spent in virtual meetings. It might be via conference call, web-based collaboration or even video. Virtual meetings are here to stay, but they can be a bittersweet experience. Some are short, focused and productive – some not.

We all know the issues: lack of engagement in the call, dominant characters dragging us down dead alleys, technology issues and the sheer frustration of keeping a meeting together when someone keeps dropping out because they are on a train.

I am as guilty as anyone. There are plenty of recent examples where I have been on mute when I could have contributed, or where I was too worried about finding a quiet area to pay attention. Last week I attended a virtual meeting where most people didn’t turn up because the organiser hadn’t taken account of time zones.

Despite my own failings, here are 10 tips that I have found lead to successful remote meetings.

Keep it short and sweet: Virtual meetings can save a lot of time. A meeting that lasts only 10 minutes, and achieves what it sets out to, truly is a thing of beauty.

Prepare the way: Ensure in advance that everyone can use the technology. If documents are required, send them beforehand.

Focus, focus, focus: A session where everyone is concentrating on emails or side conversations will not be great. Promise a short, focused meeting in return for full attention.

Know who’s who: Leave enough time for people to re-acquaint and re-build relationships. Introductions help too. If someone joins late, ask them to introduce themselves.

Exercise control: A virtual session requires more effort than a face-to-face meeting, and a good agenda helps. Think about facilitation, possibly giving someone that role.

Check that everybody is listening: Work to get engagement. Check frequently that everybody understands, invite feedback and ensure that everyone has their say.

Have a back-up plan: The technology is pretty stable, but can go wrong. In some cases the back-up may be to reconvene. Don’t be afraid to call a halt: quality is king.

Brainstorm: Getting decisions to stick is not as easy as it sounds in a virtual environment where you can’t see the frowns, the shaking heads, the crossed arms and the side conversations. One way to help this is to brainstorm more than you would in a face-to-face meeting. Get buy-in, otherwise that decision may not be as unanimous as you think.

Draw maps: Keep a participants map. One method is to draw a bubble for every participant and note their inputs and viewpoint as you go along.

Become a black-belt user: Many people only use the basics. Some of the less used functions are really helpful, even in a simple audio conference. Spend time learning what you can do with your system.

Your own advice for good virtual meetings might be different from mine. Take the time to work out your own top 10 and put them into practice.

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