NEON Virtual Facilitation Training Dana

Empathetic Remote Meetings

Right now, if I scroll through Linked In, I will be bombarded with promoted posts and articles telling me how to have the “Best Remote Meetings” or the “10 Best Technologies for Remote Meetings.” Some even want me to “Stop Having Meetings Altogether.” In all of this noise, something is noticeably absent.

Funny enough, it’s the same thing that is noticeably absent from many processes—especially those that are unsuccessful. And it’s the key to making most processes undeniably successful. In fact, it’s usually the first thing my team institutes when tackling a new project for a new client. 

 

It’s empathy, it’s your greatest competitive advantage, and it’s the key to making your remote meetings effective.

 

All of our meetings right now are remote meetings. In fact, with even our happy hours and birthday celebrations happening on Zoom, our entire lives are remote meetings right now. If this is the time of greatest challenge and compromise our generation may ever face, shouldn’t we put a bit more effort into being empathetic? 

So, like any product designer, I am turning to research and data to support my hypothesis.

 

How might we make remote meetings better for everyone?

 

The first step to empathetic research is understanding. To solve a problem empathetically, you need to understand how the user (or the person you are trying to solve the problem for) experiences that problem. And, I must tell you—empathy for yourself is not empathy. Even though we are experiencing what psychologists and experts are calling a “collective trauma,” we are not all experiencing it in the same way. 

 

To understand the challenges your team is experiencing with remote meetings, in order to effectively solve them, just ask them. Ask them questions and make sure they feel they can answer you honestly. Questions like “What is your greatest challenge in meeting remotely?” or “What does your perfect remote meeting look like?” Let your research inform changes you’ll make to your remote meeting process. 

 

Aside from research that is custom to your team, there are a few empathetic adjustments you can make to your remote meeting process:

 

Create equality in information.

 

Make sure that when you begin the meeting, everyone has the same information, and everyone is clear about why you’re meeting and what your goals are. This is the best way to avoid having to explain things multiple times and ensuring conversation is productive.

 

Create equality in access.

 

If we are all remote, this can be less of a challenge. When we eventually return to a mix of onsite and remote work, often groups may meet together while others access individually. This is ill-advised. I’ll explain: when some teams are grouped together in a conference room and some people access the meeting remotely, it creates communication inequality. You have side conversations that not everyone can hear, and access to the meeting is different for each person. By having everyone access the meeting individually, the experience is equal from person to person.

 

Facilitate individual contribution.

 

Provide opportunities for visual collaboration so that each person contributes equally by using tools like Mural or Miro (visual whiteboarding and sticky note tools) and Menti (live crowd polling and questions tool). This helps create energy and makes people feel a part of the team, even when remote.

 

Structure even your briefest meetings.

 

Use the session to collaborate and make progress, with great respect to the time contribution of your participants. Avoid open-ended discussion and opt for definitive action instead.

 

 

To end the session, summarize the results and clearly state next steps. Everyone should leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what has been done and what comes next to avoid ambiguity. 

 

Remember most of all that sitting at a desk all day and staring at a screen makes people feel a bit trapped, and they’ll reach their limit of productivity quite quickly. Opt instead to use meetings for brief check-ins and dedicated collaboration time, and leave information sharing to emails. No one likes a meeting that could have been an email!

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