Distributed work is here to stay — rethink the digital meeting cultur
In the world of office jobs, distributed work has replaced on-site presence. Digital meetings are everywhere. Many are lamenting that digital meetings are not the same as physical ones. Still, we act like we are all sitting in a room together. Time to rethink our meeting culture?
Types of meetings
As I think about meetings in my day-to-day work life, I can classify three main types. First, there are the mass meetings, where information about the current state of the company is shared, new products get reported. Next, we got the team meetings, that’s when I meet my teammates, we discuss team relevant topics, report each other the current state of our project and things like that. As a third type, I would classify the work or project meetings, that when the actual work gets done or at least is discussed.
Sure there are more types, like the workshop, which I would put into class there, or the marketing presentation — which might be a bit obsolete at all in time of distributed work.
The large company-wide meeting
First things first, the meetings where the whole company, the department or a similarly large group meets and gets informed about the latest business developments. These meetings are important, in tough times more than ever, but do they have to be like they are? Usually, only one or a few people are actively speaking, the majority remains silent.
With modern tools like Zoom, Teams, etc. it’s technically possible, unfortunately not everything possible makes sense. Those who are speaking are difficult to understand, there is always the participant that is on the streets and not able to mute the mic, the speaker is sitting in front of a window in a dark room and you can hardly see him, the speakers' connection drops — you get the deal. Additionally, a PowerPoint is shown, but not by the one who is speaking, therefore you get interruptions of the story like: “Next slide please, no not that one, the other, well no, two slides back…”
Sure that is sort of authentic, but leadership in a digital society might show a different picture.
The communication platforms that we all established in our companies these days, allow asynchronous communication and participation. How about a company-wide presentation that is done properly, with good audio and video, a functioning storyline. It does not have to be a Hollywood grade new show, but well-done content is also a form of appreciation for the audience.
When creating good content at home, there are two chances, first, you as a speaker have the chance to rethink what you said and say what you want to say. Second, the audience gets a better information experience and has a chance to consume the information when they can consume and digest it.
Maybe it needs a new role in the company, the digital media creator. A person that helps with content creation and is in charge of cutting and quality control of the content.
That cuts the connection between speaker and listener! You might say and think. Yes and no, for sure! A real connection is not created, but that is never the case, neither in physical nor in digital meetings.
In fact, it might reduce the distance between the speaker and the audience, the audience is in the speaker’s living room, home office — that shows some personality, that is not possible in large meeting rooms. Due to the collaboration platform, everyone can get in touch with each other, via comments and questions. It is a fair chance to create contact between leaders and employees.
The task for the team managers is now to get the conversion stated about these meetings when the team gathers.
Gathering of the team
Seeking for the times when the whole team meets, for whatever reason. To function as a team it is important to offer these meetings point daily or at least once a week. As a team, we need to be aware that this is an important time because we don’t meet each other in the office at our desks.
With this in mind, there needs to be some time to talk about things that are not actual task-related. Have some room to talk about the latest campaign, review the latest developments in the company, or maybe, if the team is close, talk about personal things. As the team is distributed, there is no bumping into each other at the coffee or vending machine, people can’t just chat about random things with the desk neighbor.
A team needs some way to communicate with each other, to function as a team, whether it is synchronous via video call or asynchronous in a team chat or forum.
In a team meeting, it should be normal to activate the camera, hence everyone can see each other, facial expressions talk too. As you activate your camera you should be aware of it. Think about your setup, use a microphone that deserves the name, get enough light in the room, and on your face that people can see you. Finally, get the room behind you in order. As a measure, you can use these tech and productivity YouTubers. It seems you are in their living room, sometimes you are, but mostly you are not. Probably most of them use a studio.
Think of your colleagues as if they are guests to your office, living room, or whatever.
If you are not working in a studio — probably you are not — think about what is behind you. Is there a window, then you might get it covered for video calls. Use a desk lamp to get light onto your face. Try to clean up the mess behind you before you go online.
If you use the camera of your laptop — most of us use it — lift the laptop with some books or think about getting yourself a laptop stand. You can even get creative and build it from some Lego borrowed from your kids.
If you take things seriously think of yourself as a streamer, though you are an employee, and get you some gear like a camera, mic, and some lights.
In the workshop
Stuck a home we are bound to increasingly work alone. What was an advantage, finding focus, doing tasks without distractions is now becoming a hurdle for our state of mind. Sure we can work together via all the well-known sync functionalities, like cloud documents, GitHub, and co, but this is asynchronous, hence we work together alone.
To do tasks together we can lend a method for XP (Extreme Programming), the pair programming — or better pair working. Sharing the screen in a video conference and or using features like the cloud-based documents, Live Share in the editor, or collaborating on a Miro board.
At first sight, pair-working is not as efficient as working asynchronously, but knowledge is spread throughout the company fast. Also, it means more ideas, fewer bugs, and higher quality results.
Sometimes we work together in a “workshop” with a group of people, this is even more challenging than working with one or two colleagues. Here your personality comes into play, are you an introvert or an extrovert? Well, in the latter case you might find it easier to express yourself in the call, while in the former case you might say nothing. While in a physical meeting the introverts are at least visible in a digital meeting a good moderator is a necessity. Before beginning a workshop it might be a good idea to name a host or plan to have an external coach when scheduling the workshop.
First and foremost, we should think about the relevance of a meeting, do we need to set up a meeting or would a message fit better? The power of distributed teams grows as they move from synchronous to asynchronous communication. The night owls can awaken to their full potential if they can work in a way that fits them best. Asynchronous communication might be email, messages, or even (V)Blogging. To learn more about the power of distributed teams, you might look into The five levels of Remote Work.
In all cases that you participate in a video call, you should be aware of the fact that you have your colleagues as guests in your home. In some calls I have been to, I was able to witness things I didn’t want to see. Think of your self as a streamer or YouTuber and get your setup right.
Are digital meetings the same as normal ones? Have you already changed the way you work together? Leave a comment or question below and hit the clap button if you like it.