Making international meetings productive - virtual / physical -

Protocol for International meetings:
  1. Please speak slowly and clearly.
  2. Please confirm that everone understands you clearly.
  3. Please do not rely on the minutes and summary of the meeting.

 

Ten tips for enhancing the efficiency of online meetings:

  • Invite as few people as possible and make it clear whose participation is optional. The more participants, the shorter the time available for each to be active. When only a few are active in meetings that call for interaction, others will become more passive. When such meetings have more than 12 participants, the participants will be less satisfied.
  • Open the meeting room early. It is an advantage if participants are able to test the audio and video before the meeting starts. Participants who log on after the meeting commences quickly disrupt the flow and interaction of the meeting.
  • Status meetings should be avoided if possible. This type of meeting may be considered useful by managers, but less so by others. They can be replaced by one-on-one meetings or brief written updates.
  • Use video, as this makes it possible to see body language, reduces social loafing and makes it more difficult for participants to multitask.
  • Be an active chairperson. Address participants by name. Involve everybody who has chosen to take part.
  • Make use of the functions of the video tools. It can be difficult to make oneself heard during a video meeting. One might want to get a message to others without interrupting a person who is speaking, etc. For this reason one should use chat functions in parallel.
  • Arrange shorter meetings. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If you allocate one hour, the meeting will probably last an hour. Save time by arranging shorter meetings.
  • Encourage people to leave the meeting. At the start of the meeting, inform everybody that it is fine to log out if they feel they are not contributing or learning anything new.
  • Evaluate meetings and meeting culture (continuous improvement). What should one stop doing, what should one begin to do, and what should one continue to do?
  • Facilitate unplanned meetings, as these are the most valuable. More unplanned meetings require one to cut down on the number of existing, planned meetings. Ensure that colleagues are readily available, for example by using communications tools such as Slack, Discord or Teams.

More Effective International Meetings

1. Consider Each Team's Time Zone

Trying to schedule a meeting across multiple time zones is difficult, but leaving out team members from other regions due to a scheduling conflict is never the solution.

One way to approach this is by sending out a quick survey to figure out each team's time preference. You might discover that your team in Singapore prefers calls later in the day, whereas your team in Ireland likes to meet earlier in the day. Involving each region in planning will help you make sure that your meeting is at the best time possible for all parties.

If there isn't a convenient time that'll work for every team, try rotating your meeting time to accommodate each team every few meetings. If you need a meeting scheduler tool that can pick the optimal meeting time for all your global teams, try using Time and Date.

2. Use Technology to Your Advantage

One of the biggest challenges for remote teams is how the difference in time zones can delay productivity.

For example, if you're based in New York and send a blog post to a coworker in Dublin for edits, they're actually five hours ahead of you and have most likely stopped working by the time you send your post to them.

Time zone delays like this can lead to simple projects taking three or four times as long as they normally do. But if you leverage the technology listed below, your global team can be agile and efficient.

Instant messaging software

Skype

Instant messaging apps are a great way to communicate with your team. You can use them for one-time requests and even every day banter.

Slack, the most popular team collaboration software, is the most widely used instant messaging app for a reason -- it allows you to see what time zone your coworkers are in, update your status, and catch up on group conversations.

Video Conferencing Software

Zoom

Whether you're halfway across the world or only 10 miles away from each other, you can always communicate with your teammates through video chat. Video chat enables global teams to facilitate relationships and work directly with others who do not share an office.

But be sure to communicate that a meeting will include video so you don't catch a remote employee off guard. Another video chat idea your global team could implement is mounting a monitor that live streams another team in a different location to your office's wall. By seeing your international teammates faces everyday, your global team will feel more connected with each other.

Smart Conferencing Camera

Meeting Owl

The best way to make teammates feel connected during team meetings is by capturing as much of the human element as possible, like facial expressions and body language.

These small yet powerful details strengthen communication and make the conversation feel more natural, even if you're halfway across the world from each other.

Today, 360° smart conferencing cameras do a great job of picking up everything that's happening on both ends, so everyone feels more connected with each other.

Shared Documents

Google Drive

Shared, real-time editing in Google Drive eliminates a lot of back-and-forth discussion when you work on projects with your international team. The editing feature is also one of the best tools for easily collaborating on content and seeing what changes your teammates have proposed.

Project management software

Trello or Basecamp

Even though project management is the core of all content and product teams, any type of team can use project management software. Tools like Trello can keep your global team moving fast while staying nimble, allowing anyone to jump into the tool at any time and learn about the recent changes to all your projects.

Calendar

Google Calendar

Shared calendars offer your team the ability to see what's going on with each employee, team, and office. Knowing each team's specific calendar also lets you know if another location may have a national holiday or if a team member is out of the office, without having to ask them.

3. Build Your Cultural Competence

The first step towards developing your cultural competence is awareness. Being aware of your own perceptions, culture, background, and biases is essential to understanding how you view other cultures. To strengthen your awareness, start doing some self-reflection and try understanding how your upbringing and culture have shaped the lens through which you see the world.

You should also try to learn more about other cultures. Set up time with a team member from another part of the world to simply get to know them and learn about their culture. If you have time, consider traveling to each team's specific location to learn about their way of life. Additionally, you could read books written by authors who have the same cultural background as your teammates.

When learning the nuances of different cultures, you also have to consider other things like how each of your teams perceive vacation time, remote work, and professional communication.

According to a survey conducted by Owl Labs this year, which explores how Americans and Europeans perceive vacation policy and vacation guilt, U.S. workers take an average of 15 vacation days per year while European workers take an average of 22 vacation days. Americans also are 50% more likely to feel guilty when they go on vacation compared to Europeans.

Even though Americans and Europeans are right across the pond from each other, there's still big differences between their perceptions of work and vacation. And if you make a concerted effort to understand how different cultures and regions think about these important topics, you'll be able to shape the tone and approach of your communication and become a better teammate.

Plus, by immersing yourself in other cultures and staying humble about your own, you'll not only be able to work better with your global teammates, but you'll also grow and develop as a person.

4. Do Team Bonding Activities

Global teams need team bonding as much as single region teams do. When your team feels connected, they are able to work better together. Even if your team is scattered around the globe, you can still promote cross-team and cross-continent bonding through the internet. Here are some fun and effective digital bonding strategies you can use today:

  1. Set up virtual coffee chats with team members from each office.
  2. Have each office pick a day where they can share their culture with the rest of the team, where you can do the following:
    • Order lunches that are native to each team at every office and set up a virtual hangout during breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on each team's time zone.
    • Elect a representative from the office who is sharing their culture that day to do a short presentation about their culture.
    • You can set up these virtual events during holidays like Thanksgiving, Holi, Boxing Day, or St. Patrick's Day.
  3. If international team members are able to travel to your office, make sure you set up fun and engaging team bonding activities like escape rooms or scavenger hunts.

Global team bonding doesn't have to be complicated. As a global team manager, all you have to do is encourage your team to communicate with other offices, ask them to help with other teams' challenges, and think of the whole team as one group.

5. Ask Your Team What Their Preferences Are

Working with global teams means you have to deal with a lot of different opinions and values. If you try to assume what each team is thinking without getting their feedback, you'll never have productive international meetings and won't be able to build trust with your global team.

If you are creating, joining, or managing a global team and want to learn what your team members' preferences are, try sending out an anonymous survey to them, with questions like:

  • What is your preferred communication style?
  • Are there any holidays or local events that we should be aware of and add to the team's calendar?
  • What software programs do you use?
  • What are your preferred times for team meetings?
  • What are your preferred times for individual meetings?
  • What, if any, challenges have you faced while working on a global team?
  • 3 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Productive
  • There's no shortage of advice about meetings out there, but what really matters? What simple steps can be put into action to make meetings more productive?

Every organization has to figure out how to make its meetings more productive. It's a complex challenge. To be effective, each meeting should aim to engage the individual talents of the attendees involved, work to achieve the organization's specific goals for the moment and do so in a way that's both culturally relevant and contextually sensitive to the world around it. Not an easy feat.

It can be tempting to shy away from the task. Instead of embracing this complexity, many leaders fall back on simple blanket rules that no one really follows -- like the leader that declared all meetings in the company should last no more than 20 minutes. These are common traps that keep an organization locked in a cycle of underperforming meetings and endemic mediocrity.

So how can your organization make its meetings more productive? Following are three ways high-performing organizations make meetings better.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Meeting norms, ground rules and guidelines set the foundation for building an effective meeting habit. These norms often include things like use of an agenda and keeping meetings on time. Whatever your rules, the leadership team must follow them. The way the leadership group meets sets the real standard everyone else follows.

2. Document and Share Results

Fear of missing out (FOMO) compels people to attend meetings they shouldn't. Organizers don't want to leave people out, so they invite everyone who might possibly want to weigh in. Yet having irrelevant people in the room de-energizes the conversation and disrupts productivity.

Before the meeting, document the overall purpose of the event and the desired outcomes clearly. Then, send out written meeting results afterwards. When people can see in advance what a meeting is for, then see afterwards what happened, they can decide whether or not it would benefit them to attend. This keeps meetings more focused, and it keeps everyone more productive.

3. Define "the Way" to Meet

There are 16 different types of business meetings, and each has a purpose. A regular team meeting is good for confirming progress and identifying problems, but it's a lousy place to make a big decision. Big decisions demand a dedicated decision-making meeting. Similarly, the initial meeting with a prospective client (or funder) should look very different from the meeting where you ink the deal. Each of these pivotal meetings can be optimized to drive the results your company needs.

High-performance organizations know the type of meetings they need to run and how to run each one well. Each meeting gets a name and becomes "the way" that kind of work gets done. For example, the team's check-in meeting becomes "the huddle." The meeting to impress prospective clients early in the sales cycle becomes a "services briefing." Anything called simply a "meeting" isn't specific enough.

Ten tips for productive online meetings

A meeting that is well-planned, with an agenda, an appropriate number of participants, good tools and a suitable timeframe can be very efficient.

This is what you should be aware of

This being said, it is easy to fall into some traps.

The biggest challenge in virtual meetings is the lack of body language. When all you see is a face, it is difficult to pick up the signals that a person normally provides in a physical meeting. Moreover, if video is not used it is impossible to interpret the body language. So using video and a good headset is essential, according to research scientist Nils Brede Moe.

Another challenge is to retain the attention of all the participants. When people are sitting in front of a computer screen they can easily lose focus on the meeting if they receive an e-mail, a text message or suchlike. This is particularly likely if the meeting has been going on for a while or if they feel that aspects of the meeting are not relevant to them.

“Using humour and showing support stimulates positive behaviour during meetings. Providing positive feedback, encouraging participation and proposing solutions to problems will improve the performance of the team,” says Stray.

On the other hand, complaining has a negative effect, so the meeting chair should be quick to interrupt anybody who moans or grumbles.

“The tendency for “social loafing” – to expend less effort when being in a group than one would as an individual – increases with the number of participants and the degree of anonymity”, Stray explains.

Participants who speak early during a meeting are more likely to be active later, so start with a simple, informal check-in procedure: what went well yesterday, or what do people perceive as the purpose of the current meeting?

The most productive meetings are unplanned

Studies indicate that most people working in a team spend slightly more time in unplanned meetings than in planned ones.

Meetings that happen by the coffee machine, chance encounters in a corridor or visits to another team are examples of unplanned meetings.

Whereas these meetings are found to be productive, a large part of the time in planned meetings is perceived to be of little value and as much as 30-40 per cent of the meeting time is perceived as being wasted, according to the researchers.

Meetings that produce little of value impede the progress of a project and reduce job satisfaction.

Attending a large number of meetings is tiring

When all meetings take place in front of a computer, people spend more time sitting still. Hence, those who usually attend a lot of meetings and are used to moving from one meeting room to another find it more tiring when faced with many consecutive meetings, often without breaks. Staring at a computer screen all day is also tiresome, when you would normally be used to seeing other people. Researchers therefore stress that we should choose to attend certain meetings, and drop others.

According to them, you should ask yourself the following:

  • Which meetings can I attend while I am walking about?
  • What is the best time for me to attend meetings?
  • Which days or times of the day should I keep free from meetings if I am to be productive?
  • Which meetings do I not need to attend?
  • When do I need to take breaks?
  • And not least: which meetings can I drop completely or replace with something else?
Online meeting culture in practice

At the Norwegian SpareBank 1 in Oslo it would appear that the number of meetings has increased since before the corcona virus crisis. Informal meetings have become less common because now these also have to be scheduled. The result is that all meetings now appear to be more formal, according to Marthe Slaatsveen, Development Manager and Team Leader at SpareBank 1 Development.

In spite of this, there is a consensus at the bank that online social chat is actually surprisingly productive.

“It almost feels as if we have got to know each other better now that we can see the family dog and the wife in the background. ‘Have you painted your room?’ someone might ask. On Friday we had a bit of fun: somebody had given themselves a haircut, which caused a lot of laughs.”

At the same time people might not feel comfortable sharing everything.

“I sit in the middle of my living room. To begin with I was afraid that one of my three boys or my husband might walk past in his underwear, but now I’ve decided just to take it as it comes,” says Slaatsveen.

Difficult to chair online meetings

Another challenge is that chairing meetings becomes more difficult, in her opinion:

“On some days I have felt completely drained after staring at a blank screen without getting feedback from people,” she says.

"I have found that asking, “What do you think about this?” is not very effective. It’s better to say, “Let’s all think about this for two minutes, and then we’ll go round the table.”

However, there are also some positive aspects as regards meeting culture:

“Meetings start more promptly now and it takes less time to get things going. Also, instead of using whiteboards, we write things directly in a digital application, which saves a lot of follow-up work,” says Slaatsveen.

She believes that in future we will spend more time working from home and will be more flexible about when we work. Maybe it will be common to do a morning session and an afternoon session later in the day.

When asked which meetings work best, she answers:

“Monday commitments – meetings that are held on Monday morning, where we look at what plans and goals we have for this week. These are brief meetings, lasting no more than fifteen to twenty-five minutes. They are by far the best meetings!”