Even before COVID-19, remote meetings were becoming increasingly common, with large companies often needing to communicate internationally, and smaller companies working remotely for the sake of flexibility and convenience.

But leading a remote meeting is easier said than done. If you simply fire up your video conferencing software and expect it to feel exactly like you’re all in the same room, then you’re in for a lot of chaos, confusion, and time-wasting.

If your remote meanings aren’t going to plan, then it’s probably because of least one of these reasons:

1.You don’t establish rules, etiquette and norms

All meetings need at least a few rules, and remote meetings definitely need more rules than face-to-face meetings. Decide whether or not attendees have to have their cameras on, if and when muting should be allowed/enforced and, most importantly in remote meetings, how and when attendees should take their turn to speak. Once you’ve set the rules, distribute them in advance so that everyone knows what to expect.

2.You don’t actively invite contributions

This is a common sign of poor meeting leadership in any meeting, but it’s an even bigger problem in remote meetings because it’s even easier for less vocal attendees to become invisible and unheard. Just because you’re not hearing from someone, doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. Ask them something. You should know why they’re there - you uninvited them!

3.You don’t set an agenda

Inviting someone to a meeting without telling them what the purpose of the meeting is until it starts is bad practice anyway, but doing it when the meeting is remote is just asking for additional time to be wasted. Why wait until the meeting starts? Figure out a clear agenda, copy it into the meeting invitation and, once the meeting starts, stick to it.

4.You’ve invited people who don’t need to be there

Don’t invite a single person to a meeting unless you have a clear idea of what they specifically can contribute to it. Will everyone in the meeting have something to contribute? And will everyone in the meeting need to hear everything that is said in the meeting? If the answer to either question is “no”, then you’ve invited too many people and you’re wasting everyone’s time. Doubly so with remote meetings.

5.You’re not dedicating time to small talk

In meetings among teams that work together in the same office small talk is a waste of time and should be minimized, if not avoided altogether. However, small talk is actually a valuable way to spend the first few minutes of a remote meeting, because it helps attendees to feel connected, which they otherwise don’t under the circumstances. Just make sure that every single attendee is included in the small talk - it’s rude to have one-to-one personal chats in a group meeting.

6.You don’t assign roles

It’s hard for anyone joining a meeting remotely, particularly if they’re working at home, to ignore distractions and stay engaged. One way to help keep your attendees’ attention on the meeting at hand is to assign roles. Someone could, for example, be in charge of taking notes and writing them up into a follow-up email. Someone else could be the timekeeper, who watches the clock and ensures no item on the agenda overruns. Another could enforce meeting rules and etiquette. If you don’t assign roles, then everyone will be sort of keeping an eye on all of these things, and no one will be properly focussed on anything.