Distraction During Remote Meetings

4 min. read

The Solution may be Simpler than you Think

Oof. Another remote meeting. Time to open Zoom, or Teams, or WebEx, or BlueJeans, or Google Meet. Wow, there are a lot of ways for us to meet up online.

So we all log in. We greet and wave smilingly. Well, not all of us wave—at least half of us have our cameras off, according to survey data. Then the teamwork begins! At least, some of the participants are teamworking. Most are actually sending personal texts or doing other, unrelated work. A few of the folks might even be doing chores or sneaking an adult beverage on the clock. Oh dear this is embarrassing. People aren't paying attention in remote meetings, but why? There are several causes:

  • They don’t know the purpose of the meeting.
  • They know the purpose, but they don’t care about the meeting.
  • They have decided the information provided in the meeting is not important for them to know.
  • They don’t know how to contribute.
  • They find it hard to interact.
  • They can’t tell what’s going on.

Good news: We can do something about every one of these! Let’s make a list of the things to do to avoid all of these issues.

Don’t Have a Meeting Unless you Need One

That’s right, the first—and most important—consideration is whether you need a remote meeting at all.

  • If you can use an email to communicate the information and handle follow-up, do that instead.
  • If you can call a few individuals one at a time, do that instead.
  • If you can have supervisors and senior employees take the information to each of their own teams, do that instead. They may be able to get with people on a more personal basis.
  • For very important issues, where possible, some workplaces might even want to wait until it is possible to meet with everyone in person.

Encourage or Ask the Team to Turn on their Cameras

Teams are going to be much more engaged if they know everyone can see their faces. Consider whether you want to require, or just encourage, the team to show up on screen. Leaders can model this by being on screen whenever possible. One word of Warning though: just like too many in-person meetings, too many meetings with cameras on causes meeting fatigue.

Identify the Purpose of the Meeting

When you invite employees to the meeting, explain what the topic is and why it is important for the particular team and participants. State what you would like to achieve. Repeat this process when the meeting begins. An example of a good purpose is “This meeting is to review our projects for January and assign projects to team members. This is so everyone has work to do and we make sure work can be completed on-time.” This is specific and states the benefit that the meeting can help accomplish. An example of a bad purpose is “this is a monthly production check-in.” This bad example is not specific and does not say what will be accomplished.

Tie the Purpose of the Meeting to the Overall Purpose of the Company

Invites and communications about the meeting should also tie the specific purpose of the meeting to the overall purpose of the company. A good example is “This meeting ensures timely delivery of high-quality products to our customers, so we can further our quest be the fastest, best, and most efficient environmental project consultants in the world.”

Explain how the Purpose of the Meeting Relates to Employees’ Day-to-day work

Communications should note what employees take away from the meeting. For example “You’ll want to be here to get your assignment and learn about the projects that you’ll be doing next month.”

Tell Employees what they are Expected to do at the Meeting

Organizers should tell employees if they need to take notes or if they’ll get materials electronically. They should also say when questions are appropriate. Whenever possible, pause or create space for questions or feedback from the team. Studies show this creates more engagement from the team.

Make sure the Meeting is Easy to See, Hear, and Understand

When visuals go up, make sure the screen share is working properly by asking the participants. If there is a presentation, use simple slides or shares without too much on them if possible. Use very large fonts and break up complicated concepts across multiple slides. Send reference materials to participants separately, in advance. Don’t talk too fast and use simple words, avoiding acronyms or unfamiliar words.