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  • Steven Timbers

In-person or remote meetings; which is best for big decisions?

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

We all know there has been a huge shift from in person to remote. The change has been quite sudden and majority of the change was forced on us due to covid restrictions.

I am all for this. I have gone from 1hr commutes to a remote first policy. So to me its an overall a positive change!

But working remotely has not been without its challenges. From missing the social element and sometimes feeling isolated to endless meetings flooding your calendar.


And one thing I really have noticed is a difference in the challenges between in-person and remote meetings.

I have very recently been part of in-person and remote variants of “big” decision meetings. When I say “big” I mean meetings that create plans for large pieces of work. I wanted to talk through each and what worked well for us.

Outputs from both sessions - intentionally blurry!

In-Person

Pros - Social Element - Maintained Focus Cons - Difficult to organise (for us) - Costly - Transcribing Effort

 

The in-person scenario is something we are all used to, unless you started your working career during the pandemic! Everyone gathers in a good sized room around a whiteboard and works from there.

Working in a remote first environment these are harder to schedule as we need to work around existing commitments and travel from across the UK to a central location. We always get there in the end after several polls, a few nudges and a final discussion in our stand-ups.

When we are all in the office conversation tends to flow pretty freely. To better enable this we ensure we have a set agenda and have any prerequisites ironed out beforehand. Our most recent session required input from multiple departments within our org, we conducted internal “interviews” and recorded the information in an easily accessible format.

This is a costly exercise; travel, time & office space. So we held ourselves accountable to the rest of the company. At the end of each session / day we produced a 2 page high-level overview with some images of what we had achieved.

We left having looked at new architectural approaches, we understood more about our customers and we set a number of follow up actions. Without holding ourselves accountable and pre-planning we might not of achieved as much.

Remote

Pros - Easier to organise (for us) - All data is recorded digitally Cons - Quicker to fatigue - People tend to multi-task - Can require a lot of set-up

 

Like I said earlier it all changed rapidly from in person to remote and its the new normal, for me at least. Thanks to the tools we use the layout is very similar. Everyone gathers in a virtual room around a virtual whiteboard and works from there!

The remote session is much easier for us to organise. Just find an open slot in the calendar and it's sorted. As with the in person we plan out our objectives for the session and set the agenda around it, we also cover any prerequisites before the session.

With remote sessions you can fatigue a lot quicker and not feel as connected. Remote fatigue has been researched and is summed up in this article in Forbes. To try to overcome the fatigue (at least) we ended up splitting our day long session in to multiple smaller ones throughout the week, this had the added benefit of making it easier to organise.

Another problem for remote is multi-tasking during meetings. I think its just a symptom of remote working now and I’m no angel. No matter what, people will do this. The way you plan your sessions will have a huge effect. Try to make sure everyone has a chance to be involved. Make the session visually engaging, use voting & swap the facilitator from time to time, all these things will help.

A great thing about remote is after you are done the write-up is minimal. If planned correctly this can be close to zero and be ready to consume digitally by the rest of the org almost immediately. There are a huge wealth of tools to use as ‘whiteboards’ to help facilitate virtually, we use Lucidspark but any would work.

Remote can also help to even the playing field between the extroverts and introverts as long as you plan correctly. There is less pressure to force yourself to be heard or standup and present. One way we get this right is by having quiet time for everyone to write their ideas down before discussing.

Our last virtual session was for planning our OKRs for the quarter. It took a lot of setup but the results were rewarding. We managed to review our current OKRs, Products new OKRs, plan and have a coherent set of OKRs for our Squad within a Week (circa 10hrs of meetings).

 

When to choose one over the other?

I have given an overview of what has worked well for us and what problems we have found along the way. I don't think there is a black or white answer on which you should choose but you could ask the below questions to help guide you on whether remote or in-person is right for your team:

Which does your team prefer?

Simple enough question but if there is a clear response to it then maybe that tells you everything you need to know. Don't pressure one over the other if there is a preference. Is this urgent? You might need an answer on something relatively soon so depending on capacity one might be a better choice than the other. Will your outcomes be worth the cost? Tough one to answer but for us the in-person option is definitely more expensive. You could discuss beforehand if you need to be in the office to get the best results.

Looking back on previous sessions what worked best? To also help inform the previous question you could look back at previous sessions and see what worked and what didn't.

 

General Meeting Tips

The team I work with are proactive and experienced, they all want to be involved and provide excellent input. I am fortunate in this as it means I don’t have to work as hard to facilitate. We naturally follow the below before and during our "big" meetings:

  • Plan your objectives

  • Get everything you need from pens to data

  • Create “whiteboards” in advance > make them fun

  • Breakdown virtual meetings into smaller sessions

  • Take photos and digitise data after (in person only)

  • Provide a summary of what you have achieved

  • Create actions and follow-ups during your session

 

Hopefully the above is useful and thank you for taking the time to read. This is just what we have found works for us, your experience is undoubtedly different. If you have any tips for me please reach out!

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