One Remote, All Remote

management

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This post was originally intended as a compilation of suggestions to promote a “one remote, all remote” approach to meetings. That is, instead of using room equipment that can make the experience less than ideal for remote attendees, if one person joins remotely, everyone does.

During COVID-19 lockdown, I've confirmed with my team that all of these apply to a full remote setup as well.

Also, as we start going back to “normality”, some people will return to the office from day one, while others will stay home for a bit longer. As a result, hybrid team configurations, like the one this post was originally intended to address, will be very common for a while. Now more than ever, these tips might be relevant to you too.

NOTE: these tips mention Zoom specifically, just replace with you video conferencing software of choice.

🎧 Use headphones

Any type is fine, but noise cancelling ones work best because they provide with a higher level of sound isolation. If there is more than one attendee in the same room, because of the lag, you might want to set the volume high enough so that is not distracting to hear the other person speaking at the same time. But not too high, you'll still need your ears after the meeting, safety first.

There is an exception. If you are in a phone booth, or you are the only person in the room, feel free to use your laptop internal microphone and speakers (or equivalent). Consider double checking that there is no undesired echo for everyone else in the call.

🎥 Use a camera

General rules for remote meetings still apply, and it's generally better to see the person speaking. Please make sure you either have an external webcam or you keep your laptop lid open during the call so that you can use the laptop camera. Consider enabling your camera by default or turn it on right after joining the call. Feel free to disconnect video temporarily, though, if you are not speaking or if the signal is bad.

🙊 If you are not speaking, mute yourself

This is paramount in a set up where multiple people is in the same room joining the same call, otherwise the audio experience will be bad due to unwanted echo. Depending on the configuration of the meeting, the host can also mute all participants if needed.

Extra tip: Use the “Mute microphone when joining a meeting” setting that you can find in Preferences → Audio.

Consider using the raise hand functionality to indicate that you want to talk

In a remote setup it's hard to see when someone has the intention to speak, particularly when the screen is shared. You might be hidden in the gallery if many people is in the call. One effective way to tackle this is to use the raise hand functionality in Zoom. If the number of people is small (typically less than 5) this might not be necessary.

NOTE: with recent versions of Zoom, the host can enable Nonverbal feedback. Click on the participants tab and you'll see icons for things like “go faster”, “thumbs up” or “need a break” that will be seen by the meeting host.

🙋 Every meeting needs a facilitator (and if you don't know who that is, it's probably you)

You need someone to tell others to mute themselves if they don't realise, and to coordinate who speaks when the conversation doesn't flow naturally. The facilitator in this particular case could just be the meeting host, but in large meetings it might make sense to get some help. As a rule of thumb, if there is no clearly designated facilitator, please jump in and help.

🔍 Font size matters

You might have your laptop connected to a high resolution monitor, but most attendees probably won't. Some might even be using a room monitor and looking at the screen from a distance. Also the image will not be as crisp because of video compression. Be mindful of this and zoom in a little 🙏

This applies to every tool or tab that you switch to, not just the first one.

Divide and conquer using Zoom breakout rooms

Useful for brainstorming topics that are too complex to discuss with a large audience. Break down the topic into questions, divide up people into groups to work on those questions, then re-group and share learnings.

Be mindful of time and let others have a chance to speak

A facilitator could help with this by intervening when someone is dominating the discussion and not leaving enough time for others to express their opinions. This is more difficult to do in a remote setting, as body language cues do not work as well here, so everyone just needs to be more aware and understanding of each other 🙂

The raise hand feature could help (encourages people to pass the mic more), and other formats like silent brainstorming and zoom breakout rooms also ensure everyone can contribute, even if they are not vocal.

💚 Zoom virtual backgrounds

As we recently learned, they are super cool! And for those that are working from home are worried about accidental photobombs by their housemates/partners/kids in the background, this offers a layer of privacy.

🔁 Ask for feedback

You can't see people as clearly when everyone is joining remotely and crammed in a small gallery of thumbnails, so there's less visual feedback. Pause during presentations to ask if anyone has questions. As participants, a big thumbs up/down or a verbal “yes/no” is much more noticeable than a nod/head-shake.

👔 VPN etiquette still applies

If you have a corporate VPN, disconnect from it when joining a remote meeting. Otherwise you will be using precious bandwidth and likely affecting others that need it.

Kudos to my teammates Grace, Leandro and Stuart, who helped to put this together. Thanks!