After years of remote work, is it possible to enjoy a Zoom meeting? After months of experiments, our All Hands meeting is now a highlight of the week. A recent participant commented, “this is the best meeting I’ve ever attended.” So how did we switch things up? We focused on two things: structure and creativity.
Even though Revelry was remote-first before the pandemic, we can still struggle with remote work like everyone else. Just like in-person meetings, online meetings can become vampires draining your workday of productivity. To avoid that, here are a few rules for online meetings that help us avoid common pitfalls.
Set your goals first
Before you send a calendar invite, ask yourself: does this HAVE to be a meeting? Could you achieve the same result using an asynchronous tool like Slack threads, Github comments, or a shared google doc?
For us, the synchronous component of All Hands is essential. Online meetings allow us to hear directly from coworkers we might never interact with at the company. We spend so much of the week zeroed in on our individual projects that the opportunity to see and/or hear from potentially anyone in the company is particularly enticing, and the added context that synchronous communication brings invites clearer and more fluid conversation. If All Hands were a Slack thread, it would be dull, lacking in engagement, and boring. Our All Hands meetings on Zoom are anything but.
Agendas are your friend
Once you schedule a Zoom meeting, it’s time to get organized with an agenda. Each item on our All Hands meeting ties to one of our company’s core values:
- Show up early: Be Excellent to Each Other
- Shoutouts: Revel in Victory
- Announcements: Call Your Shots
- Things I Learned So You Don’t Have To: Fear is the Mind Killer
- Presentations / Demodrills: Pragmatic Ingenuity
- Company Updates: Always Be Investing
- Q&A: Earn and Dispense Trust
- hokaybai: Work-Life Alliance.
This agenda is an issue template in Github, so each week’s meeting gets an issue. Anyone can comment to add items to the agenda or post relevant notes. It’s important to note that the agenda is finite. The meeting ends early if we get through the items and has a hard stop at the same time every week. We never hesitate to give time back if there’s nothing else to talk about, especially at the end of the day.
Never Zoom alone
Of all online communication tools, meetings can be the most ephemeral. If someone forgets to press record, your well-thought-out discussion is lost forever, and your decision-making process now lacks transparency. Luckily this dilemma is solved by recording your call and adding the recording link to the Github issue.
In addition to recording meetings, we encourage documenting and discussing meetings in writing. For us, that means using Slack, Github, and Suggestion Ox. We have a lot of team members who prefer writing to speaking, and we want to welcome their contributions, too.
Take the pressure off
Meeting recordings reduce the urgency of the workday. Suppose someone is on PTO, in the middle of a project, in a different time zone, or has to run to pick their kids up from school. In that case, we don’t want them to feel like they have to call in during vacation, break their flow, or do something unsafe like Zooming while driving to stay in the loop and have their face on a call. They can always watch the recording later.
We work remotely. There’s no need to pretend that everyone is sitting in a traditional office in a suit at their desk for eight hours straight every day. Zoom fatigue is real. Remember to take screen breaks, put headphones on to walk around the neighborhood, or whatever else you need to make you feel comfortable. You don’t have to turn your video on or sit in a completely serene environment to join a meeting. We want to normalize people’s lives: eating, drinking, caregiving, playing with pets, being outside, turning on the oven to cook dinner, etc.
Know what to do when Zoom breaks down
Plan for Zoom to break down. Know how to turn off incoming video if your internet connection is slow. If you are the meeting host, be ok using the mute button in case someone else forgets to unmute themselves. If you are scheduled to give a presentation, send it to a coworker as a backup in case you get cut off during the call. If someone is having trouble connecting, politely let them know as soon as possible. Zoom still feels unnatural to many of us, and a little understanding goes a long way.
Find more joy
Ok, now that you have a structure for online meetings, what do you do next? Support your team’s creativity. Each week, a different member of our team volunteers to facilitate the All Hands agenda. While some hosts take a more traditional approach, many emcees try to outdo the last person to make each other laugh. If you are looking for online meeting ideas, here are a few of our favorite ways to make Zoom memories.
- Ask a question as an icebreaker to discuss while everyone is joining the call. In March, Thomas Knoll led a particularly lively Slack thread about the best king cake in New Orleans.
- Brennan Newton began by leading the team in a brief meditation to center ourselves during a tough week.
- Phillip Ballard greeted every single person by name as they entered the call.
- Amanda Phu secretly coordinated with everyone on a call to wear the same color shirt to surprise someone on their birthday.
- Amanda also coordinated with everyone to use the same Zoom background of a photo of a team member to celebrate our CTO.
- Quinn McCourt added a spin to each agenda item. For example, he invited us to tie each of our Shoutouts to a Revelry core value.
Make ’em laugh
- Amy Murphy led a legendary meeting where she introduced each agenda item with a pun or joke.
- Stuart Page and Dan Horne dressed up like a British King and an American statesman, respectively, to assert transatlantic supremacy.
- Many hosts changed their zoom background to match the music they chose.
Turn it up to 11
- Many hosts asked for music suggestions in advance to build a pre-meeting playlist.
- Zoom Video backgrounds have been a great way to add surprises to the meeting.
- PJ Dilorio used sound effects to highlight parts of the call.
- Phillip changed the sound of his voice using Voicemod and left many co-workers silently crying with laughter into their muted microphones
With organization and creativity, online meetings can do more than share information; they can kickstart connections with coworkers and add a little more joy to the workday. If you have other ways to make online meetings more enjoyable, please share them with us!