Blog Startup Journey

How We’ve Optimized Remote Team Meetings For Ultimate Efficiency

wrote this on

Meetings are often expensive and wasteful, but they don’t have to be. Here’s how we hacked ours.

I shared a quote in last week’s post that struck a chord with some readers.

It was about the true cost of meetings.

If you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour and invite 10 people to attend then it’s a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You are trading 10 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time.

Jason Fried

Jason is absolutely right, and this is something that I think many businesses struggle with.

Meetings are costly.

Often, they’re wasteful and unnecessary.

But sometimes, they’re either needed, or they’re simply a good investment, and that’s something that many startups forget about.

Just because something is costly, doesn’t mean that it can’t be valuable. With our remote team, meetings have become a powerful way to sync up, build relationships and tighten our culture.

We’ve tried a lot of different meeting rhythms over the years to find one that worked; one that ensures that the meetings we’re having all produce value and stay out of the way of our team’s productivity.

Our team is different from your team, and what works for us might be different from what works for you.

So today, in an effort to help you establish your own “best” meeting rhythm, I’ll share all of the approaches that we’ve tried, and what we liked and didn’t like about each, along with the one critical element that has made our meetings much more effective.

1) No scheduled meetings/Meetings On Demand

The very first meeting rhythm we had was no rhythm at all.

Determined to do things differently from “business as usual,” we scheduled no meetings, and opted only to meet on demand when things arose.

To put it bluntly, it simply didn’t work.

Our team felt like a silo’ed group of mercenaries, all working in different directions. And even worse, those on-demand meetings were awful for productivity.

Since they often started in the form of an instant message saying something like “hey can we chat about this?”, they were the remote equivalent of the tap-on-the-shoulder interruption that destroys so much focus and productivity in office environments.

Pros: No planned meetings mean that the team can focus on scheduling their day any way they choose.

Cons: People not on the same page. On-demand meetings causing huge loss of productivity.

2) Monday Meetings

In an effort to reign things in and get the team talking to each other more, we established a once-a-week call each Monday.

In these calls, we talked about our weekends, what we worked on during the previous week, and what we’re working on in the following week.

We still do this Monday call at 10AM EST (a time that overlaps the workday for most of our distributed team).

Pros: Great culture benefits from having a “water cooler discussion” to kick off each week. Lots of value in syncing up to understand what the team is working on.

Cons: An hour-long meeting can certainly be disruptive, especially for those in places where 10AM EST falls in the middle of the workday.

3) Friday Fun Day

A few months ago, we began to test a “Friday Fun Day” call which was meant purely for culture, without any work discussion.

Each Friday at noon, we got together and played a team tournament on Replay Poker (in parallel with a voice call on Google Hangouts).

This was a great idea, and it was fun, but it didn’t last. It often went longer than an hour, and perhaps the biggest mistake we made was trying to schedule non-work activities during the work day.

The fact that it wasn’t a “work” meeting made it easier for us to say things like, “well, we’re heads down in [insert project we’re fighting to finish] and we’re so close to the finish line, let’s just focus on that and do Friday Fun Day next week.”

We felt guilty doing these calls because we had work we needed to do.

Pros: It was great to have a non-work-related activity with the team, and helped us get to know each other better.

Cons: It felt like it was interrupting our work (because it was), we felt guilty doing it, and for those reasons, we stopped.

4) Daily Standups

After our coaching retreat last year, we put into place a new meeting rhythm that, to be honest, scared me a bit.

Daily standups—which we had previously only done via Slack posts—would be held at 10AM EST, Monday through Friday.

I was worried that this would be really interruptive, since it require us to plan for a meeting every single day. I was concerned about the potential for productivity loss.

But Kris, our business coach, pushed us to try it. And after a couple of months of this (and after figuring out the biggest key that was missing…more on that below), our team has never been operating more efficiently.

Live daily standups keep us synced up and accountable to each other, they minimize the impact of blockers (since they’re brought to the forefront each day), and they have a great impact on culture, giving us a reason to hear each other’s voices each day.

Pros: Keeps everyone on the same page better than any other rhythm we’ve tried, brings the team closer together with daily chats.

Cons: The whole team has to plan for this each day, which can be a pain, especially for those who have this meeting at a less-than-convenient time.

Establishing Meeting Structure: The Critical Missing Piece

Ultimately, there was one thing that had been missing from our meetings that had been holding us back in a big, painful way.

It was something that Kris helped us to address, and that has helped us break through the barrier of sluggish, time-wasting meetings.

That missing piece is structure.

I knew that meetings could be valuable, but ours had always seemed to drag on and end up costing us more than they returned in value.

At our retreat, Kris showed me a video that blew my mind.

It was of the team at 1-800-Got-Junk running a daily standup, where nearly 20 people participated and shared updates, and the meeting still took less than 7 minutes.

It made our 9-person 45-minute meetings look amateur in comparison.

And it all came down to structure; we didn’t really have any.

So we set out to optimize our meetings, and here’s the structure we know have that works best for us:

Project Owner

Someone needs to be in charge of keeping meetings in check, and bringing the team back on course if we begin to stray. Lesley owns meetings for our team, and handles scheduling and moderating.

Monday Recap Meeting — 30 Minutes

20 Minutes — Chat about weekends, personal things, anything that the group wants to discuss. This is culture time.

2 Minutes — Good news. Anybody that has good news (Groove-related or otherwise) shares it now, giving the team the chance to celebrate victories each day.

7 Minutes — Standups. Each team member shares what they accomplished the previous week, what they’re planning to work on in the coming week, and what blockers stand in their way. No more than 60 seconds per person, often less. This takes practice to be able to do well, but now that we’ve all gotten good at it, it’s an incredibly powerful way to distill the most important things that the team needs to know about.

30 Seconds — Numbers. I share the previous week’s metrics with the team.

30 Seconds — Word of the day. A fun way to put an exclamation point at the end of each meeting. Lately our word of the day has come from a random Cards Against Humanity card that Lesley pulls each day.

Tuesday–Thursday Daily Standup — 10 Minutes

2 Minutes — Good news.

7 Minutes — Standups.

30 Seconds — Numbers.

30 Seconds — Word of the day.

Friday Update — 20 Minutes

2 Minutes — Good news.

7 Minutes — Standups.

30 Seconds — Numbers.

30 Seconds — Word of the day.

10 Minutes — Lesley shares customer feedback from the week, both good and bad. This is enormously helpful in putting our customers front and center for every member of the team, and making sure that we’re all thinking about why our customers do business with us, and what we can do better.

We’re also experimenting with longer-format monthly and quarterly calls, which will begin in March.

How to Apply This to Your Business

For us, no meetings didn’t work. But neither did bad meetings, an issue I suspect many businesses struggle with.

I hope that by sharing our own experiences cracking the code for effective meetings that make the team and culture stronger, this post helps you have better meetings, become more productive and develop a better culture as a result.

1,447 Shares
← Older Post Newer Post →

From “aha” to “oh shit”, we’re sharing everything on our journey to $10M in annual revenue. We’re learning a lot and so will you.

2016 Annual Revenue
  • $0
  • $2.5M
  • $5M
  • $7.5M
  • $10M

About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

You might also like: