Staying Present During Remote Meetings

You dial into a meeting, say your hellos, then promptly start multi-tasking in the background. Be it responding to emails, shopping for the perfect dress for your weekend, or browsing Facebook, your attention is elsewhere. Then someone asks you a direct question and you realize you weren’t actually multi-tasking. You weren’t paying attention to the meeting at all. Cue deer in headlights.

It’s hard enough to pay attending when you’re at a meeting in person. Multiply that exponentially when it's just you and your computer sitting alone in a room.

So how do you stay present during a meeting?

First things first. Ask these questions to make sure you’re not holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting. It happens more than you might think.

Does the meeting actually need to happen? Some meetings become obsolete because you’re holding them out of habit long after the matter at hand has been resolved. Others are a result of feeling like you have to have a meeting even if there’s nothing to share. Pause and assess if the meeting truly needs to happen, especially if you’re the one scheduling it.

Do I need to attend? Okay, so the meeting does need to happen. It’s an import topic that needs to be addressed. But wait, there’s a chance that this pressing matter can be discussed without you in the [virtual] room. If you’re not the one scheduling the meeting, and you’re feeling like you’re not imperative to the conversation, ask the scheduler if he or she would mind if you didn’t attend.

This is especially helpful when it feels like all of the white space has vanished from your calendar and there are so many meetings that your work isn’t getting completed. When my calendar is awash in blue (because that’s the color of my meetings) with not a bit of white space to be seen, I’ll pass my updates to my project manager and keep cranking on other items if I’m not integral to the topics of the day.

Another option is to address the items for which you need to be present at the start of the meeting. Points covered, now you can bow out. It’s the best of both worlds.

What’s the appropriate length? Calendar invites generally default to 30 or 60 minutes. Perhaps your meeting could be wrapped up in 15. My team holds daily standups where we all share what we’ve accomplished, what’s in process, and what’s blocked. If everything is smooth sailing, we don’t need the full 30 minutes of the meeting so we hang up after the ten or fifteen it actually takes to talk through things. Sometimes we linger to talk about the latest release on Netflix or our favorite beverage to have on our desk while we’re working. The important things.

Now that you've established that the meeting needs to happen, and you need to be there, and it’s the appropriate length — let’s discuss how to stay present.

As a remote employee, I spend a lot of my time dialed into meetings. This has given me the opportunity to figure out how to fully show up for meetings instead of zoning out. And yes, there are times when my attention wanders because I am far from perfect. But the majority of the time, these strategies keep me dialed in, literally and figuratively.

Remove distractions. This is more than just a meeting strategy. Keeping your desk tidy and your workspace clean will help you focus. This goes for your screens too. On any given day you’ll find me with a slew of windows, tabs, and desktops open. [Though that’s a whole other conversation.] When I launch a meeting, I make sure everything else is cleared away. That way I don’t see an open window behind my meeting window tempting me to click through to read my email or review a document, unless of course that’s what the meeting is about.

Fidget. Here’s when it’s an advantage that you’re not in a room with other people. Fidget away. I have a smooth stone on my desk that I often roll around in my hand while conversing. A friend of mine keeps a Koosh Ball (yes, they do still exist) on his desk. Whatever your preferred object, have something with which to occupy your hands so your mind is free to pay attention.

Take notes. Speaking of paying attention. If you’re taking notes you’ll be following along with everything that’s happening. Maybe the notes are to share with everyone or maybe they’re just for you. Regardless, they’ll keep you on point.

And if all else fails:

Turn on your video. Us remote meeting dwellers sometimes forget that we really can see the person on the other end of the line if we so desire. And when we do see each other, it’s so nice! It’s like a breath of fresh air to not have to decipher someone’s reactions based on speech pattern and intonation. You get to see them. So maybe this isn’t so much of a last resort as a way to remember that we’re all connected even if we are miles apart staring at individual computer screens.

Ideas are best when shared. How do you stay present when engaging in remote meetings?