Office meetings – how to do them right even without an office

Meetings are viewed as a fundamental element of every team’s communication. Everyone likes meetings, right? Because what’s there to dislike?

Meetings have nothing but advantages!

  • As a meeting participant, you gain the time to pretend you’re working while stroking your boss’s ego and, in the meantime, checking your email or social media.
  • As the organizer of the meeting, you gain a convenient way to avoid responsibility for decision-making. Don’t know what to do? Call a meeting! Hand responsibility over to the group!
  • Meetings are a cure for everything – the lack of ideas, direction, strategy… And, of course, they help build and strengthen the “team spirit.” Because frequent meetings are what makes a good team, right?
  • In addition, organizing meetings is easy – all you have to do is go through the company calendar in Google Calendar or Outlook and, as soon as you spot an empty time slot, fill it up! Add a meeting, invite all the “important” people, making sure no one is left out… or else they might feel offended!

OK, sometimes meetings are necessary…

…with emphasis on “sometimes” and clarification required on “necessary.” All meetings should have a clearly defined purpose and should only be held when attendees come well-prepared. Meetings are most effective when they help clarify and work on the nuances of a given topic.

At Nozbe, we’ve been working remotely from the very beginning. As a result, we run meetings differently than “traditional” companies. We try to make them as effective as possible to help us develop our products, which are used by nearly 700,000 people around the globe. Below are some of the rules we follow during our meetings:

  • We avoid brainstorming – we don’t believe in on-the-spot brainstorming.
  • We avoid coordination meetings. We manage our work within projects, tasks, and task comments. Everything is written down, and everyone knows their responsibilities.
  • We don’t conduct “all-hands meetings”, i.e., meetings with the entire team. Every time I need to communicate something, I add a comment or record a short video that everyone can watch at a convenient time.

The pandemic has made organizing meetings difficult

This year, companies and organizations have faced a major issue: how do you run meetings when everyone is working from home? Another challenge was choosing the right videoconferencing tool that would enable holding online meetings for a large number of participants. What’s more, with children out of school, many of us had to take on additional responsibilities, like watching the kids and helping them with their own work. All of these things made organizing meetings very difficult. Maybe it’s a good time to evaluate whether they were necessary in the first place.

Let’s get into specifics! Below are some tips on how we plan our meetings at Nozbe to reduce them in number and make them more meaningful.

First of all, a good meeting is regular and optional

The important thing is to lower the barrier of entry to give employees more time for actual work, while letting them know when and where the meeting will be held.

💡 Tip: Always hold the meeting at the same place and same time.

Most meetings at Nozbe are held regularly, always in the same place, i.e., in a Zoom “virtual room.” Each meeting has a dedicated room, so attendees know which room to join.

Here are some examples:

  • Development team meeting – every Monday at 10:00 AM
  • Nozbe design meeting – every Tuesday at 2:00 PM
  • Marketing team meeting – every Wednesday at 12:00 PM

💡 Tip: Always invite the same people.

Each meeting has its regular participants. This is to avoid situations where someone isn’t invited. What’s more, it improves the atmosphere of the meeting by allowing us to engage in a discussion with people we already know well. We engage in more qualitative discussions, our insights are more valuable, and we arrive at more accurate conclusions.

💡 Tip: Attendance is non-compulsory.

Participation in meetings isn’t obligatory. If someone can’t attend or is busy with something else, no one is upset. At Nozbe, meetings have a lower priority than focused work on a specific issue.

💡 Tip: Meetings are non-obligatory.

What’s important is that, even though they’re scheduled in the calendar, meetings aren’t mandatory! This is especially important given that we require an agenda for most of our meetings. If Tuesday’s design meeting agenda isn’t approved by Monday evening, the meeting is cancelled. No agenda = nothing to talk about = nothing to waste our time on.

Secondly, a good meeting has a well-structured agenda

The meeting agenda doesn’t need to be formal, but it must be written down. At Nozbe, we use the Nozbe Teams app, so the meeting agenda is often a simple checklist saved as a task comment or a task list within a section of a specific project. It’s stored in a place that’s accessible to all meeting participants.

💡 Tip: The agenda must include documentation.

Having a plan alone isn’t enough to present at a meeting. To be included in the agenda, a topic must be well-prepared. So, in the case of the Tuesday design team meeting, the person suggesting a topic should submit its description by Monday evening. For that purpose, we use Dropbox Paper, which enables commenting on specific parts of the text.

💡 Tip: Each attendee has to do their homework.

We always have an agenda with our items and issues outlined, and all participants are required to read it before the meeting. Everyone reads the topics and comments on specific paragraphs and records their observations and doubts to bring to the discussion.

💡 Tip: Seek advice from experts!

Thanks to an open discussion format in Nozbe Teams and Dropbox Paper, people who don’t attend a particular meeting get the chance to read about what we’re working on and add their two cents. Very often, the person suggesting a topic asks other team members to add comments and share their advice, even though they’re not participating in the meeting.

This allows us to asynchronously have a meeting before the meeting, because the first exchange of information takes place in the comments. It’s our way of brainstorming, but in written form, before the actual meeting takes place. And it yields great results!

💡 Tip: During meetings, we don’t summarize issues – we move straight to discussing them!

At this stage, we know everyone is prepared, and we can get straight to the point, namely questions and doubts. We don’t waste time on summarizing topics.

If the meeting veers off track and transforms into a brainstorm, we make sure all ideas, decisions, and conclusions are written down. On the other hand, when it’s taking too long, we end it and select a person who will explore the subject in greater detail and prepare a relevant document for our next meeting.

Thirdly, a good meeting ends with notes and tasks

After each meeting, the preliminary document concerning a given issue is updated with conclusions and decisions.

💡 Tip: Notes, notes… and tasks!

To push the project forward, we update tasks related to discussed topics or create new tasks.

Thanks to this approach, everyone on the team can see what decisions were made at the meeting and add their comments. Therefore, no one feels excluded.

💡 Tip: Send out a summary to everyone after the meeting.

One of the meeting participants is also responsible for writing a short summary of the meeting that is published later in a project with company updates, as we want the whole team to know what features we’re currently working on.

You can make your meetings better and more effective, too!

Not happy with the quality or quantity of your company’s meetings? Try making some changes starting today:

  • Require an agenda for each meeting
  • Encourage the team to prepare topics before the meeting
  • Try to reduce the number of attendees to a minimum

13 years of working remotely at Nozbe has taught us a lot about productivity, respecting other people’s time, and maintaining documentation. In an all-remote company, recording notes is a natural thing to do, but I think it’s in fact the key to improving every team’s productivity.

We all have great tools at our disposal that work across all major platforms: Nozbe Teams for carrying out projects and tasks, Zoom for videoconferencing, or Dropbox Paper and Google Docs for drafting documentation and commenting on text. In addition, most of these tools are either free or very cheap.

No one likes to waste time. I hope these tips will motivate and inspire your team to introduce some changes. Keep your meetings to-the-point and make them fruitful. Paraphrasing the Chinese proverb: “The best time for changing habits was years ago; the second-best time is now!” This is especially true given all that’s going on right now – so why not start today?