Remote managers often feel the burden of busy calendars. Not only are you personally at risk for endless back-to-back meetings, but you’re also responsible for making sure your direct reports have time to be productive, creative, and innovative with their work.
Let’s be honest – not all meetings are created equal. In fact, 92% of employees consider meetings costly and unproductive, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review.
At the same time, especially when managing a remote team, you need to create opportunities for individual contributors to connect with each other for idea generation and iteration. (Silos rarely result in the best ideas!)
To help your remote team strike the right balance, you need to be strategic and selective about the meetings you schedule.
What meetings actually foster productivity & innovation?
Spoiler: It’s not standups! 😉
As you’re contemplating your team’s calendar and wondering what meetings to start/stop/continue holding, there are three things you should consider.
The most valuable meetings improve interpersonal relationships, lead to dynamic conversations, and increase access to information outside of your immediate team.
These three qualities add up to create a meeting environment where deeper connections are formed, conversations can thrive, and ideas can actually gain momentum – and THAT is worth holding a meeting for!
To help you revamp your team’s calendar right now, here are three evidence-based meetings you should be holding to improve productivity and innovation:
- Junior employee + senior manager meetups
- Open-ended team coworking
- Cross-department socials
We’ll go deeper into each meeting type to share the science behind it and offer tips for holding these meetings remotely (including in virtual offices on Gather).
1. Junior employee + senior manager meetups
Mentoring employees is critical to their success in both your company and their career. As a people manager, one of the best things you can do is to make sure your direct reports are receiving mentorship from a variety of sources across the organization.
This study from the Harvard Business School provides evidence that virtual water coolers between junior and senior employees can lead to better performance outcomes for younger employees.
The key is for these interactions to happen at a regular cadence and if possible, for the two employees to share a demographic match in terms of gender and ethnicity. The meetups can either happen in a group setting or one-on-one environment.
This gives your junior employees a chance to build strong ties with an experienced member of the team they can relate to who can offer strategic insights and advice. In turn, this will help them level up and bring these new perspectives back to their work.
Best practices for these meetups
1. Hold them regularly
It’s common for new hires to meet senior members of the organization during their first week, and then chances to connect start to rapidly decline as they settle into their role.
Combat this isolation by intentionally scheduling time each month or quarter for your employees to connect with senior leaders.
2. Help make demographic matches
It helps build confidence for younger employees to see someone like them in a senior leadership role. Be on the lookout for potential pairings and help coordinate the introductions for your junior employees.
3. “Get out of the office”
When you work together in-person, meetups like this can be nice to hold away from typical meeting spaces – it helps everyone open up and let their guard down.
If you’re working in a virtual office on Gather, you have the option to go sit somewhere new. The digital environment gives you a natural icebreaker (“Thanks for joining me by the koi pond today!”) and serves as a nice way to ease into the conversation.
2. Open-ended team coworking
According to a study from the University of Chicago, when people work in the same location, they experience more unplanned interactions that lead to new working relationships and spur innovation.
A virtual office gives your remote team a location to share, even though you’re working apart.
Set aside time each week for open-ended coworking. By having your team sit together online with your mics and videos on, it can lead to dynamic conversations and new ideas that you can act on in the moment.
Best practices for virtual team coworking
1. Set the example
As manager of the team, the way you approach these group coworking sessions will set the tone for how everyone else does.
For example, if you start to deprioritize these meetings, so will your team. Show up, be present, and get the conversation started.
Be willing to share what’s on your mind and source ideas from the group. By being vulnerable and asking for feedback, you’ll open the door for others to do the same – which will get the ideas flowing.
2. Encourage mics and video to be on
If everyone joins the coworking session but keeps their mic or video off, it’ll defeat the purpose of being able to easily hold spontaneous conversations.
Obviously things come up (someone’s eating lunch! The dog is barking!) but in general, encourage everyone to be active in the coworking session. This will better mimic coworking in real life and spur on the conversation.
3. Let this happen naturally in a virtual office
Teams working in virtual offices on Gather don’t even have to schedule these team coworking sessions - they just happen.
You can see your teammates working at their digital desks, making it easy to know who’s free to bounce ideas off of and problem solve in the moment.
Need someone else to join the conversation? It’s easy to wave them over. Or you can sit at an open coworking table, signaling to the rest of your team that you’re free to chat while you work.
3. Cross-department socials
Socials may feel “distracting” or “too fun” to be included in a list of meetings about increasing productivity, but hear me out:
This study shows that remote workers are at risk of becoming siloed, with fewer bridges to information across the organization. They spend more time with immediate colleagues (who they already have strong ties with) and less time with people with different priorities and perspectives.
In order to come up with creative solutions and solve big-picture problems, your employees need access to a variety of people across the organization – not just your team.
By giving them opportunities to build relationships with people in other departments, you’re increasing their connections to different perspectives, needs, and opinions on the business. Which in turn, will help them generate well-rounded ideas.
Best practices for virtual cross-department socials
1. Mix it up between group events and one-on-one events
It doesn’t really matter if you plan a full team event or coordinate 1:1 coffee chats between members of your team and another. The important thing is to make sure your employees are talking to people they don’t normally interact with, which can happen in both group and one-on-one settings.
The best approach is to coordinate with the manager of the other team to see what works best for all parties. Small teams may find group activities more bonding, while larger teams tend to prefer individual coffee chats simply for scheduling purposes.
2. Do this all the time in a virtual office
Again, if your team is working in a virtual HQ on Gather, it’s a lot easier to share social experiences with people outside of your own team because you can see when they’re free.
You may also naturally bump into people as you move through the office. You can say hi in the hallway or quickly stop by someone’s desk after a meeting.
And of course, if you still want to plan a formal social event with another department, you can do that, too. We highly recommend challenging another team to a race in the Gather Grand Prix – a little competition goes a long way to building those relationships!
Virtual meetings can be exhausting, but when you prioritize the right ones, they can also help your employees have their most productive, creative, and innovative ideas.
The key to holding these valuable meetings are to make sure they:
- Improve relationships (and don’t just focus on day-to-day work)
- Lead to unstructured, dynamic conversations
- Increase connections and access to information outside of your direct team
This will help you hold meetings that contribute the exciting, idea-generating energy that your team needs to be productive, creative, and innovative. And your employees will thank you for it!
If you’re staring at your calendar wondering where to start, there are three meetings that are proven to deserve your team’s time:
- Manager and direct report 1:1s
- Open-ended team coworking sessions
- Cross-department socials