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Summary:

As organizations and businesses loosen their geographic borders, their teams will be composed of members from all over the globe. From a small web design group to an entire staff of offshore workers, we’ll soon find ourselves working with people from different time zones. But working […]

1154861_earth_3d1As organizations and businesses loosen their geographic borders, their teams will be composed of members from all over the globe. From a small web design group to an entire staff of offshore workers, we’ll soon find ourselves working with people from different time zones.

But working with such a team can be maddening. How do you tame the time zone madness and plan your meetings as efficiently as possible?

Give your team at least two options of meeting times to choose from.
In one of the first virtual teams I worked with, our team leader would ask us if a specific conference time was okay for everyone. Naturally, there was never unanimous agreement. This led to several messages of, “When are you available, then?” sent back and forth to various members of the team. What a waste of time! By giving the team several choices, you’ll make it easier on yourself to set the meeting time. You could also use one of the many meeting scheduling tools that we’ve covered here on WWD. Good options to try are TimeBridge, When Is Good and MeetingMade.

Use a tool that automatically converts time zones for each participant. Automating this part prevents human error, which is likely to come when forgetting DST (Daylight Saving Time) rules or faulty counting. Tools such as The World Clock Meeting Planner and Google Calendar might help. You can also try Permatime, which Mike reviewed in a previous post. Some scheduling tools, like MeetingMade, also automatically handle timezones.

Rotate the “awkward” time slots. It’s possible that a few members of your team will have to wake up a little earlier or stay up later than usual just to participate. If this is the case, make sure that you rotate the people who receive awkward time slots. Don’t let one or two people frequently carry the burden of deviating from their regular body rhythms.

Have a clear agenda ahead. By writing down a specific agenda, you can pinpoint the reason why you’re having a meeting in the first place. Having an agenda also prevents you from wasting the time of the participants who aren’t essential to the meeting. If their input is hardly needed in the discussion, then their availability or promptness shouldn’t be a priority.

Make sure that all participants can understand or access the tools you’ll be using. This may seem like simplistic advice, but some tech savvy web workers forget that not everyone knows how to use even the most common web apps. I once worked with a colleague who didn’t have a Skype account, so I had to walk him through signing up for one and testing his sound equipment.

To avoid wasting time, look for existing help pages, video instructions, and other resources that your colleagues can use in their own time. It usually helps to send these links to everyone involved, as a group, so that it doesn’t look like you’re singling anyone out.

Ask for feedback.
At the end of the first meeting, send out a short questionnaire to your team, asking for their feedback. Cover all the important bases from sound quality to the faithfulness of the meeting to the agenda. The comments and suggestions you’ll receive will come in handy when planning your next meeting.

Planning a meeting with your global team doesn’t have to be that hard. With the right tools and a fair, efficient approach, it might become as easy as planning a face-to-face meeting with colleagues from a nearby building.

If you’re looking for more meeting pointers, check out Simon’s post “7 Tips for More Efficient Meetings” — the guidelines in there apply to virtual meetings just as much as regular “in the flesh” meetings.

How do you plan meetings with a global team?
Share your tips in the comments.

Image by stock.xchng user g-point

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  3. Hello Celine, Great post.
    Those are all very useful tips and we used a lot of them when working with remote teams.

    For times when a real time meeting is not possible but we still want to be able to get all the important non-verbal communication across, we developed TimZon.
    TimZon is a private video discussion solution for virtual teams.
    You can find more informations at: TimZon for Teleworking teams.

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  4. This is a great list. I’m finding that we’re holding more & more virtual meetings as clients have distributed teams. We have one client with teams across Europe so we generally have to hold meetings from 8am-11am (EDT). For another client, Avistar, with personnel in NYC and Silicon Valley, we use the company’s C3 desktop videoconferencing software. Which is one tip you might consider: videoconferencing helps you see the other people you’re meeting with, and improves the ability to communicate, especially when compared with long conference calls.

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  5. [...] this doesn’t mean that you should hold virtual group meetings for every important business decision. In fact, deliberating on big decisions as a group [...]

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  6. Doodle.com is great. As is etherpad.com (though etherpad is google-searchable so not confidential)

    Also, this may sound low-tech, but for truly global networks, in some places of the world the internet-quality is too poor to effectively use video or even voice-conference online systems, or even to follow an etherpad.

    The solution? = use private chat-rooms for meetings! It takes the same amount of time as a voice-call, and because typing is slower than talking, everyone really thinks before they say anything. There are some great text-based faciltation techniques that can be used for this, too.

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