Having meetings over the phone is something that remote workers do all of the time. However, despite the frequency of these meetings, I see a lot of people who don’t follow basic phone meeting etiquette.
Here are a few tips for meeting organizers to help make sure that they have a great meeting over the phone (with “phone” being loosely defined here to include Skype and other online real-time audio):
- Give people plenty of notice for the meeting, if possible. Ideally, try to schedule your phone meetings with plenty of advance notice to make sure that people have time to prepare. I know this isn’t always possible, but a little planning ahead of time can really help. Keep in mind that what seems like two days’ notice to you might be considerably less for international participants who won’t see your request until their morning, which could mean they have considerably less time to prepare.
- Keep time zones in mind. In cases where people are spread out across time zones, taking the time to find out where people are physically located so that you can pick a time that is most convenient will help your attendees be alert and prepared for the meeting. With phone numbers becoming less tied to your location, don’t assume that you know where people are based on a phone number. Take the time to ask where they are and find out if they have a preferred meeting time. For example, I work with one person in Finland who prefers 10pm calls to 5pm calls, so he can have meetings after his kids are in bed.
- Send a written agenda and materials out via email (or post them online) when you schedule the meeting, or no later than 24-48 hours before the meeting, when possible. This gives people plenty of time to prepare for the meeting, especially for people who primarily speak other languages. Giving people who are less fluent in your language a little extra time to assimilate the information can make a big difference in their level of participation. Don’t forget to include the phone number or other logistics for the meeting with local dial-in numbers in other countries, if they’re available.
- Send a reminder about an hour before the meeting with any last minute updates. This reminder gives people one last chance to prepare for the meeting and can help forgetful participants, especially those for whom the meeting is at a non-traditional time.
- As people join the meeting, make sure that they announce themselves so that you know who is attending the call. A quick prompt like, “welcome, who just joined us?” can help people know that they should announce themselves. I do this even for Skype calls where you can see who joined because it gives you time to make audio adjustments for anyone who can’t be heard clearly.
- Double-check that everyone has all of the materials for the meeting. Start the meeting with some introductions (if needed) and a quick review of the agenda and what you plan to cover. This gives you a final check that people know how the meeting will be conducted, and you can make sure that they have all of their materials before the meeting.
- Consider using online meeting tools. There are many tools that can be used in real-time to manage the content during the meeting and make sure that people are all looking at the same pages of the materials (GoToMeeting, for example). You should make sure that the solution you pick will work for most people given their bandwidth rates and system configuration. For example, if you have some people running on Macs (s aapl), don’t pick a tool that only works on Windows (s msft). I always consider this an optional step for international meetings, especially if you have people located in countries where maintaining a stable Internet connect can be a challenge for people calling in from home outside of the work day. Using these tools doesn’t replace the need to send materials out in advance, since you want to give people time to assimilate the information and have a copy as a backup in case they can’t get connected during the meeting.
Meetings held over the phone where you can’t see the other people are challenging enough, but add international participants, time zones and language challenges into the mix, and you can end up with a seriously unproductive meeting. Taking the time to prepare and keeping a few of these tips in mind can help your meeting go much more smoothly.
What are your tips for making sure that your international phone meetings are successful and productive?
Photo by Flickr user StephenMitchell used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.