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Key tips for running a remote company-wide meeting

Like most businesses around the globe, Envoy is temporarily operating with an entirely remote workforce to maintain social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Going fully remote required a whirlwind of adjustments, leaving our employees longing for in-person office connections. That’s why we’ve worked hard to maintain several important office traditions to continue delivering an excellent workplace experience.

Our weekly all-hands meeting has been the most surprising but cogent example of this. We anticipated the all-hands would be challenging to replicate remotely, but thanks to some hard work from our Workplace Technology team, and important preparation from hosts and presenters, we’ve seen nearly 100% employee attendance. We were pleased to see stronger engagement and more positive vibes than ever, even during these challenging times.

Here are some of the critical steps we took to ensure a successful remote all-hands:

The prep meeting 

Early in the week, our Workplace team reaches out to the company to collect presentations for the coming Friday. Those who are interested are required to join a prep meeting on Thursday afternoons.

The prep meeting serves multiple purposes:

  • It’s a deadline to ensure that presenters have completed their content ahead of time, so their presentations aren’t put together at the last minute. 
  • The meeting also enables the host to understand more about what is being presented so they can properly set the stage and provide relevant transitions. 
  • It’s also important to discuss how much time everyone needs to present to ensure the meeting doesn’t run too long. 

For a remote all-hands, this prep meeting becomes even more essential. Normally, we use the meeting to remind presenters where to stand and how to use the microphone, but now we use that time to practice the technical transitions from one presenter to another, or from a presenter back to the host. We address questions like, “How does it work if I’m sharing a video?” or “What if I’m using two screens for a product demo?”

This meeting helps make sure the technical details are totally squared away and presenters are comfortable navigating them. It also serves as a double-check to make sure the presenter has a strong Wi-Fi connection from home and a good microphone or headset. Without checking your tech, you risk wasting 30 seconds or more between every presenter, which can easily cause your remote audience to disengage.

The tech behind the scenes

Technical transitions are important, but there’s more a Workplace Technology team can do behind the scenes to ensure the meeting goes smoothly. Our tech team meets on Friday mornings ahead of the all-hands to conduct the following “remote pre-flight check”:

  • Set a music playlist for the opening minutes of the meeting. 
  • Lock the presentation deck so there aren’t unexpected changes.
  • Configure Zoom settings to mute all participants on entry and make sure the tech team and host have been added as ‘co-hosts.’  
  • Think through any other possible logistical challenges unique to that meeting.
  • Load a version of the all-hands slides, plus any videos and other content, in separate browsers on their machines so they are ready to quickly take over the task of screen sharing in case something goes wrong. That’s extremely valuable in case there are any technical issues or if someone has a poor internet connection. 

We also keep close track of time during the meeting by plotting a running clock against our planned agenda in an Asana list. That way, if a presenter runs long, we notice it quickly and can notify the host that we’ll have less time for Q&A at the end of the meeting or make other adjustments.

We suggest using Slack as a backchannel to communicate during the meeting to send the host live timing updates, cut an upcoming segment, or to identify and fix tech issues that pop up in real-time.

Make it fun!

The all-hands meeting should be fun, and video calls provide plenty of options to make sure of that! Last week, we asked everyone to rock their favorite sunglasses (see below), and this week, we’re inviting the audience to adorn their coolest hat or headwear. Next week, we have asked everyone to make their favorite baby photo their virtual background. 

If you’re using Zoom or a similar tool, adding a funny background image always livens the mood. In our experience, this doesn’t take away from the important and serious topics of the meeting and puts a smile on everyone’s faces.

Another way to keep the remote all-hands lively is to encourage the use of the “chat” function in Zoom. This feature has become a great way to reproduce the claps, laughs and comments that are normally made by the audience at an in-person event. Our all-hands chats are extremely active and full of employees lifting each other up with praise and asking relevant questions.

‘Hostess with the mostess’

The number one thing you can do to liven up your remote all-hands meeting is to find an energetic, engaging host. At Envoy, we’ve always rotated our hosts so there’s a new one each week, and each host makes the same commitment to prepare and stay engaged.

During a remote all-hands, the host spends the first few minutes of the hour welcoming people as they log in, sharing a laugh about the best Zoom background, or asking about everyone’s pets. As the meeting progresses, the host is the main person to engage with presenters and fill small gaps in between presentations. They’ll jump in immediately to say, “Yep, we can see your screen!” to avoid awkward pauses. And, they’ll thank every presenter and add some color commentary while the next presentation loads.

It’s important to note that this person doesn’t have to be inherently extroverted or comfortable presenting in front of crowds. We’ve found that with a fully remote all-hands, there’s a lot less pressure on hosts and presenters since they don’t have to stand up and speak to a packed house. Keep this in mind and use it to encourage team members who might not normally be willing to present and share their work.

The invisible nature of preparation

We had already established a strong foundation for all-hands meetings at Envoy before the global pandemic. We made investments in high-quality video conferencing tech, we had roles and responsibilities clearly defined for tech and content curation, and we had a number of distributed employees who helped us work out the kinks of running remote meetings. That preparation, plus a few necessary tweaks to the process, helped guarantee our success once we all started working from home.

Ironically, if you’ve prepared correctly, none of the preparation will be visible to the audience. We’ve received feedback that our remote all-hands meetings seem organic, free-flowing, and not overly produced. And, that’s exactly how they should be, even though it takes plenty of work to get there.

Looking for more tips on managing remote work? Check out this helpful list for making the most out of working from home. And, when you start to get ready to go back to the office, reference our COVID-19 resource hub to learn how.