Pajama Parties? Three Rules for Running Virtual Meetings

In my last blog post “I Get to Work in My Pajamas,” I got a ton of great comments and feedback which was very informative and also very fun.  Working virtually is a hot topic and one that is near and dear to many people’s hearts.

I’m no dummy.  My plan for this post WAS to talk about running meetings more effectively and how to “take control” of a meeting, but given the pajama feedback I think we should discuss those topics from a virtual perspective.

Raise your hand if you hate meetings (raises hand). Type “I Hate Meetings” into Google and over 26 million hits come up.  There is even a Facebook page for I Hate Meetings.  In short, there is no shortage of vitriol out there for this, and many times, it’s justified, right?

There are many reasons why folks dislike meetings, and I would love to hear your thoughts on your #1 meeting pet peeve in the comments below.

In terms of other folks’ take on the topic, I thought Adam Kleinberg did a really nice job with this article, and this one talks a bit about ways to fix them. I especially enjoyed Paul Graham’s take on meetings where he differentiates between the schedules of “Managers and Makers.”  Smart, and true, yes?  And a recent article by Fred Kofman on LinkedIn boasts cutting one’s meeting time by 90% (!).  What do you think is the best way to do that? Yep—DON’T HAVE THE MEETING IN THE FIRST PLACE!


But what about those of us who work in our pajamas (should virtual meetings be called pajama parties?)  Or how about sweats, or gym shorts, or on a plane, or whatever. One of the golden rules of managing those who work virtually is to keep up communication with them so they feel connected and can identify with their colleagues and teammates.  So…more meetings? UGH!

On the other hand, as someone who travels a good deal and is often doing all day presentations with clients (so I can’t make a lot of meetings), I do sometimes feel like I miss out on a lot of information whether it is new team goals, corporate news, or just plain old gossip. A good way to combat this for folks like me is to record calls and WebEx sessions, but let’s be honest—listening or watching a presentation in my hotel room is pretty darn low on my list of things I want to do at 9:00 pm after working all day.


So…what’s the answer?  I think we can learn some things from both the face-to-face and the virtual world.  In terms of meeting guidelines from the face-to-face world, the one to look to first is “Do we actually NEED to have this meeting?” Kofman’s piece referenced above argues that the ONLY reason one should meet in person is to “decide and commit.”  And while my position is that there are other legitimate reasons for meetings, in general I think this is sage advice. Thus, Rule #1.  Have fewer meetings.  Then the ones you have will mean more (and be worth the time of watching the recording).

Another great face-to-face meeting rule is that you MUST have a plan for what you want to accomplish (and as a bonus, determining this will help you decide whether you need the meeting in the first place!).  So, Rule #2:  You must have an agenda to have a meeting. I loved the comment that Lauren Head left on the Kleinberg piece linked above, where she said the unspoken rule where she works is “No Agenda, No Attenda.”  Isn’t that perfect? And so, so true: Have a plan. Execute that plan. Then get out of Dodge.  How many times have you been on a conference call that was aimlessly wandering around, and your only thoughts were “I’m missing family dinner for THIS????”

Given the different schedules of those working virtually, I also think it is important to over communicate.  No, I’m not talking about more meetings—I’m talking about utilizing different media channels to get your messages across to those who work in different times and spaces than you do.  So, Rule #3: Tell ‘em what’s important, and then tell ‘em again some different way.  So, yes, record the meeting.  But also send the agenda/presentation/notes in an email. Tweet a link to relevant materials.  Keep a team blog page where meeting materials (and minutes) are always kept. Give folks options to get that info whether they are able to be there in person or are on some plane, train, or automobile (“Those aren’t pillows!”).

There are certainly other tips and guidelines for having (or not having) meetings with virtual employees, and I would LOVE to hear what everybody has to say on that topic.  What is the right balance between having meetings and staying connected versus meetings sapping your precious work time?  What do you think is the best medium to use for virtual meetings? And, most importantly, does anyone out there have a morning mask?  Let us all know what you think!