To Have Better Remote Meetings, Create A Team Communication Charter

Who enjoys meetings? Even before Covid-19 upended how we work, meetings were one of the most dreaded aspects of the working day. ince Covid-19, we have been having more meetings, but they have been shorter, with the net effect that we spend 11.5% less time in meetings every day. That is welcome news!

But we still need meetings. To ensure that meetings occur in an atmosphere of productivity, clarity, and enjoyment, teams need to discuss how they will run their meetings. This discussion can be done by verbal agreement or summarized in an email, but the best approach is to create a Communication Charter.

A Communication Charter is a short document that sets out how the team will communicate to get its work done. It defines what tools the team will use in meetings and other communications, how those tools will be used and explains the norms and behaviors expected among team members.

Communication Charters Are More Vital In The New Normal

By getting agreement and buy-in on how a team should communicate, the entire team can work together more smoothly and with less friction. Creating a Charter can surface assumptions about what team members see as the “right” way to do things and challenge those assumptions.

A pressing reason to create a Communication Charter is that many teams have not fundamentally changed how they run and approach such meetings despite the move to remote work. They run meetings the same way over Zoom as they did when the team was in the same room. Remote meetings need to be run differently; more trust, more psychological safety, less micromanagement and more purposeful communications from the team leader. Creating a Communication Charter allows for a reboot of the team and a fresh approach to how it operates.

With the rise in remote work, we may find ourselves in remote meetings with geographically-dispersed teams. We may be working with new parts of the company with different ways of doing things, so a communication charter can help recognize and minimize cultural differences.

Communication Charters are particularly vital for hybrid teams. When we have some members collocated and some remote on hybrid teams, the Charter can set out the processes and behavioral norms needed to ensure that the remote team members feel included and as much a part of the conversation as the members sitting together.

Involve the Team in Creating the Charter

For maximum buy-in by the team, make the Charter an activity for all team members. Getting their involvement results in something more reflective of how the team works; ideally, it reflects each team member’s communication styles and preferences as much as possible.

More importantly, involving the team builds a feeling of ownership in the Charter. This is a great secondary benefit, building team cohesiveness and making everyone feel like their voice has been listened to.

What a Communication Charter Needs to Contain

While each remote or hybrid team has a very different context, some essentials are included in any Communication Charter. Ask these questions and use the answers to create the Communication Charter.

1) When will we meet, and who needs to join?

How often will we meet? What topics are best discussed in real-time versus offline?

This is a fundamental discussion that can reduce the number of unnecessary meetings.

Depending on the topic and the outcomes, who needs to join the meeting? Avoid the assumption that everyone needs to join every meeting. Ensure team members will only join a meeting if they will be contributing.

Make sure to set rules on when the team will not meet outside office hours to maintain work-life balance. If the team is global, set some guidelines around meeting times and time-zones to minimize the number of people who need to join at odd hours. Remember, not everyone needs to join every meeting,

2) What tools will we use, and for what tasks, to shorten meeting times?

While corporate IT policies may bind us, get agreement from the team on what tools will be used. What tools will be used for high-priority issues? What will we use for synchronous communication versus asynchronous? The key here is to ensure that we are using the right tools for the right tasks and that everyone agrees only to use those tools, so we have no interoperability issues.

Note that this includes all collaboration and communication tools, not just what we will use in meetings. Thinking about all tools can help identify ways to reduce the time spent in meetings.

Discuss what tasks can be done asynchronously, before or after a meeting. For example, create a rule that meeting time will not be used to give PowerPoint presentations, instead send the slide decks to the team to review them in advance, so the team comes to meetings with questions and ready to discuss. Use online collaboration tools like Mural or Miro to discuss and share opinions on virtual whiteboards outside meeting times.

3) What are our team norms and behaviors in meetings?

This is where the team needs to focus. It doesn’t matter how good the meeting tools are or how they’re used if the team lacks consensus on expected behaviors. When creating this, reflect the existing team culture and pre-existing norms.

Discuss how team members should act while on a call, e.g., no multitasking, will we use cameras on or not.

Define how to build team bonds on each call; e.g., every meeting kicks off with an icebreaker or a catch-up on what’s going on outside work.

Set guidelines on how the team will make decisions, plus how to record and share those decisions. Ensure everyone has a written meeting summary, so there’s no scope for misunderstanding.

Set an expectation that everyone on the call must contribute, but create some ways to help introverts or those who are not confident in English speak up and express themselves. This can be done asynchronously.

Once the Charter has been created, have the team review it, agree to it and put it into practice. If there’s disagreement, refer back to the Charter and resolve disputes that way. Consider the Communication Charter as a living document, and update it as needed.

A Communication Charter will not do away with the scourge of bad meetings, but it will help guarantee better outcomes from the meetings that do take place.

By Darren Menabney, first published at March 14, 2021