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8 ways to host meetings you’ll actually want to attend—plus 2 bonus tips

Meetings have a bad rap for being unnecessary or overused. Hotjar CEO, Mohannad, shares his tips for running productive meetings on a remote team.

Remote teams

Last updated

24 Sep 2022
What it means to have a zero waste culture

Be honest. How many meetings have you attended recently that could have been a Slack thread or a quick email? 

What if I told you there’s a way to look forward to meetings as a place to ideate and inspire—and say goodbye to meetings that drain and zap your creativity and take you from deep work. 

As a fully remote and distributed company, we rely heavily on asynchronous (async) communication, such as writing to our colleagues on Slack or email, recording loom videos, and sometimes leaving voice notes. 

People often ask me if we’re anti-meeting or assume we have no meetings at all. This is not entirely true—we do have meetings, but we provide our teams with very specific guidance to eliminate unnecessary meetings.

I want to share with you some guidelines that I recently published internally—in hopes of saving you from another terrible meeting. 

But first…

Which meetings are (always) worth having?

Meetings should not be the default communication style. The first step to ensuring meetings are productive is deciding if each meeting is truly necessary.  

We lean toward mostly async communication, but we often make exceptions for these three types of meetings:

1. Standups 

Standups are quick 10- to 15-minute meetings to align the team and identify opportunities to unblock each other. Depending on your team’s preferences, standups can be async. But if you find it efficient to have synchronous standups, keep them brief.

2. One-on-ones

Weekly one-on-ones between team leads and team members are sacred and should be done synchronously. These meetings are vital for providing useful feedback and building rapport between a lead and their team members. Having live one-on-ones over video preserves tonal context and may make feedback easier to receive. 

3. Company meetings and events

Regular company-wide gatherings, like our monthly meetings, serve a different purpose from traditional meetings and are an exception. We use these meetings to boost team morale by spotlighting certain teams, create company-wide excitement, or run our Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions. We’ve been exploring replacing some of these gatherings with async communication like company memos, but for the time being, we continue to find value in keeping these as opportunities to connect. 

Overall we’re learning that fewer, shorter meetings tend to be more productive than an exhausting barrage of excessively long meetings.

Think about your team’s circumstances to decide which meetingswould be most effective in real-time. Consider making other communication async.

8 rules to running productive meetings on a remote team

To run productive meetings, the meeting organizer must operate with the goal of saving their teammates time, not necessarily saving themselves time. We use these guiding principles to ensure that our meetings accomplish their purpose.

Prefer a video version? Watch or listen in the background to our LinkedIn live: 8 rules for meetings that don't suck + Live QA

1. No status update or “check-in” meetings

Some people find it easier to relay status updates during meetings. Often this only saves time for the host, and it disrupts the schedules of the meeting invitees. All status update meetings can, and should, be done async. With async video tools like Loom, those more comfortable with video correspondence can stick to that format while allowing others to catch up on their updates at a more convenient time.

2. No one-to-many presentations 

During the first viewing, one-to-many presentations are passive for all except the presenter. Instead of calling a meeting to have teammates watch a presentation, such presentations should be recorded using an async video tool or sent as slides for pre-reading. 

After teammates have reviewed the material, schedule a follow-up meeting if necessary to discuss unclear sections or make decisions. 

3. Prepare your attendees before meetings

Prepare your invitees by providing pre-reading material, setting a clear objective, and sending an agenda in advance.

Without a clear objective, a meeting can take more time than necessary to reach the desired goal. People need time to think through the topic before the discussion. An agenda will prepare them for the scope of your discussion. 

4. End the meeting once the objective is reached 

A common meeting pitfall is dragging meetings on after the agenda is complete. Conclude the meeting once the objective is reached, and give people their time back. Do not feel pressured to fill each allotted minute.

As you wrap up the meeting, assign an owner and deadline to each action item. It is the meeting host's responsibility to follow up with these items.

5. Timebox discussions and default to 30-minute meetings 

Most meetings can be concluded in 30 minutes—it should be rare to see a meeting invite for anything longer than 60 minutes. Timeboxing keeps the host focused on reaching the meeting’s objectives in the allotted time.

6. No decisions by committee 

Productive meetings need a single decision-maker. Otherwise, participants end up on a deliberation merry-go-round. 

The meeting host or appointed decision-maker should gather input from multiple people or discuss the pros and cons of a decision with others, but only one person should have the final say. This makes for less diluted decisions with a high level of accountability.

7. Calendars shouldn’t postpone important decisions 

Speaking of decision-making, if a decision needs to be made urgently, gather the decision-makers right away. Find time for a brief meeting to finalize discussions. There may never be a perfectly convenient time for everyone to meet, so it’s crucial to consider the pressing nature of the decision and not postpone it because of calendar Tetris.

8. Follow the 10% rule 

Every meeting participant should be expected to contribute by speaking at least 10% of the time. If an invitee won’t have reason to contribute at least 10% of the time, they should not be invited. 

If you are a meeting invitee and believe that you have little to contribute, it may be best to decline politely. 

It’s worth noting that this rule doesn’t require literally measuring each participant’s contribution. Rather, it puts the onus on the host to think about whether all the invited guests will be contributing meaningfully to the meeting. 

Bonus tips

Be cautious about brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming sessions can be an excellent way to harness team creativity. In my experience, though, they easily become ineffective when they continue for extended periods or until ‘creativity strikes.’ I would only encourage them if they’re absolutely necessary.

To make these sessions more productive, share some pre-reading material so attendees come with ideas already in mind. As with every other meeting, timebox the sessions.

Stay on topic 

When meeting for work-related purposes, keep the discussion focused on the subjects at hand. Pleasantries should be brief and should not drive the conversation on a tangent.

This doesn’t mean that productivity should happen at the cost of personal relationships and interactions. On the contrary, building meaningful relationships with people is crucial for us at Hotjar—especially as a remote team. 

The key is to be intentional.

Social time with teammates is welcomed. We have dedicated time to connect as a team. For example, we create a fun hangout on Fridays called ‘Chilljar’ where we plan activities or invite guest speakers. 

You can have both—but for productive meetings, they cannot happen at the same time.

Meetings don’t have to be painful

These guidelines have been immensely helpful for us, even though we don’t always follow them to a tee. These tips shouldn’t police how you spend your time but rather help you become more productive and efficient. 

Every rule has exceptions, and I can’t possibly anticipate every exceptional scenario. Choose which guidelines your team will find helpful, and remember that not all rules will always apply. 

Productive meetings are possible for teams. If you’d like to apply these principles, consider starting fresh as a team by clearing your calendars and bringing back just what is absolutely necessary.

Don’t make this merely a one-time change. Evaluate your team’s meeting culture regularly to ensure you’re protecting everyone’s time as well as you can. 

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