A remote meeting, also known as a virtual meeting, happens when people use video and audio to connect online.
"How do you do meetings right?" is a common question asked of all-remote companies like GitLab. The following guide assumes you've already questioned whether the meeting should happen in the first place; if you haven't, start with GitLab's guide to asynchronous workflows and communication.
Much of the same advice for running a good in-person meeting applies to remote meetings, with a few notable distinctions.
If you have to have a meeting, at least make it fun!
When you work in a global all-remote company, the usual assumptions about availability are opposite the norm. We have a growing team working in over 65 countries, with many time zones covered, which makes synchronous meetings impractical, burdensome, and inefficient. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment has likely seen the sarcastic "I Survived Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email" award. As an all-remote company, we do not look to a meeting by default; when they are necessary, we strive to make in-person attendance optional by enabling asynchronous contribution.
In many companies, synchronous meetings are used as a mechanism to create consensus. As you'll read in the Leadership portion of GitLab's handbook, we are not a democratic or consensus driven company. People are encouraged to give their comments and opinions, but in the end one person decides the matter after they have listened to all the feedback.
This works because of our values, which leads GitLab to hire individuals who enjoy being a manager of one, a point detailed in our Efficiency value. Team members are empowered to decide whether a sync meeting is the best use of their time, and set boundaries when needed.
You should aim to record all meetings. This allows team members to catch up on what transpired and adds context to notes that were taken during the meeting. Learn more about recording in Zoom in the Tips and Tricks section of GitLab's Handbook.
At the same time, even GitLab team members may find themselves on one of two extremes.
Managers can support their direct reports by reviewing the directs' calendars with them on a regular basis to align on which meetings should have in-person attendance.
Meetings should not happen if there isn't a clear objective and adequate preparation. In most cases, meetings that should be postponed are cancelled before they begin. At GitLab, roughly 1% of meetings should end within the first minute as it becomes clear that the meeting doesn't have a known meeting outcome, key material required for a productive conversation, or adequate participant preparation. Cancelling a meeting quickly at the start of it is not a failure. It takes leadership to quickly read the situation and make an efficient and timesaving call.
Recurring meetings are often established as meaningful points along a given journey. Don't hesitate to cancel them after their purpose has been served. Cancelling meetings isn't an insult to those on the invite list. In fact, ridding multiple calendars of an unneeded meeting is liberating to everyone involved. At the end of each meeting, the meeting DRI should evaluate whether the meeting can be cancelled or the meeting cadence or duration can be reduced. If there are multiple folks who may have an opinion, this can be an agenda item for discussion at the end of the meeting.
A nontrivial amount of time is required to regain focus after a distraction. While it is not always possible to schedule meetings such that they do not create distractions, it's important to begin and end meetings on time in order to minimize disruption.
When scheduling a meeting at GitLab, we value people's time and prefer the "speedy meetings" setting in our Google Calendar. This gives us meetings of, for example, 25 or 50 minutes - leaving some time to write notes, stretch, etc. before continuing to our next call. Learn more in the Communication section of GitLab's Handbook.
"No agenda, no attenda." Every work-related meeting should have a single live doc agenda affixed to the calendar invite at the time that the invite is added to calendars.
Meeting agendas should be include:
Meeting DRIs should prep the agenda at least 72 hours before the meeting. This helps participants to:
We've created a templated example that you can copy and use in your organization. There is additional guidance and a separate template for 1:1 meetings. Coffee chats do not require agenda as their function is informal communication.
While it is problematic to have no agenda, it is also problematic to have more than one agenda. Meeting and meeting notes require a single source of truth. If you are in a meeting with more than one agenda, stop the meeting as soon as this is known. Clarify the agenda to use with other attendees and immediately deprecate the additional agenda. Add a link to the agenda being used from the deprecated agenda, so anyone who discovers it is aware of the source of truth agenda.
If you determine that a meeting is needed to move a project forward, address a blocker, or resolve a miscommunication, visit our detailed guide on conducting a live doc meeting.
It's not rude to focus on documentation in a meeting. A surefire way to waste time in a meeting is to avoid writing anything down. Meetings within an all-remote company require documentation to be worthwhile. Here are some additional ways you might document a meeting (in addition to the live doc agenda):
All-remote meetings are made simpler given that there's no jockeying for space in a conference room, scrounging for huddle rooms, or wondering if a given group still needs the room they've reserved — all very real conundrums in colocated environments.
A major enabler for reducing the quantity of meetings necessary at GitLab is our own product. GitLab is a collaboration tool designed to help people work better together whether they are in the same location or spread across multiple time zones. Originally, GitLab let software developers collaborate on writing code and packaging it up into software applications. Today, GitLab has a wide range of capabilities used by people around the globe in all kinds of companies and roles.
You can learn more at GitLab's remote team solutions page.
A hybrid call is one that has a mix of participants in the same physical room, together with others who are remote. Hybrid calls should be avoided, as it's better to have everyone on a level playing field for communication and discussion.
If a hybrid call must happen, however, everyone should use their own equipment (camera, headset, screen) even if they are physically sitting in the same room. This ensures that everyone is on the same playing field in terms of call experience. If possible, it's best to separate briefly for the call and find your own workspace, creating a 100% remote call. This helps avoid audio problems from delays and feedback. Learn more about why hybrid (partially remote) calls are horrible in the Communication section of GitLab's Handbook.
In the above video interview between GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij and NoHQ's Dominic Monn, the two discuss common challenges and solutions to building, sustaining, and scaling a thriving remote workplace.
They speak at length about meetings within a remote environment. In particular, Sid shares that remote workers should embrace the benefit of being free to take meetings with loved ones nearby.
Enjoy the benefits of your kids barging in on a meeting. That's the best distraction in the world. - GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij
Your appearance, surroundings, and background can be the source of great stress and anxiety when preparing for a video call. At GitLab, we encourage team members to bring their whole selves to work.
Many organizations have attempted to improve the utility of meetings — usually as a workaround to actually doing less of them — by implementing a "screen-free" meeting mandate. At GitLab, we empower team members to be the manager of their attention.
Learn more in the Communication section of GitLab's Handbook
At GitLab, we have a dedicated Slack channel devoted to saying thanks. Kindness is embedded in our Collaboration value, and gratitude is an essential part of our culture. This reinforces what connects us as a geographically diverse team.
A great example of several GitLab's values being used to generate a creative outcome from a regularly scheduled meeting is detailed on the company blog: "How we turned a dull weekly all-hands into a podcast"
While we can thanks team members within meetings, we do not thank each other for meeting participation as this is not part of our values and could reward folks attending meetings that they are not required in. This would not support efficiency, a GitLab value.
Scheduling a virtual meeting allows you to set the meeting length and invite a limited number of people. You can participate in a remote meeting from almost anywhere in the world! If you are working in your garage or basement, be sure to use a green screen behind you and put up a professional background image to present well on screen.
You are not expected to be available all the time, but there may be times you will need to flex your schedule to schedule or attend a meeting with someone from another time zone outside of your typical working hours. Most remote-meeting challenges fall under two categories:
Both can be overcome by checking your internet connection regularly and growing aware of the communication preferences of others.
Lorraine Lee has created training on how to better your video and presentation skills for an all-remote workspace.
Key points include:
When working in an all-remote company, there is a strong tendency to avoid traditional "offsites" that require travel from all participants. GitLab has experimented with all-remote "offsites" as a method to provide some of the deeper shared understanding that results from such meetings without the heavy financial, personal, and environmental toll of travel. These longer, structured meetings have had mixed results. Here's what we've learned so far:
All-remote virtual offsites are cost-effective and enable team members to pivot back to life outside of work as soon as the meeting concludes. However, there is still great value in in-person interactions, and leaders should aim to include those opportunities when possible rather than shifting entirely to remote offsites.
In April 2019, GitLab transitioned our board meetings to all-remote. This means that none of the attendees are colocated. By doing so, we've made it as easy as possible for the right people to attend our board meetings, including board members, observers, executives, and anyone doing a deep dive, which can include directors, managers, and, in some cases, individual contributors.
Learn more on how to run an all-remote board meeting.
When asked during an INSEAD case study interview (shown above) about an all-remote company's ability to bring people together in the same physical space for a meeting, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij provided the following reply.
For context, Sid joined the Zoom call from San Francisco, while the researchers joined from Singapore.
We can [bring people together in the same physical space], but we don't do it because it's very inefficient. Imagine the cost of this meeting if I had to fly to your location, or you to mine.
[Colocated companies] fall back on extremely inefficient things, like flying people halfway around the world for a four-hour meeting. GitLab doesn't fall into that trap.
We have meetings that are more efficient. I bet our meetings, via Zoom, are more efficient than meetings in a conference room. With live note-taking, up-front agendas, and our follow-up, GitLab meetings are more efficient.
Not only do we have more efficient meetings, we also do not have the time waste of flying people across the world.
I see multinational organizations where you're supposed to be in the office even if you're the only person in that location, just so they can check that you're working. That is a ridiculous waste of time.
So, no, colocated companies do not have an advantage. They don't have the benefit of knowing how to do remote right because it's not in their DNA.
Of course there are benefits to colocated meetings — it's easier to interrupt each other, it's easier to see what everyone around the room is thinking, you don't have wireless issues, it's easier to look each other in the eyes, it's easier to break bread before/after the meeting, it's easier to talk a walk or do something fun together.
We try to take advantage of them, though. We have GitLab Contribute where we all come together to go on excursions and have informal chats. As an executive group, we come together every quarter for 2.5 days for high-velocity meetings. Those are augmented with Google Docs, and we allow people to attend remotely if they cannot join in person.
There are benefits, but they aren't as big as people make them out to be.
The biggest thing is taking the initiative to interrupt each other, as that's harder in a remote setting. At GitLab, we solve that by making sure that questions are in a Google Doc in advance so it's clear who has a question and who to hand the conversation off to. — GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij
We can use our DRI framework to inform who should participate in a meeting. The DRIs and consulted folks will play key roles within meetings. A meeting DRI or facilitator owns the meeting. Other DRIs may own specific activities in support of an initiative. Consulted people are those whose opinions are sought, typically subject-matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication. Most informed people should not be invited if there is a more efficient way to engage or cascade information. When informed folks are invited due to needs for immediate alignment or limitations around effectively cascading asynchronously, they should not be added as a recurring participant in a sequence of meetings.
When agendas are shared at least 72 hours in advance, you can have efficient asynchronous participation. If sticking to the agenda becomes the norm, folks who have thoughts or questions, but choose to prioritize other things above meeting attendance, can have confidence that their thoughts will be considered and their questions will be addressed. Team members can later review recordings and notes. This helps to minimize team members' fear of missing out on key details.
In addition to making it effective and efficient for participants to contribute asynchronously, don't thank people for showing up in meetings. At GitLab results and efficiency are values, participation is not.
please verbalizefor them if they aren't comfortable speaking up.
For more tips, visit the GitLab video call communication guide.
While GitLab uses Zoom as the primary video platform for communications, others may prefer different tools. Some popular Zoom alternatives are:
In the above video interview between GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij and CEO Shadow Nikki Silverberg, the two talk through how Sid prepares for and operates in a full day of meetings. Sid also talks through how he uses the points above to make meetings at GitLab and his day efficient.
Complete all knowledge assessments in the Remote Work Foundation certification to receive the Remote Foundations Badge in GitLab Learn. If you have questions, please reach out to our Learning & Development team at
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