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All-Remote Meetings

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On this page, we're detailing how to optimize meetings in an all-remote environment.

How do you do all-remote meetings right?

"How do you do meetings right?" is a common question asked of all-remote companies like GitLab.

The truth is that much of the same advice applicable to in-person meetings apply to meetings within an all-remote company, with a few notable distinctions.

Make meetings optional

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 50 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, and we strive to make meetings optional.

In many companies, 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.

You should aim to record all meetings, particularly when key individuals aren't able to join live. This allows team members to catch up on what transpired, adding 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.

Have an agenda

Not all meetings are inherently bad. We encourage managers to establish regular 1:1 meetings with their team, for example. Many meetings can be avoided by understanding how to work well asynchronously, a topic we'll cover in more detail on a separate page. GitLab has a documented approach to efficient, productive 1:1s that we welcome other companies to implement, and contribute to if they have suggestions for improvement. Below is a video overview of executing 1:1 meetings.

If you determine that a meeting is needed to move a project forward, address a blocker, or resolve a miscommunication, be sure to have an agenda.

Document everything live (yes, everything)

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.

You can see this in practice by viewing past GitLab Group Conversations on our GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel.

Cancel unnecessary recurring meetings

Recurring meetings are oftentimes established as meaningful points along a given a journey. Don't hesitate to cancel them after their purpose has been served. Cancelling meetings isn't a slight to those on the invite list. In fact, riding multiple calendars of a meeting should be celebrated and conjure a sense of liberation.

Use the right tools

All-remote meetings are made simpler given that there's no jockeying for space in a boardroom, scrounging for huddle rooms, or wondering if a given group still needs the meeting room they've reserved — all very real conundrums in colocated environments.

Meetings are about the work, not the background

One's 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.

Avoid hybrid calls

In calls that have remote participants everyone should use have their own equipment (camera, headset, screen). Learn more in the Communication section of GitLab's Handbook.

Start on time, end on time

A nontrivial amount of time is required to regain focus on a task following a distraction. While it is not always possible to schedule meetings such that they do not break up the flow of an ongoing project, it's important to begin and end meetings on time as to minimize disruption.

When scheduling a meeting 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 or meeting. (This setting can be found under the calendar Settings menu at "default event duration"). Learn more in the Communication section of GitLab's Handbook.

It's OK to look away

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

Say thanks and be creative

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"

Return to the main all-remote page.