In our own efforts to flatten the curve, Mozilla has invited employees to work from home this week in light of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). With more meetings moving online at Mozilla and elsewhere, we thought we'd share some of the long-distance meeting lessons we've learned from running Mozilla Open Leaders (online cohort-based training & mentorship) over the years.
Our advice isn’t exhaustive, wildly innovative, or one-size-fits-all, and you and your co-workers have the best, expert, local knowledge about what each of you needs to participate fully in accessible online meetings. Please share these ideas with your teammates, get their feedback and ideas, and agree on some new norms and workflows that will help you keep advancing your work together. These new norms that you develop together will make the advice and technologies below work best for you.
- Use collaborative notes. Document your agendas and notes in shared documents. Make sure those documents are open to and editable by all the stakeholders that might need them. Use a platform for shared documents that is available and accessible to your team and works well with other web technologies that help make those documents more accessible and sharable. Shared documents also allow people to contribute silently or asynchronously, as needed, and to review information and decisions that have been shared with your team.
- Use a roll call to keep track of attendance and contributions. Make some space at the top of your agenda for people to list themselves as present for a meeting or as someone who has contributed asynchronously. This will help you remember whom you need to reach out to after any meeting to ask for their input and share key information and decisions.
- Practice silent documenting. Allow ample time for people to contribute out loud while you discuss each item on an agenda, but try to begin each new agenda item with time for silent documenting. This gives you and your teammates time to reflect on your prompt and their responses to it. This kind of brainstorming and patient response helps people contribute without the anxiety some of us feel with public speaking or speaking off the top of our minds. It also helps people with busy backgrounds or limited bandwidth to contribute to your meetings without depending on a “perfect” audio-video set-up. After silent documenting, you can invite one another to verbalize or summarize your contributions or you can invite folks to respond silently, as well, with follow-up questions, +1s, and other kinds of feedback.
- Welcome asynchronous contribution. Challenges like the coronavirus impact people’s schedules in all kinds of ways. Be sure to invite people who can’t make a scheduled meeting to contribute to its documentation whenever they can. Encourage them, also, to ping your team on Matrix or Slack or whatever internal communications tools you use to let everyone know there’s new content to review after they contribute.
- Develop a shared norm around muting. Some teams prefer people to mute when they’re not speaking to cut down on background noise and echoes. Other teams like everyone to stay unmuted to ensure conversations feel organic. It’s important to talk with your teammates and to come to an common agreement about muting during online meetings so everyone feels best able to contribute and take in others’ contributions. Make sure to find out whether people are comfortable being muted by the host, as well, if they forget, or if they would rather have a gentle reminder before muting themselves.
- Use breakout rooms for larger meetings. “Breakout rooms” are small groups of people - say 3 to 4 of them - who hold tiny meetings-within-meetings. They’re discussion groups meant to make sure everyone has a chance to share their ideas, which can be difficult to achieve in a meeting of 10 or 20 or more. Platforms like Zoom let meeting hosts create breakout rooms and group people into them for small-group discussions of important items. Those hosts can also mix up who goes to which room each time to help ensure diversity of thought over the course of several breakout conversations. It’s important to bring back all the great ideas shared in breakout rooms, so be sure to allow time afterwards for shared insights and invite your colleagues to silently document the key points of their small group conversation for the whole team to review and respond to later in the meeting.
That's all we have! We hope this helps you stay safe and have great online meetings! For more tips and best practices from the Mozilla Festival team, sign up for our newsletter.
Have some of your own tips? Share your ideas with your co-workers and ask them about advice they’ve gotten, as well. Be sure to take your teammates’ needs into account to make your remote meetings as comfortable and helpful as possible. Here are a few more pieces of advice already shared by community members
We like to unmute all if the meeting is a small group. Keeps people from doing other work and allows for more natural interruptions like in a real conversation. Also, if we can reserve the last few minutes to reflect and review on the call, I find it helps too!
When meetings aren't fully remote, we have a "rule" that remote team members have priority to speak. This has helped me a lot. I initially found it hard to get a word in when I was remote and most of the team was in a central location.
Having your video on helps yourself and other participants – virtual conferences are not between abstract, featureless talking boxes!