Key insights from Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design at
We’ve reached the last segment of our three-part blog series on managing remote teams. We hope our experts’ advice has been useful for team leaders who are transitioning to working from home and adjusting to this new normal in the world of work.
For our final installment, we sat down with General Assembly’s very own Caitlin Davey, Manager of Learning Experience Design. Caitlin has managed a remote team for 2 years and has deep experience designing remote learning experiences in data for GA’s enterprise partners around the world.
Read on to hear Caitlin’s insights on:
- Leading remote meetings.
- Encouraging team participation while remote.
- Being supportive of your team during a remote transition.
GA: Thanks so much for the time today, Caitlin. In your role, you’ve participated in many conversations with our partners who are shifting to remote work. What are some of the top tips you share on leading remote meetings?
Caitlin: First and foremost, set a clear agenda with time chunks. If minutes tend not to work for you, then try to estimate time based on the percentage of the meeting you want to spend covering a given topic. Also, keep meeting times manageable and allow for stretch breaks every 30 minutes to allow participants to physically stretch and refocus their attention. As a team leader, you need to model active engagement and bring strong energy to amp up the energy of participants.
Second, if there are key decisions that need to be made or input that is required, consider sending a pre-read of materials along with your agenda so participants can come to the meeting prepared. When your meeting comes to a close, name owners of action items and send follow-ups with the highlights of the meeting, and a video recording if available. Follow-ups ensure that everyone is clear on the next steps and can review what was discussed.
GA: Staying organized seems to be key! On the flip side, what are some of the top mistakes you see people make when leading remote meetings?
Caitlin: When leading remote meetings, try to prevent the “No, you go ahead” loop as I like to call it. As a leader, you need to own facilitation and direct the conversation. This can look like nominating the next person to speak, asking for the opinion of a team member by calling on them, or determining the order of who will speak in advance. This keeps the meeting moving and increases the comfort of team members because expectations are clear. It also prevents lags where no one is responding to broad questions. Then again, get comfortable with some silence. The fidelity of remote meetings can mean that participants need time to think and respond. Don’t rush to fill the silence as participants may just need some time to formulate their thoughts before chiming in.
Pauses in conversation can feel less natural in remote meetings and people often fail to leave time for ideation or questions — it’s important to build this in. Name ways participants can contribute, whether that’s asking people to come off mute and speak, inviting comments through the chat, or using the raise hand feature if your conference platform is Zoom. If you have challenges leading the meeting while following the chat, nominate someone to raise any critical questions, and make sure that you build in time to pause and answer instead of interrupting yourself to address comments.
GA: I’ve definitely experienced those “No, you go ahead” loops before, and love the tips to address it! Switching gears a little bit, what are some norms you like to use to engage a remote team?
Caitlin: Team bonding and preventing feelings of isolation are especially important for teams that are working remotely. Plan to connect through icebreaker introductions or get remote coffee. These may sound corny, but leaning into the corniness can actually unlock a greater sense of connection and make calls feel less like a checklist. One of my favorite icebreakers is to ask participants to quickly hold up something nearby that shows their personality. For example, my pack of stamps is always handy because I love sending mail to friends and family.
Teams should also collectively decide on remote working agreements. These can go beyond sharing preferences for communication channels and even include mindsets to adopt as you work together. One example of a working agreement we hold at GA is “Be present,” which means we all agree to minimize multitasking during meetings and practice active engagement. Another example is “Take space, make space,” meaning that as we take time to talk, we also intend to make time for others to speak.
GA: Oftentimes, we hear that it’s hard to encourage participation in a remote meeting in the same way you would in a conference room. How do you encourage your team to speak up?
Caitlin: Inherently, whoever called a remote meeting feels like the owner, leader, and facilitator of that meeting. To allow individual contributors to feel ownership think about nominating leaders for various meetings and give them a chance to step into a leadership role. Breakout groups can also be a great way to divide large teams into more manageable groups to connect. Zoom has a breakout group feature, but you could also consider smaller sub-groups for projects.
Beyond structure, when you’re looking for participants to speak in a given meeting, call on participants by name to share input. You can also message participants ahead of time to preview the specific question and see if they’re comfortable sharing. Knowing your team’s working styles is key, as some people prefer to think through a question on their own rather than respond on the fly.
GA: All the insights today have been great so far. One final question for you, Caitlin: What advice can you share around supporting your team during this difficult transition?
Caitlin: It’s important to know the channels of communication that work best for your team. For example, if you’ve decided that not everything needs to be a call, think twice before scheduling a call rather than sending an email. Or, if you decided not to email after hours, don’t break your own rule.
Also, ask what your employees need. You should check in with your team more frequently than normal to make sure that they feel supported and remain engaged. I’d stress that you should be checking on their goals and if they need support rather than to monitor attendance.
A real benefit I see to remote meetings is the many ways for participants to share. Features like a meeting chat can allow more perspectives to surface than in an in-person setting. As we’re all transitioning to more virtual connections, there’s an opportunity to take time to set new norms, make employees feel supported, have fun as a team, and realize that in remote settings, we can still connect.
We’re so grateful to Caitlin for sitting down with us to discuss top tips for leading and supporting teams remotely. This post concludes our Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts series — we hope you gained some helpful insights! For more perspectives from GA, follow us on LinkedIn, where we’ll always share the latest.