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Judy Rees on Effective Remote Meetings

This is the Engineering Culture Podcast, from the people behind and the QCon conferences.

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Judy Rees about making remote meetings effective, clean language, the series of articles she is curating for InfoQ and the upcoming remote meeting that our listeners/readers are invited to participate in

Key Takeaways

  • Remote meetings and the need for remote collaboration is not new
  • Real, interactive, participative meetings and training conducted over video conference is now possible
  • When you are in a remote meeting, each person who participates in the meeting brings a part of the meeting room with them
  • Quality of conversations matters; if you want high-quality conversations then you need to allow time for human, social interactions
  • By having participants turn on their cameras you make the video meeting more compelling than the distractions around the participants


Sorry, this online remote meeting by InfoQ has now sold out. You can join our waitlist to be notified if a place becomes available.

Show Notes

  • 00:23 Introductions
  • 00:43 Remote meetings and the need for remote collaboration is not new (referencing reports filed via carrier pigeon) 
  • 01:15 Teaching Clean Language remotely
  • 01:43 The exciting potential of delivering live remote training over video
  • 01:59 Real, interactive, participative training conducted over video conference is now possible 
  • 02:15 A remote meeting can be better than an in-person meeting
  • 02:47 Getting good at doing meetings from where you usually are will make things more efficient and effective
  • 03:21 The secret sauce of a good remote meeting is planning 
  • 03:33 When you are in a remote meeting, each person who participates in the meeting brings a part of the meeting room with them
  • 03:48 Organisations design the in-person spaces to facilitate certain types of conversations, when we are remote the participants create the environment between themselves through the part of the “space” that each person brings with them
  • 04:26 The research on how important the environment is to enable the types of conversations you want to happen
  • 04:38 If you want to efficiently get stuff done, put people in a small space, ideally standing up
  • 04:48 By contrast, if you want creativity and blue-sky thinking, use a space that has wide-open views (or go outside)
  • 05:17 For remote meetings, the meeting facilitator needs to consciously decide about the virtual space they want to create
  • 05:37 Some of the things to consider when preparing for a remote meeting
  • 05:46 The importance and value of ensuring you allow social time in a remote meeting
  • 06:12 The types of social interaction that happen around an in-person meeting which need to be factored into the design of a remote meeting
  • 06:36 Quality of conversations matters, if you want high-quality conversations then you need to allow for the human aspects of a meeting, not just the mechanics 
  • 06:48 Describing the shared space for this meeting and the subtle messages that come from that space

  • 08:05 The impact of virtual spaces on how we feel
  • 08:18 Important factors for successful remote meetings  – turn on video cameras and keep meetings small
  • 08:32 As the meeting gets bigger, people feel disengaged 
  • 08:35 The comparison of a remote meeting with a dinner party – keep the numbers to around 6 people, because that’s about the number of people who can have one conversation
  • 09:01 The limitations of current video-conferencing technology for spontaneously splitting out into small groups 
  • 09:16 Advice for keeping people engaged – keep any presentation pieces to less than 7 minutes duration
  • 09:31 Get people doing activities and use break-out rooms for small group activities
  • 09:38 If your technology doesn’t allow break-out rooms, consider how you can create the same effect in other ways
  • 09:46 Techniques such as liberating structures to manage meetings in a participative way
  • 09:54 An example of One-two-four-all as a technique for getting wisdom from a group quickly
  • 10:34 Explaining why that technique allows good ideas to emerge quickly and engages all the participants in the creative process
  • 11:02 The two principle kinds of online meetings – fully remote and hybrid.  Hybrid meetings have a group of people in one location and some people are remote
  • 11:19 Hybrid is much more common than fully remote
  • 11:31 Many hybrid meetings are terrible experiences, particularly for the remote participants
  • 12:12 If you’re going to have a meeting that involves remote people, try to make it fully remote rather than a hybrid.
  • 12:57 Where the remote meeting is audio-only, most people are not in the meeting – they are doing other things and only nominally connected (at best) to what’s going on in the meeting
  • 13:11 Quoting J. Elise Keith: “you can’t have a meeting of minds if most of the minds are not in the meeting” 
  • 13:18 Reasons why turning on video makes people more engaged:
    • You can be seen, and it is obvious when you lose focus on the meeting
    • Human faces are uniquely compelling
  • 14:02 By turning on cameras you make the video meeting more compelling than the distractions around the participants
  • 14:14 The tech-stuff that is deliberately designed to be compelling and distracting
  • 14:29 With video on you have some chance of staying engaged in the meeting
  • 14:34 What happens to our attention when video is not turned on
  • 15:05 Additional advantages and interaction opportunities that having video turned on provides
  • 15:49 If the meeting is audio-only you need to make very careful provision to ensure that the remote participants can and do stay engaged
  • 16:01 It’s not easy to be an audio-only remote participant 
  • 16:25 Advice for situations where bandwidth is severely limited, and video is not available
  • 17:24 Design remote sessions for participation – think about what structures can you put into the meeting that forces participation?
  • 18:12 Many people try to use audio-only participation in order to join remote meetings from places where they should not do so
  • 18:29 Only 41% of participants admit to haven taken a conference call from the bathroom
  • 18:43 The doom loop of low expectations and bad experiences around remote meetings
  • 19:22 If we are serious about saving the planet we need to get remote meetings right 
  • 19:35 Introducing Clean Language – a precision enquiry methodology
  • 20:05 When done well, clean language feels very gentle and is really revealing
  • 20:17 Using metaphors that underpin thinking and drive behaviour
  • 20:38 Human beings think in relation to the space around them
  • 20:48 We use tools to hold our thoughts outside ourselves
  • 21:15 An example of how metaphor is applied to the virtual space for this podcast interview
  • 21:54 How this helps remote teams to be clearer in their communications by using non-judgemental questions
  • 22:15 Some of the challenges of working in remote teams and why clearer communication matters
  • 22:47 In a remote team, misunderstands are much more likely, and learning to ask questions that clarify without judgment help improve the communication between team members  
  • 23:16 The series of articles that InfoQ has been running about remote meetings that Judy has Curated: Remote Meetings
  • 24:00 On the 1st of October all the authors from those articles will participate in a live online meeting which is open and free for as many InfoQ readers/listeners to join as would like to do so
  • 24:21 This will be an example of how a large remote meeting can be fully participative and really interesting and engaging – this is not a webinar, it is a participative remote meeting
  • 24:57 There will be a live graphic recording of the event


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