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How to run a global meeting, the right way

The world is getting smaller and, with what feels like the ever-accelerating pace of business, organisations need to keep up as many teams are located across continents.

Many businesses invest in teleconferencing screens and smartphones to try and overcome the challenges that come with having teams that need to collaborate across borders, but that leaves out a great number of other processes central to most meetings, such as the more humble note taking, minute sharing and brainstorming. To improve global collaboration, meetings play a huge part; room and design, IT and AV, people and their psychology all need to come together in harmony for effective collaboration.

I've seen meetings be a popular scapegoat when it comes to discussing productivity and business. They receive flack from business media commentators, often described as a 'productivity vacuum'.

Yet, at the same time, studies are backing up the longstanding consensus that teams work better and are more creative when they are encouraged to collaborate and have the opportunity to interact 'face-to-face'.

Creativity, and its corporate twin, innovation, are increasingly seen as indicators of business success and, as our 'ideas economy' takes shape, collaboration will be the means to improve problem solving, increase creativity, and deliver that all-important innovation. In order to maintain creative flair and enable collaboration, business leaders need to have strong routes of communication to all their teams across the globe.

Be in the room

Before you even book a meeting, too many people have trouble just getting a suitable room. This should not be a time sink, but there is often a real range of enterprise IT in larger global companies, which makes group engagements tricky. A common challenge is that there is a range of meeting rooms with a variety of technology that you cannot check – you may book conference room 2 in the New York office, but do you know the available technology in there?

  • In some organisations there is no one stakeholder for meeting room ownership – make the 'owner' of meeting rooms clear, be it the office manager, facilities manager, or IT manager, as they have to make sure the technology as well as the tables and chairs are up to scratch.
  • Ensure that all staff know how to book meeting rooms and what the priority system is – can they book room resources that links into the technology in the room, for example as you can with Microsoft Exchange?
  • Invest in an electronic meeting system (EMS), a web-based, any time, any place system that accommodates participants who are dispersed across several locations.
  • If you have a dedicated IT booking system, make sure instructions are easy to access and in an obvious place so invitees from overseas offices know what is booked and where to go/join when
  • Be assured that you have the tools you need to drive your meeting and that they are working.

In most enterprise organisations there are plenty of desks but not enough meeting spaces, so overbooked meeting rooms are a real challenge. This makes being efficient in your meetings even more crucial.

Cut the faff factor

Productivity is always a top priority, but it may be a bigger pressure that ever – a UK Office for National Statistics revealed that productivity had fallen to 3.7 per cent below its pre-downturn peak – so organisations cannot afford to waste time in meetings. And yet, we've found that, on entering a meeting room, plugging in, turning on, getting refreshments, making introductions and starting the conversation takes on average eight to ten minutes.

That's before the standard meeting diversions and the time spent typing out notes and sending them around after the meeting. With even just a few meetings in your working day, that is at least half an hour down the drain. Surely we all want to start the meeting asap and keep productivity levels high.

What is this meeting for?

Another reason for unproductive meetings is bad planning – every meeting should have a clear goal so that you have an aim that can be achieved in the time that you have. In my experience, I've found that people traditionally want to go into a meeting room for three things: relationship building; knowledge sharing; brainstorming. Each of these has different core activities, which are made very difficult if all parties are not physically in the room:

  • For relationship building, you may want video capabilities, the ability to share screens and show faces to make that personal connection and read people's reactions
  • For information sharing, you usually want to display content on a screen, such as training materials or presentations, so everyone sees the same thing while audio is enabled
  • For problem solving, where flip charts and dry erase boards usually come into their own, having the ability to share content digitally and edit that content in real time as a group is valuable, especially if these brainstorming notes can be immediately shared.

In normal meetings doing these things is second nature. Now teams are often disbursed, if not in different regions then there's a high chance some of the team are working flexibly, from home or in a different office, so we have to find a different way.

Collaborative technologies

Forecasts predict that by 2015 mobile video data traffic will represent two-thirds of all mobile data traffic, up from half at the end of 2010 (Cisco Visual Networking Index, 2010). As with social software, the new generation of workers will expect video to be an integral part of collaboration at work.

The modern workspace has natively provided a breadth of communications methods that improve knowledge sharing and collaboration, including presence, messaging, voice, video and web conferencing capabilities. If you are looking at the options for your organisation's telecommunications strategy, then the chances are you've already taken a look at Microsoft Lync, and you are certainly not alone.

According to a recently released report by Infotrack, this year almost 60 per cent of enterprises surveyed are deploying or planning to deploy Lync including enterprise voice, up from 45 per cent last year.

With Lync, it is easy to run a remote global meeting, doing introductions over video then seamlessly switching to sharing content, uploading documents from any personal device with a Lync client, editing documents online as a team, and sending the meeting materials back to all attendees for their records. All you have to do is press the whiteboard button and email out notes or edited files with ease.

Share and share alike

Video-conferencing is great for relationship meetings, but most knowledge workers need to discuss content, especially in internal meetings. Sharing and working on content is where collaborative technologies come in.

  • Video ranges from a high-definition one-to-one video call on a mobile device through to fully immersive room-based telepresence experiences that join together multiple people from multiple global locations.
  • Messaging ranges from basic one-to-one text messages on a mobile phone, through widely networked email and voicemail systems, to high-definition video messages that are stored and shared widely through the cloud to any device type.
  • Conferencing ranges from person-to-person desktop sharing, through scheduled team meetings that draw on audio, video and data-sharing bridges and global conferencing resource pools, to live meeting broadcasts that reach thousands of users simultaneously.

Meetings tend to be chaired, from one to many, and it is hard to keep attention, especially with remote meetings where you cannot see what people are doing. With the latest collaborative technologies teams are able to annotate documents in real time, ask questions digital-face-to-digital-face so people's reactions and body language can be read. All of this helps people stay tuned in, keeping the meeting productive – meetings should not be a one route download.

Martin Large is CEO of Steljes