Phone meetings and other remote meetings without a camera are certainly not like other meetings. There are a few of us who get together remotely and discuss something, but we cannot see each other. One would think that it is practical and liberating somehow — we do not have to travel halfway across the country and since it is obvious to our colleagues that we are in a phone meeting, no one will bother us with those ”do you have a second?”-questions as we have to direct our full attention on the ongoing meeting.
A good time for other things too?
Or do we? No one can see that we are sitting in front of the computer, so while one of the other participants tell the rest about the latest developments in their area, we can multitask and answer a few emails simultaneously. And next to us on the desk there is a pile of materials we put there ”temporarily” since we were unable to deal with them the moment we were given them by someone. Our gaze wanders to the pile, and we begin flipping through it to see if there is something there we need to deal with before the day is … ”What do you think, David?”, someone from the meeting suddenly says. Think? About what?
It occurs to us that we have not been following the distant conversation at all for the last couple of minutes, since we have actually been busy doing other things. Since we have no idea what we would be agreeing to, we can’t just say ”Sure, that’s fine”, so we ask the person who had been talking to repeat themselves, and suddenly the meeting will now take longer than it should have (or be a bit more stressful because the same information still has to be processed but now in less time).
Remove yourself from certain parts of yourself
When we are participating in a remote meeting, it is one thing to close the door to get away from others. But if you are just as good at distracting yourself (like I am), you also need to get away from yourself so you can be fully present in the meeting, so that it becomes efficient, you discuss what you intended to, and you eventually have more time for completing other tasks that need your focus and attention today.
Here are some things you can do to decrease the risk of distracting yourself during a phone meeting:
- If you do not need your computer during the meeting, put it away, shut it down or turn your back to it.
- Even if the phone meeting is conducted via your smartphone, you do not need to keep all its most tempting apps in your field of view. Place it face down on the desk about an arm’s length from your seat, put it in your pocket or place it on a seat next to you by the table you are sitting at.
- If you have materials on your computer that you will need during the meeting, minimize or close all other programs and windows, except for those relevant to the meeting. Set your notifications to ”do not disturb” (if there is such a setting on your phone), and turn off the notifications for emails (unless those were turned off long ago).
- Sit down far away from any piles that might attract your attention. If you have a lounge suite of some kind in your office (where there are no piles), this might be a good place to have a seat during the meeting. Perhaps you have smaller ”quiet rooms” in your company into which you can retreat?
But remember to keep a pen and paper close by in case you need to capture and make note of sudden ideas you get, even if they do not concern the meeting. If you ask me, pen and paper are the perfect tools in this situation. They are easy and quick to use, we can make notes freely without having to type any short-commandos, they do not distract us with notifications or help functions that pop up unsolicited, and they are not located next to a whole bunch of other apps that will compete for our attention.
If you want to, you can scan the notes with your mobile phone when the meeting is over, process potential to-do-tasks from the notes and save the essence of what you wrote down in a digital format.
Increase your focus, decrease the time you spend
If you remove the elements you tend to distract yourself with when you are in a phone meeting or other remote meetings without video, you and your meetings with have more focus, and the important subject of the meeting will get all the attention it deserves. The meetings themselves will be shorter, and you and the other participants will have more time and space for executing what you discussed during the meeting. You also no longer have to have the uncomfortable experience of being caught distracted and not listening.
What’s your best trick?
How do you ensure that your remote meetings are efficient and focused? The remote meeting is a real challenge to a lot of people, so if you have any ideas, please feel free to share them.