TamTam Research blog

How to survive spreading teleconferencing

In short: I want to share a few tips for teleconferencing and tell you, things (in teleconferencing) will get better as participants will get used to that. But this takes time.

Teleconferencing is spreading across our calendars and time and it brings challenges such as:

  • feeling uncomfortable: missing face to face meetings, getting tired sooner
  • having to learn new technologies
  • missing body talk signals which helps to control who is going to speak
  • working from home where are too many people while new house-rules are not set yet

People have to re-invent themselves - their living and working style and working space. This takes time and costs energy.

Me and my 2 colleagues are working from home office for almost 9 years. Meeting face to face is as exceptional to us as is teleconferencing to others.

Our initial reaction to teleconferencing was: being extremely tired after 30-50 minutes meeting. We had to learn new tools (starting with Mikogo, nowadays using Zoom.us which works excellently). We had to replace body talk signals for handing over speech by other means. When two jumped into speech of one another, first reaction was a few seconds of silence on both sides followed by yet another jump into speech. Then we replaced the silence by quick "go on, go on" and things went on much sooner.

Within those years things evolved. We got used to teleconferencing and have developed working style, when we are e.g. able to spend even 3-5 hour on remote pair programming. Most of us have one or two headsets at hand to provide better comfort to others and to us too. I use Blue tooth Jabra Evolve 65 headset which allows me to walk during longer calls.

We have following kinds of meetings/telcos:

  • scrum telco every morning at 09:00. Motto is "share your pain", each member reports things completed the day before, plans for current day and impediments. It shall not last more than 15 minutes in total. There is no space for analyzing things in detail and making decisions, these things are scheduled for separate meetings.

    We are usually 2-4 participants, it is told to work for focused long-term closely cooperating teams of up to 9 people. What we get from it is: being proud for having some tasks completed, forcing everyone to thing of next actions and quickly finding help in case of troubles.

    There is one extra benefit: as we are almost full time remote, these scrum meetings serve as totem for our TamTam Research - giving us symbol of being one entity.

  • informative meeting: someone presents something to others, often to ease adopting new things faster by colleagues. Mostly without attempting to make decisions. It takes usually 15-50 minutes. 2 or more participants.

  • coding session: usually just two of us coding something with shared screen. This can last even a few hours a day, but one has to do some breaks (sometime once in 25 minutes).
  • comment resolution meeting. Group of participants review finite list of comments to a standard, contract draft or whatever. It can last a few hours, breaks are necessary. Skip trivial items, focus on important ones first. Identify and resolve conceptual questions first, it shall speedup resolution of many discussed items.

  • decision making meeting: 2-3 people lasting 15-120 minutes, often with one break in the middle (the break often helps to make better decision). Nowadays I am trying to extend previous formats to larger scale as more often 10 or more people need to meet remotely. Things seems to be working well on this scale too, but my tips would be too fresh at this moment.

Following things are working well for us:

  • plan meeting in advance (set fixed start time and estimate duration). Sending invitation from Google Calendar is very effective.
  • each meeting shall have agreed purpose, format, and agenda. Meetings will be more focused. Clear format provides structure easing communication patterns for participants.
  • resolve unexpected topics by planning dedicated meeting, do not attempt to squeeze it into current one.
  • split topics to separate shorter dedicated meetings (there can be more in one day)
  • commit meeting results soon. Clarify what are expected meeting outcomes and complete them soon. Complete minutes if needed (Google Docs minutes written during meeting are the best), commit code to code repository and push to server, file issues to issues tracker, file tasks to do.
  • longer meetings require breaks to recover
  • relax on breaks, do not attempt to do other work during this time. Talking to colleagues around takes energy, being simply silent looks strange first, but pays back soon.
  • use headset if possible
  • each participant (even from one company) shall join separately, communication scene becomes quite different comparing to situation, where group of people is sharing one conference speaker. Such a group usually prevents equal participation of others.
  • last topic in each meeting is to agree on next one (if needed). Trying to find common time a second after meeting has ended costs much more effort.
  • accept the fact you get tired. Such meetings are usually focused, require full attention and move things forward. People get tired, because they are strong and work hard, not because they are too weak.
  • With multiple telcos a day, 6 hours of total working time (incl. non-meeting activities) a day is quite enough.

There are definitely many more tips related e.g. to leading effective meetings in general (having clear agenda, being prepared, keeping meetings properly small and short). There are also many things related to specific teleconferencing platform. I might cover some of them in future blog entries.

Do you remember the time mobile phones were new and started spreading? Remember all the mobile-phone related jokes from that time? Try to recall some. Are they still working? Do you know any teleconferencing related joke or funny story? Like giving presentation without noticing that all participants were mistakenly disconnected 20 minutes ago? Let us know.