You’ve just joined the conference call that your colleague set up and are rocking out to some easy listening before others join. Was this thing supposed to be at 10, or 10:15? Pacific, Eastern, London, or Mumbai time zone?

Whole minutes pass. Was the meeting supposed to be on this line? Did you enter in the numbers right? You begin to question your calendar and your sanity.

Just as you’re about to bail, a voice cuts through, and you’re stuck. Welcome to the seventh circle of (remote) Hell.

If you’re a remote worker, you’ve surely been there. None of us enjoy seemingly pointless meetings that run in circles, lacking direction or clear outcomes, yet they continue to plague our schedules. If you’ve shuddered when seeing a calendar invite or have felt that you’ve lost hours you’ll never get back, this post is for you.

It turns out that you can lead impactful virtual meetings that enable your team to get more done while saving valuable staff time. In other words: YES, YOU CAN GET THOSE HOURS BACK!

Here’s a fail-proof and foolproof five-step process to do just that:

1. Avoid meetings at all costs.

No, I’m not kidding! Set a rule within your team that you only set synchronous meetings when absolutely necessary, or for fun. Will messages shared in another medium do the trick? (This could involve brief project updates, for example, or routinely shared information that others can check at their leisure.) Or is this topic something that requires immediate action, a verbal exchange, or debate?

If this is the case—or if you’re telling a hilarious story or joke that requires a vocal set-up—then by all means, gather the team. Meetings can be important for culture building, too.

2. Make the meetings you do have shorter.

Take Parkinson’s Law into consideration and schedule short windows of time for brief catch-ups (10-15 minutes), setting aside 30 minutes to tackle big items. You’ll soon find that you’re able to knock out your top tasks and make progress much more quickly than you previously did. And once you’ve time-boxed your discussions more efficiently, hour-long and 90-minute meetings will be a distant memory.

Remember: the work will expand to fit the time allotted; believe me, if you only have a half-hour to make a decision or determine next steps, you will do so quickly and efficiently.

3. The agenda is your golden compass.

Would you spend the better part of an afternoon wandering the woods without any clue where you were? You wouldn’t, unless you were a survivalist on one of those reality shows—and even then, you’d be able to navigate by the sun, or the stars, or something.

News flash: if you’ve been gliding through meetings (and eating up time) without so much as a map of words on a screen to explain the task at hand, you are this person. Outlining a structure and designated section for discussing next steps is True North. Otherwise, how exactly do you plan to get anywhere?

4. Nobody hogs the floor.

Some people love to hear themselves talk. Unfortunately, the rest of us don’t necessarily want to listen to them nonstop.

If you have an overly chatty teammate who seems to dominate most (or all) conversations, it’s time to take back the reins. You can do this in several ways: a) you can moderate to ensure that other voices are regularly heard; b) you can schedule a two-minute round robin for each teammate on your agenda; c) if you’re on a video chat, make it into a game and hold up cards to keep things light but forward moving.

5. Make marching orders crystal clear.

These ever-critical aspects of meetings can somehow become obscured in the minutes, hours, and days following even the most productive of meetings. Scribbled onto sticky notes or tucked away into a random Google doc, the next steps may or may not get done.

You see, recording follow up tasks is only half the battle; without actually posting them somewhere for others to view, and ideally, to check off and comment on, it’s less likely that everyone on your team will do their part, or will even have clarity about what that involves once time has passed.

Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com

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