How to Hold a Productive Meeting Even When You’re Out of the Office

Nowadays, being at work doesn’t mean you’re at the office.

Many employees can now work from anywhere thanks to technological advancements and employers being more receptive to telecommuting. But just because workers have more mobility, doesn’t mean everyplace can be turned into a meeting room (we’ve all heard the person in the bathroom taking a work-related call).

“People are confusing activity with productivity,” says Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of conferencing and collaboration at InterCall ( On the surface, mobility may sound like a win for productivity, but experts say there’s a dark side. Distraction.

InterCall’s new study looks at the rise in mobile conferencing trends and, as importantly, what workers actually do when they dial into conference calls via their mobile devices. And according to the study,  65% of employees do other work, 55% eat or make food, and “a shocking 47% go to the restroom.” The beach, the closet of a friend’s house during a party, or behind a church during a wedding rehearsal also made the list.

What’s more, almost one-third of participants say they’ve fallen asleep during a conference call and 5% of respondents admit to asking a colleague, ‘Can you sit on that call and go as me?’

“People are gaming the system,” says Productivity Pro’s ( Laura Stack, author of Execution is the Strategy. “They’re not taking notes or minutes. Postmeeting it’s not uncommon to hear, ‘Was I responsible for that action item?’”

Plus, you’ve got a ready-made excuse for laxity, claims Bellmar.  “If I’m at a meeting and doing work, I can tell my boss ‘I spent 5 hours in meetings and couldn’t get to that [particular assignment] today.’”

The solution isn’t requiring employees to be in the office, but to make them more visual during remote meetings, says Bellmar.

Stack adds that amping up to video helps employees work through her “4 P” formula which includes, planning, process, protocol and the ever-important post-meeting details. “Feeling like people are sitting across the room eliminates a ton of distracting shenanigans.”

But, unfortunately, many companies are afraid of technology, don’t understand its importance and lack the in-house talent to manage webcam, Stack claims.

Companies have reduced hard costs by allowing employees to work from home, explains Bellmar, but they haven’t invested in soft costs. Employers may give employees mobile access but fail to require their leaders on the go to model appropriate behaviors. “That’s a big miss.”

Bellmar and Stack shared the following tips to make remote meetings more successful:

Schedule correctly. Coordinating calendars of busy people takes doing, says Stack. At least one week prior to the target date, find a meeting time convenient for everyone. Consider workers’ energy levels when picking the time, she adds. Post-lunch often means low energy perfect for status updates. Mornings are more appropriate for higher level, creative tasks. “Staff meetings at 9 a.m. may not make much sense.”

Invite judiciously. You don’t need eight people on the call when the material is only relevant to four, says Bellmar. More than 10 people makes for an unmanageable meeting, adds Stack. Allow nonessential workers to just listen or drop off a call following their necessary report.

Prepare an agenda. Distribute the agenda 48 hours prior to start time—no less than 24. Solicit agenda items a week ahead and send pre-work sufficiently beforehand.

Set expectations. Determine how much real time is needed, advises Stack. “The facilitator who schedules a meeting from 9:00 to 9:40 has really used planning forethought.”

Behave as if in person. Look video meeting participants in the eye when speaking, says Bellmar. Take notes and display documents so attendees can see them.

Say your name. If you’re on teleconference, say your name each time you speak, recommends Stack. Appoint a “voice traffic controller” who can facilitate this process.

Stay focused. You don’t want to be in the position of saying ‘I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?’” Note and minute taking prevents issues from getting lost in the shuffle postmeeting.