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Being respective of your time, as well as others

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 19 April 2540.
Planet PHP

One of the biggest challenges I've run into in being a aoremoteea is the daily interaction with other team members. When you are just a cube, an office, or a desk away, there's always that common water cooler or coffee pot that provides a natural place to interact with others. Or, if you have a question, you can always just stop and ask. Being able to physically get together without having to make much effort is a real bonus for people working in the same office, but can be a bit more challenging if you are remote team member. But this can also be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to concentrate on projects more and be interrupted less often.

What many people don't realize is that every interaction with fellow team member or collegue is a meeting, and having that meeting is taking he or she away from thier normal duties. Organizations don't hire people to be in meetings all day, they hire them to be productive contributors to making the organzation as a whole successful. This is where being remote has it's advantage, as it's easier to turn off the outside world by turning off your virtual links where in an office you have to hide somewhere to when you need some heads down time.

I recently read the book aoRead This Before Our Next Meetingao, which talks about how to improve the quality of the meetings you hold, and at the same time eliminate those pointless meetings that drag your team down.AThe big takeaway I had from the book is that you need to be respectful of other people's time. How do you best do this in the context of meetings? Here's some good starting points:

  • Every meeting should have an agenda, a purpose, and a goal. This helps avoid those aoopen discussiona types of meetings which can quickly diverge away from what you are really meeting about. A meeting should have a clear purpose that is communicated to the attendees an agenda that everyone has before the meeting so they are ready to discuss the talking points to be addressed. And in end, there should be some tangible goal to be achieved by having a meeting, whether this is aAdecisionAto make or action items for people to take out of the meeting to work onAseparately.
  • Keep meetings short and to the point. Avoid blocking out an hour of someone's time for a meeting when 15 or 30 minutes will do. This also helps keep you on topic and focused, forcing you to avoid the conversation from spinning out of control.
  • Invite only who should be there. Sometimes we like to play the politics game and make sure certain people are at a meeting. Other times we are worried about aomaking descions behind closed doorsa and thus overinvite to make sure nobody feel out of the loop. If someone really just wants to know what happened, but not really needing to contribute, then take notes or record the session so they can review later. Then if they feedback they can follow up outside of the meeting. The goal here is to have less people in a meeting, which reduces the chances of a meeting spinning wildly out of control.
  • Use smaller meetings for planning, and larger meetings for approval. A friend of mine once told me that the best meeting is one where theAdecisionAhas already been made, you are just getting everyone's OK on thatAdecision. I completely agree with this; smaller meetings are great to brainstorm since you can easily have a discussion, but with each person you add keeping everyone on topic gets harder and harder. It's best to bring a plan to a meeting to have it approved or rejected, then outside of the meeting deal with all the details.

What are your pointers for effective meetings and finding ways to be respectful of people's time? Let me know in comments.

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