One of the concerns with remote working is how meetings work. I can't give a general answer, but over about 10 years remote working in software development team, I can talk about the regular meetings that pretty much work for us.

Our team is roughly half remote and half in a main office, varying between 10 and 16 people. We've tried various meeting formats over the years so what I'm describing here is the current evolution for our regular weekly meetings, which seems to be working well enough that there is no strong push to make any big changes.

The purpose is to ask everyone "What are you planning to do this week?"

It's a 15 min structured chat discussion in a specific IM chat room for the purpose. Everyone is in it and we prepare our part beforehand (in whatever format we like) so we can copy-paste them as our manager asks each person in any order they feel like at the time.

It's a free-for-all on asking questions - if Andy is planning to do something that'll kill a server I need, I'll ask for some warning. Anything that needs longer discussion gets punted to talk about outside the meeting. Any announcements for the week also happen here: holidays, planned outages, etc.

We settled on 09:45 as that seems to give everyone time to get caffeine, check any weekend monitoring warnings and generally wake up. We're fairly strict on the timeslot so we're done in time for any 10am meetings other people may have scheduled.

This is a pretty much guaranteed meeting, it's very fault-tolerant. If our manager isn't around, someone else will "play dad/mum". If one us can't make it we'll paste our bit into the chat early or ask someone else to give a quick note on our behalf. If someone's remotie kit/network is dead, we'll text/email/call someone to say our bit.

As for what we write in our prepared section, some people write loads (guilty!) some just say something like "carrying on with feature X of project Y". Over time all our comments and questions shape what we write and of course it changes depending on what we're doing. If we get a flurry of "tl;dr" or "hold on, my scrollwheel broke", etc then we wrote too much. If we get "err, and...", "Yarp", etc then we probably needed to say a little more.

Also, sometimes we just haven't prepared. A "can you come back to me?", or "typing..." is accepted, and on occasion just a "busy now, live database dead" type comment is accepted - and the poor sod doing the firefighting might post an update into the room later in the day. That chat room's history is preserved so we can always scroll back later in the week if we want to know what anyone is doing.

The purpose is to ask everyone (in small groups or individually) "What are you working on?" and "Do you need any help?"

The first question is mainly related to updating the project/resource plans and also to get a warning if the week isn't turning out as we planned. The second question is related to that - arranging help to get things back on track, remove obstacles, sort out whatever needs doing.

The origin of this meeting was that the management team had a meeting at the end of the day to go through project planning and resourcing for the next month or two. So the managers needed updates from their team as close to that meeting as possible on the current project statuses. That meant they were calling everyone who appeared on their part of a resourcing spreadsheet and asking for basically GANTT chart updates.

This is done on the phone and is more flexible than the Monday meeting, other than we still need to end up with an updated resource spreadsheet at the end of it. It may be a one-on-one with our manager, or a "team lead" (one nominated for the remoties and one for the office). Alternatively we may arrange a con-call if we decide that's appropriate. We all have read-only access to the spreadsheet so we can see what lies we all told last week how earlier estimates match the current situation.

The timing is also fluid, because it depends more on individual conversations. When things are going well and we're in the middle of dev work on one project, it might be a 2 min call. When we're bouncing between four projects all of which have wheels coming off and none of them are what we planned to work on that week, this could be a 30 min call while we sort out how to spread the load, bring back some sanity and ease the pain.

This can be a bit of an awkward meeting, because it isn't very structured and we all know it's main purpose is to prop up and awkward waterfall based dev process. However it does also work and produces some fairly useful results and good teamwork when things are getting more chaotic.

There was originally an "all hands" meeting which everyone related to the IT side of the company was expected to attend each Friday. All the office staff crowded into our biggest meeting room and all remoties were expected to be on the con-call.

It was almost always a disaster. Very high ceremony. no actual information transferred. Phone system couldn't cope with more than eight in the con-call and the room phone could never make anyone audible at either end. Even the people in the room looked for excuses not to go.

It mainly consisted of the director asking each person in turn for the progress on the project name listed against that person's name. The answer was almost always "no progress", "going ok", "nearly done", "delivered", "huh, what project?" Always one person talking, 30+ people "listening" (realistically, waiting their turn or playing with a pen, doodling, generally offline).

At the end the director or a manager might give a brief announcement about something that had either happened in the week, or would happen next week. Mostly this was a repeat of either an earlier group email, or something we'd heard through conversations during the week.

As remoties on the end of the phone, we couldn't even hear most of that. Nicknamed the 'No-progress Meeting', we counted it as dead time where we chatted on IM and got minor jobs done.

There were attempts to shock the corpse back to life with powerpoint presentations (remoties using Lync desktop sharing) - that went as well as expected, applying "death by powerpoint" to an unloved corpse - with MS Lync usually kicking it in the head too (auth problems, network problems, filesystem problems, display size problems, ...)

Don't do meetings like this. If you have one - change it. Actually, give it a public burial to make the point. Then make a new and better one.

Speaking of new and better ones: we initiated a separate remoties weekly meeting as an alternative, so that we "didn't overload the phone system". We tried to have it at the same time as the No-progress Meeting, lasting about 30-45 mins, with 4-6 remoties in it plus the occasional guest techie who found a quiet corner in the office to join our call.

This meeting had a slightly different tone, in that we deliberately followed the same "go round the room" pattern as the No-progress Meeting with each of us saying what we'd done that week. However, in this case it ended up nicknamed the Remoties Anonymous meeting - you can maybe guess what that means.

It was a chance to bitch and rant about everything, share war stories and underhand tactics for making headway through the swampier parts of the organsational rules. It was actually a fun meeting, there was laughter, there were jokes. It was a kind of support group. We also produced an update note that could be emailed for inclusion in the larger weekly IT report, but the report was a by-product of the conversations.

We knew it was going well when one of the remoties from another team joined us once due to the big con-call not working and the following week they asked to come back. If people are knocking on your door asking to join your meeting, for a second time, you're probably doing something right.

There have also been attempts to merge the Remotie Anonymous call into various forms of the larger meeting, with various convoluted formats suggested. However, the meeting was fairly established by then, so we agreed that even if some other Friday meeting was constructed, we'd keep Remoties Anonymous as well.

So in conclusion:

Don't do huge high ceremony con-call based meetings. Especially not when the phone system can't cope, the purpose is poorly thought through, no one wants to be there and the end result could be achieved less painfully with a group email.

Do have informal, optional meetings which allow people to vent in a supportive group, and still provides the required reporting output.

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