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Effective Remote Team Stand-Up Meetings

Learn to run an engaging stand-up meeting while working remotely

March 10th, 2020

To run an effective stand-up meeting with a remote team, follow these simple steps to focus your team’s attention, keep the meeting moving, and provide the most value for everyone involved:

  1. Use a standard set of Q and As
  2. Keep it short
  3. Have a solid A/V setup
  4. Make sure everyone participates
  5. Share updates
  6. Account for time zone differences
  7. Don’t have one!

Use a standard set of Q and As

Regardless of whether your team is remote/distributed or co-located, the best stand-up, or scrum, meetings consist of team members answering a standard set of questions and answers. Consistent questions help people prepare as they know in advance what information they’re expected to share.

This helps keep the stand-up both efficient and short (more on that later). We think the traditional scrum questions are very effective, but you can adjust the questions to fit your specific needs:

What did I do yesterday?

  • This one should be easy. Team members share what they accomplished yesterday. Updates should focus on deliverables, allowing the entire team to understand what work has been done.

What are my goals for today?

  • Team members should say what they are planning to work on for the day. This question helps the whole team understand what’s left to do.
  • As far as goal setting goes, people who make stuff–like programmers, writers, and designers–are generally limited to working on one or two intellectual tasks per day. That’s it. (Tasks are any exercise that requires mental setup, then translating from an abstracted notion to an executed concept.)
  • So if you’re someone who makes stuff and sharing a list of 10 goals with your team each day, either your goals are too small or you are not focused on meaningful tasks.

Is there anything blocking me?

  • This one is perhaps the most critical. If something is blocking progress on your team, you need to know. Team members should share anything that is in their way, as unresolved blockers can be extremely harmful to your team velocity and overall project or product success.

Keep it short

A stand-up meeting, whether in-person or online/virtual, shouldn’t be longer than 15 minutes. If it runs longer than that:

  • your team is not well prepared,
  • their updates are not clear, or
  • you are discussing items in too much depth

It could also be that your team is just too large.

Once your meetings start going beyond 15 minutes, take a closer look at the root cause and address it.

Have a solid A/V setup

For remote teams, a solid A/V setup is absolutely critical for an effective stand-up meeting. If you can’t hear or understand your teammates, how will you know what they’re working on? Whether you use Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, or video capabilities built into HipChat and Slack, make sure that it works for all team members and everyone can hear and see one another. Otherwise your stand-up meetings will be spent troubleshooting, wasting everyone’s time.

Make sure everyone participates

Ultimately, the success of any stand-up meeting depends on team participation. If you can’t get people to engage, most of the value is lost.

The entire purpose of stand-up meetings is to hear from and communicate to all members of the team. For software teams, this would include developers, designers, QE, and product managers.

If participation from your team is lacking, try to understand why. Are time zone challenges the problem? Or meeting conflicts? Maybe schedules just don’t line up well.

If scheduling is the problem, try to adjust meeting times or working hours, or use a tool that allows you to collect updates from the team asynchronously.

Share updates

Make sure that updates discussed at the stand-up meeting are shared with the entire team. People may be out sick, or have missed the meeting due to a conflict, and it’s important they understand what was discussed in order to stay well aligned.

Traditional stand-up meetings can make sharing updates hard unless someone like the scrum master is taking notes and then distributing them. Even then, it’s easy to miss pieces of information once the meeting gets going. If you’re on a remote or distributed team, A/V issues can get in the way. And it’s not like you can just stop by their desk to chat 1:1.

If you’re having trouble capturing updates, try using a tool to automatically collect and distribute them to the team, like Status Hero. Having update information at your fingertips is also nice in cases where there are questions about someone’s work.

Account for time zone differences

If your team is remote, there’s a good chance that it spans several time zones. Ideally, the stand-up meeting will be held at an hour when the majority of your team is starting their day. This way, people can get aligned on the highest priority tasks before they start working.

Don’t have one!

Some folks (especially engineers) will tell you that the best meetings are the ones that don’t happen. Not only do people hate being interrupted, they hate wasting time. And if the stand-up is not run well, people can show up late, unprepared, and not pay attention. This is tough for managers, but if the team isn’t engaged, it just doesn’t work.

One option is to skip traditional stand-up meetings that require everyone to get together at the same time. Teams with remote members, or distributed across time zones, are great candidates for this approach.

An app like Status Hero makes it really easy for teammates to share their updates at times that work best for them (and you, of course). Team members dash off an update in a minute or two and get on with their day. Status Hero then sends an overview that compiles everyone’s update in an easy-to-read format that lets you comment and tag people for clarification. No meetings necessary.

So there you have it. Simple tips to run an effective stand-up meeting with a remote team. Did we miss anything? Do you have other tips? We’d love to hear them.

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