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Top Practices for 10x Better Remote Townhalls

The amateur’s guide for hosting virtual all-hands meetings

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Remember the good ol’ days when everyone at your company was together in the same room?

No, your company offsite from early 2020 does not count. As the world makes the shift to hybrid work, it becomes integral to have the entire organisation (occasionally) come together so that everyone can be aligned to the leadership’s vision. Which is why the need of the hour is to host more company-wide events, especially when you’re working with remote teams. Now what if we told you there was a simpler way to get everyone on the team on the same screen (and more importantly, on the same page) - one that didn’t include coordinating frequent flyer miles or bulk hotel bookings ?

Say hello to the ‘all-hands’ meeting.

What is an ‘all-hands’ meeting? 💪

The all hands meeting – also known as “town hall” or “company scrum” – is the king of all meetings. Typically run by a higher-up executive (often the CEO or founder), it’s a designated time each week where the company comes together to talk about company updates, news, goals and more.

Why is it called an ‘all-hands’ meeting? ⛵

Here’s a fun fact: the term “All hands” goes back to the idiom “All hands on deck,” where a ship captain would call all crew members up to the deck to work on solutions for a problem together. Most often, the issue would be an emergency that would require every set of hands working in unison to resolve.

In our context the goal of an all-hands meeting is still to bring all team members together so that they can collaboratively work together. While this kind of meeting might be called in times of emergency, these days, an all hands meeting is often a regularly scheduled event.

Why should we hold an ‘all-hands’ meeting? 🌞

We live in times when meeting overload is at an all-time high, so why do we need to hold a regular all-hands meeting in the first place? Simply put, it’s an irreplaceable opportunity to communicate with your entire team.

Yes, A company-wide email might convey the same information, but it leaves little or no room for discussion. A general channel message in Slack might reach everyone, but it doesn’t allow for the same structured, personal discussions an all hands-meeting does. Want to know how to maximise productivity the next time you hold one?

Here are ten tips you can use to make sure your next all-hands meeting (literally) has all hands on board:

Share a meeting agenda in advance 📆

Whether your all-hands meetings happen weekly or monthly, they might not have the best reputation. Many people dread meetings and feel that they're a massive waste of time. This couldn't be farther from the truth, but great meetings require their fair share of organisation and planning. That's where town hall meeting agendas come in.

  • Increase efficiency & productivity. 
  • Provide a record of the most important takeaways. 
  • Prevent meetings from running overtime.

Break the ice with conversation starters 🥂

Since you’re sharing your company’s news and updates, an all-hands meeting can feel more like a business meeting, but it’s not! Think of an all-hands meeting as an opportunity to establish a more relaxed atmosphere and create transparency through (more) open lines of dialogue between all your employees. You’re more likely to have a productive meeting if it’s more laidback. 

It’s important to remember that all-hands are always two-way conversations between leaders and employees. Since these meetings typically run long, you will need to find an efficient way to allow participation during the session. 

Icebreakers are great to set the mood for the meeting - particularly all-hands where you want employees to feel comfortable sharing and contributing to the meeting. They help you do a quick pulse check around the team before you dive right into the agenda of the meeting. These questions can range from fun (‘What’s your favourite genre of music?’) to challenging (‘Where do you see yourself two years from now?’) to updates about their life (‘What did you do over the weekend?’). 

Use the chat feature to start a thread 💬

An instant-messaging function allows participants to ask questions, make comments and share ideas. Although all-hands meetings are meant to provide a platform for open dialogue and transparent discussion, it can be an intimidating concept to speak up before your entire team (Zoom anxiety is real, reader). This is where the chat box saves the day. It lets everyone have a voice (without having to actually use their voice).

Plus, you know how every meeting will always have that one person who hijacks the conversation and doesn’t let anyone else talk? A chat box prevents that from happening on multiple levels.

Brainstorm over a virtual whiteboard 🎨

There’s nothing worse than going to a meeting and not being able to understand a word anyone is saying. Whether it’s too much business jargon or eye-straining slides, the thing people miss most about actual meetings is the inability to brainstorm together and collectively come up with solutions.

Say hello to the virtual whiteboard. This blank canvas (of sorts) is a space where participants can collaborate in a brainstorming or problem-solving session. It’s the closest thing that will make a virtual all-hands meeting feel like the real ‘‘we’re-actually-doing-this-in-person” one. 

Want to plan a sprint? Jot down ideas together. Quickly draft out your roadmap for the next week? Collaborate on it here. List down marketing ideas at the end of an hour-long team scrum? Use the (virtual) whiteboard at your disposal.

Appoint a meeting moderator 📊

Your all-hands meeting is an event. And every event needs a moderator. A great moderator helps you set the stage for the meeting. This person greets your teammates as they join the call, kicks it off and keeps an eye on the agenda. 

A moderator serves as a bridge between the speakers and everyone else, guiding them through the meeting, introducing the key discussion points and facilitating discussion through a quick Q&A, speaking of which…

Ask and answer everyone’s questions 🧑‍🎓

By opening up the floor to questions at the end of the meeting, you’re helping the team open up to new perspectives. Q&A’s make meetings collaborative and inclusive! A quick round of questions also empowers employees with information they generally wouldn't know from their day-to-day schedules. It might trigger the occasional question they might have thought of, but decided against because it sounded trivial (or stupid) in their head. 

Also, the entire point of an all-hands meeting is to interact with your employees and hear their opinions. There’s no better way to do so than by hosting an immersive Q&A at the end of the meeting.

Get feedback from everyone ⛑️

There is one final way of collecting feedback from all-hands meetings – through an employee survey. Once the meeting is over, the host can send out a survey question asking for employee feedback. You could include questions about the length and format of the meeting, or you could ask employees for feedback on actual topics that may have been discussed throughout the meeting. 

The survey question is a lot like the poll feature, only less introspective, more retrospective. Asking for feedback before the meeting (or even checking in with your employees at the end of the day) can help you shape the meeting better and/or get constructive feedback  for future meetings. 

More feedback, more ways to make sure (more) people attend all-hands meetings. It’s that simple.

Record the sessions ⏺️

Some employees will inevitably miss the live broadcast of the all-hands for various reasons. To ensure that they don’t miss out on valuable information, always provide a recording of your town hall for them to watch later. Another good idea? Closed captioning.

Recording your virtual all-hands also provides you with great content to repurpose for other communication efforts (think: social media). You can repost snippets of the video on your internal channels to motivate employees or use quotes and excerpts of presentation as promotional material. It’s an infinite goldmine of content.

Here’s the thing. It's inevitable that your virtual audience will miss out on some information during the all-hands. Most people have the attention span of a goldfish. Some are just exhausted. Use the right tool to take down notes for every virtual all-hands meeting and send everyone a recap of everything that was discussed. You can even include answers to the questions you were not able to answer during the all-hands in the recap. 

Track action items together 🏇

One of the biggest criticisms about meetings in general is how they don't always lead to action. You can help avoid this roadblock by incorporating actionable steps into your meeting agenda. This can be noted underneath each individual agenda item.

...there you go! Forget about your team complaining about long and aimless meetings. With a little more development, your town halls can be turned into efficient work sessions that your entire team benefits from attending (and also enjoys them)!

Recap it for later 🎥

Sending a follow-up email is also an effective way of cementing the main takeaways from the meeting and keeping it fresh in your employees’ minds. Plus, it helps everyone who might have zoned out during the meeting (happens to the best of us) stay updated on the proceedings.

Don’t drone on in your recap email. List out the key points and tabulate the action items. Thank everyone for attending.

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