Free Tools for Running Remote Meetings (That Don’t Suck)

If you’re reading this, you know the struggle.

Google Jamboard

You get to use sticky notes, pen tool, text tool, and others. If you want to brainstorm around a topic, you can simply write your prompt at the top. Then you ask people to write sticky notes. Set a timer for, say, three minutes. This way, you allow people to think independently, and you avoid groupthink. After a few minutes you think out loud. You observe patterns. There are usually a few topics that pop up more than once. Those present an excellent opportunity to set aside a few more minutes for deeper conversation. You can ask the person who wrote that sticky note to elaborate. That way, you allow folks to explain their thought process around the topic. At the same time, you give shyer members of the team a meaningful way to contribute.

I personally have used Jamboard to sketch a design, get it approved, and get the job done in an under 24 hours.


People love polls. Luckily there’s a tool called slider that allows you to design custom holes. You can use it for icebreakers. For example, you can design a trivia. I’m serious! Everyone loves a good trivia game. It’s a nice break from other meetings that are usually too long and too draining. And we all secretly want to play.

You can integrate Slido into Google slides. It’s available as a free chrome extension. There are some limitations on the number of questions you can build in the free version, but if you’re using this for an icebreaker, you don’t need that many questions anyway. Fun fact: Slido has a built in trivia generator. So you don’t even have to spend time finding questions. Genius!

Interestingly, Google meet has a polling feature, though I haven’t tried it. It’s helpful to have the poll integrated into Google Slides, because usually you have a deck open anyway, so might as well design the polling segment ahead of time.

Howler Timer

This is as simple as it gets. A timer. Why would we need a timer? Well, first of all, it signals to your participants that you value their time. So you want to ideally display this timer. Have people see the countdown. Time ticking by, second by second.

If you want to do an icebreaker and you say that it’s only going to take five minutes, then this timer can hold you accountable. Who wants a conversation to go on for an indeterminable amount of time? That’s how conversations derail. It doesn’t matter how much people seem to be enjoying the conversation. The reality is, people will feel like their time is being taken away. Displaying the timer tells everyone exactly how long the meeting has been going on for, and when it’s time to close.

The bonus benefit of Howler Timer is that when the timer goes off, you hear a howling sound that will bug you until you close it. Let’s face it, we are programmed to hit the snooze button if it’s a gentle buzz or beep. But if it’s a wolf howling through your headphones, you’re not going to ignore it.

These are a few tools to help you run meetings in the simplest way possible. It doesn’t have to get more complicated than that. The trick is to signal to your participants the values that you want to uphold in your conversations. Because every piece of software has an opinion. And it’s up to you decide what kind of opinion best reflects the values of your team.

Observations on living and working 🔅 Senior Motion Designer at Planned Parenthood //