Focused meetings are the future – but follow the 'less is more' ruleby
Inefficient meetings can be distracting and costly, while too many meetings can disrupt productivity. Yet meetings (of the right quality and quantity) are invaluable. So, how can we achieve the right balance? Thom Dennis, CEO of culture and leadership specialists, Serenity in Leadership, advises.
An overabundance of (often unnecessary) meetings can lead to financial losses and harm productivity, innovation and workplace efficiency.
According to one survey, organisations with more than 5,000 employees could achieve annual savings of nearly $100 million per year by cutting down on unnecessary meeting participation.
So is there a genuine cause for concern in the rise in the quantity and quality of meetings within organisations, and what steps should we take to address this issue?
Shopify certainly thinks so having produced a meeting calculator which estimates the cost of workplace meetings according to the attendees’ roles, the meeting length and the number of participants to highlight the loss incurred on unnecessary and inefficient meetings.
A 2023 Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 workers worldwide showed 68% feel they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday.
The survey also showed that inefficient meetings are felt to be the biggest workplace distraction, followed closely by having too many meetings. Only 35% thought they would be missed in the majority of their meetings but the fear of missing out is a real problem.
According to one survey, organisations with more than 5,000 employees could achieve annual savings of nearly $100 million per year by cutting down on unnecessary meeting participation
A time and a place
Excessive meetings can lead to decision fatigue and delay due to constant discussions and input from more people than is necessary, can be distracting, are often not the best use of an employee’s time and affect work-life balance as workers struggle to make up time and feel overwhelmed.
However, meetings are of course also extremely valuable for sharing information and updates, to make key decisions, brainstorm, solve challenges, help workers commit, prioritise and stick to deadlines, build relationships, encourage inclusion, obtain feedback, to motivate and energise, and to develop buy-in to the organisations’ purpose and objectives.
What impact do hybrid work arrangements have on meetings?
Each organisation handles meetings differently but advances in technology along with significant social changes suggest it is unlikely that more and more meetings will be run differently post-pandemic.
Yet some managers want to revert to the way things were, with big pressures in many organisations to get everyone back in the building, which is being met by an equal amount of pushback as employees want to prioritise their work/life balance.
Hybrid meetings are challenging and those that are not present in the room invariably tend to miss out. There is also the temptation for those online to be distracted or to give the impression they are not really present in the meeting.
Equally, many feel that meetings are more effective online, as there is less time taken out of the working day for them to take place, and there is a higher chance that everyone that needs to attend can, even if they are not in the office.
What is clear is when hybrid workers are in the office it only makes sense that they are not using that time writing emails but physically being amongst peers and the team.
Excessive meetings can lead to decision fatigue and delay due to constant discussions and input from more people than is necessary, can be distracting, are often not the best use of an employee’s time and affect work-life balance as workers struggle to make up time and feel overwhelmed
The impacts of technology
Effective online meetings are aided by the use of digital collaboration tools. Cloud-based meeting solutions and technologies including virtual whiteboards, chat features, and recording and transcription capabilities increased in the workplace by 44% from 2019 to 2021.
Employees are able to share updates and work together without taking the time out for a meeting.
Artificial intelligence (AI) in the very near future may help modernise meetings by taking on the role of scheduling, transcribing and summarising meetings and offering language translation.
So how can we guarantee that the meetings held in the workplace are both efficient and budget-conscious?
1. Focus on purpose, engagement, outcomes and activity
The objectives and priorities of the meeting need to be precise. For example, are you working something out or sharing information? Ask those in attendance to be truly present and make it clear you require participation from all otherwise there is no need for their attendance. Use digital tools to communicate what can be said outside of a meeting. Keep cameras on!
2. Encourage everyone to speak and foster active and attentive listening
Avoid any one person monopolising the meeting, including those with a personal agenda.
Encourage laptops to be kept closed. Decisions made must be communicated and adhered to unless formally changed afterwards.
3. Have a strong facilitator who maintains the boundaries effectively
Outcomes from facilitated meetings are almost invariably greater and more positive with less time wasted, fewer diversions, more clarity of communication, and increased participation.
AI in the very near future may help modernise meetings by taking on the role of scheduling, transcribing and summarising meetings and offering language translation
4. Avoid groupthink. Ensure respect is at the heart of any meeting including when there are disagreements
It is a waste of time if individuals feel they are not being listened to or don’t feel involved or it is not clear what the function of their attendance is. Encourage innovative and collaborative discussions.
5. Invite people who are genuinely pertinent to the meeting and permit them to decline if they believe their time would be better utilised elsewhere
Employees need to be able to say this isn’t for me but equally leaders need to explain why they should be there if required.
Frequently, leaders arrange meetings based on their own convenience, often without taking their teams' requirements or schedules into account.
6. Guarantee physical accessibility
Opt for virtual meetings if it allows for better accessibility and turnout of the right people, but book face-to-face every so often.
It is a waste of time if individuals feel they are not being listened to or don’t feel involved or it is not clear what the function of their attendance is. Encourage innovative and collaborative discussions
7. Ensure meetings are being held on days when crucial participants are available
This will avoid them needing to be rescheduled or repeated later on in the week. Check if a meeting is absolutely necessary and have fewer recurring meetings. Consider different alternatives such as introducing one day each week for meetings, and also ‘no meeting’ days.
8. Getting together is good for our wellbeing
We are social beings. Everyone is different and for some their needs may not be fully accommodated by online meetings, especially those that live alone or in difficult circumstances. Balance is key, as is flexibility. Know your people, have their needs in mind and accommodate them as much as you can.
If you enjoyed this, read: Ten tips for a successful hybrid meeting