We are all in the same boat: online meetings… After a year of this pandemic the virtual meeting has become a staple in the daily life of most knowledge workers. How can you make those meetings more efficient and more effective?
The unlucky ones even find that the majority of their working day is used for meeting after meeting, in which you try to keep your focus on the meeting agenda – assuming there is one, as many meetings go without one – while staring at your screen. Meanwhile, the call for your next meeting is already popping up, even though your really needed that coffee break.
Standing at the counter you see a text message; what’s the status of your feedback on that particular document?
Alas… when would you have been able to do that? Let alone give attention to the myriad of emails in your inbox, all screaming for your attention.
Sighing deeply, you walk back to your desk. Isn’t there another way to do this?
There sure is! But it takes some effort and you cannot do it alone.
What you can do about online meetings
Do not accept any meeting without purpose or agenda. You will undoubtedly be able to talk for half an hour or even an hour, but why are you doing this? Don’t settle for the lame ‘keeping each other informed’, because you don’t need to have a meeting to inform one another.
Always plan time in your schedule for preparation and follow up. This means you need more room in your schedule, if it currently seems to be one long line of back to back meetings. Is yours one of those back to back-schedules? Chances are your contribution and added value is limited, because there is no time for preparation.
Outlook has the option to make meetings planned in your schedule shorter than the standard units of 30 or 60 minutes; my colleagues at How To Geek will gladly tell you how you change those settings.
Check your ego. Why have you been invited in the first place? Don’t assume there must be a purpose for this; numerous people are invited ‘just in case’ or ’to make sure team X stays in the loop’. Your time is precious, and if they don’t have a good motivation for your presence, skip the meeting.
What your team can do about online meetings
Start with ‘no meetings, unless’ instead of the ‘meetings, unless’. Everyone has 24 hours in their day – you would better use those hours sparingly. Take a hard look at your meeting schedule and let every meeting apply for the job: why is this meeting held and what are we getting from it? Does this really need to be a meeting, or can we do this another way?
When everyone wants to chime in about a subject, this may take forever. Instead: let them respond to the meeting documents beforehand, by putting remarks in the document or submitting questions before the meeting.
Cull the invitations. Undoubtedly your organisation will look closely at expenses for which an invoice is received. Those should be authorized; no one can spend ten thousand euros on a whim.
Funny enough – rarely do people do the math about the cost of a meeting: how much time do people spend on this and what would be the hourly rate if you divide their salary by the hours spent in meetings?
You would be horrified to learn how expensive every meeting is… All the more reason to be critical about the group of participants. Which participant should actually be part of the discussion and for which participant will the overview of decisions and action items suffice?
Shorten the duration. Offline meetings are tiresome; that goes even more for online meetings. Don’t make them last longer than 45 minutes before having a short break. Put the standard duration on 25 or 50 minutes, instead of 30 and 60 minutes.
Make the chairman an actual chairman. You also need that chairman for online meetings: to manage the starting time and end time, plus the time spent on agenda items. Get the meeting running, even though some people haven’t yet logged in. Is someone taking too much time for their subject? Time to act. In offline meetings you can do more discreetly in a non verbal nod or gesture, but now you really need to state someone’s name. If Pepijn needs to wrap it up, tell him.
Stop the reading. Have you been in meetings where people start reading slide after slide, while the eyes of other participants seems to increasingly glaze over while staring in their webcam? Unless there is an interactive purpose – like asking participants questions about the contents – or the subject is so hyper current that the document could not have been sent before, there is no need to read out a document. You should assume that the participants have read the documents beforehand (and if not, they don’t belong in this meeting).
The first question of every person presenting a subject should be: are there any questions with regard to the content? The chairman plays a rol in this as well, to force the presenter to cut to the chase: what is your question or message to the other participants?
Be more creative with technical means. Use alternatives: have them discuss in pairs in break out rooms, ask them a question in a poll, have them put questions in the chat box so that the chairman can filter out the most relevant ones, or use interactive platforms like Mentimeter to let people provide input.
Being creative doesn’t require technical means. You can ask people to have something red, green and yellow with them which they can hold up to give their response (red for no, green for yes, yellow for maybe).
Finish every meeting properly. Ensure that everyone, before they log off, is fully aware of what the decisions are, what the next steps are and – foremost – who will be taking those next steps.
Still not convinced?
Read Stop the Meeting Madness (Harvard Business Review). And excellently sources article in which the author advocates for less meetings and more effective meetings!
Interested in more statistics about meetings? This article right here (from Project Manager News) gives a very interesting take on why people hate meetings in the first stage, AND what the effect of the pandemic has been on meetings.
Do you have any questions for me? Don’t hesitate to contact me; I enjoy helping people work smarter.
PS This article is also available in a Dutch version