The Pandemic Is an Opportunity to Reshape Office Meetings for Good

The unproductive meeting is a staple subject of countless office jokes and memes. Too many employees can relate to the experience of having to sit in on a discussion where their involvement wasn’t needed.

And as the minutes tick by, they twiddle their thumbs in frustration, thinking about all the other tasks that need doing. Which they could be doing if only someone had decided to cc them in an email instead.

Now that many of us are working remotely due to the pandemic, it seems like we’re constantly engaged in online meetings as well. But there’s a chance that counter-intuitive as it may seem, this heightened exposure can teach us how to conduct better meetings in the future of work.

What meeting science says

Leaving jokes aside, there’s perhaps no clearer evidence of the amount of time we spend on meetings than the development of an entire science devoted to this subject.

The data tells us, for example, that in 2015, 55 million meetings were held each day in the US alone. Workers average 6 hours per week attending meetings. Those numbers soar even higher for managers, up to 23 hours per week or 80% of worked time.

At the same time, participants rate such meetings as poor more than 50% of the time. In a sense that time is money, and employees’ hours could be better spent on productive work, ineffective meetings can cost organizations billions of dollars per year.

That doesn’t even touch upon the demoralizing effects such experiences can have on people’s perception of their jobs and workplaces.

Yet we continue to spend our time in meetings. Because when done right, they are a venue for bringing together a diverse group of people. This is important not only on the principle of inclusivity but for driving results.

People with different backgrounds, talents, and disciplines can offer fresh perspectives and solutions to problems. Their contributions can enhance overall creativity and give leaders a better action plan.

working from home

An inflection point

Many organizations have been working on ways to conduct better meetings in the past few years. But the pandemic has thrown a wrench of considerable size into those plans.

Where operations haven’t been forced to shut down, they have mostly shifted online. And the asynchronous nature of remote work makes it more difficult to collaborate effectively and communicate clearly.

As a result, people now attend 13% more meetings than before. And remote work isn’t expected to go away. Neither will the fundamental challenges of communicating using online tools such as email or video conferencing.

But the shift towards remote work can be an inflection point in our approach to meetings. Slack executives can attest to that. Meetings can be more frequent yet involve less face time. Presentations can cut to the chase instead of requiring high production values.

The hybrid office

Workplace arrangements will gradually drift back to old norms. Employers will want to retain their commercial lease, ensure hygienic and clean facilities, and get an upgrade from bathroom vanity suppliers. People will want to return to a traditional office and feel safe about working there.

But the return will not be full-time for many. Each organization will find that its employees have a unique ‘sweet spot’ for remote work. 

With a hybrid office comes a hybrid workforce. The need for meetings won’t go away because part of your team is likely to be telecommuting at any given time. It will be critical to conduct meetings optimally.

Attendees must come fully briefed on the agenda. Presenters need to keep things straightforward, while leaders focus on fostering a positive atmosphere and interpersonal interactions. Both agenda and debriefing can be tackled in-depth through other channels. This way, frequent online meetings can turn into a valuable lesson for maximizing your organization’s face time.

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