[Future of Work] Less and better meetings
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
We’ve always complained about having too many meetings. Most often than not, these meetings would prevent us from getting the work done instead of facilitating collaboration. It’s no great news then that since the beginning of the “global experiment in remote working”, the time spent in (virtual) meetings has increased by 1 hour a day and meetings have 13.5% more people in them.
This is the first article in the series ‘Future of Work’ (FOW) where I’ll touch on aspects I see and hear at my clients that have to do with the transition the world is making with regards to working remotely and digitally.
This article shows how to reduce the number of meetings and make them more effective.
Traditionally we had meetings for the following reasons:
Updating each other.
Prioritising and aligning
Brainstorming, problem-solving, or creating something together (sometimes called a workshop)
Everyone knows these meetings; everyone talks (some for a long time), about what they have done and what they are going to do. Nothing is produced in these meetings. When in an office setting, these meetings were already bad, especially in large groups, where 75% of the updates of those around you are of little relevance to your own work. Many people used these meeting to do what could have been done in an email, leading to the already familiar “this meeting could have been an email” phrase.
These meetings have gotten worse online. Many people have their cameras off and are doing completely other things. Introverted people do not speak at all anymore. At the end people feel all energy has drained from their system.
My advice: stop having these meetings all together except for ones where the size of the group is about 3 people and there is clear focus on a deliverable or a case.
All updating can be done using social collaboration software like MS Teams, Workplace by Facebook, Yammer, Plek, Slack, etc. You update colleagues by posting what you are working on and every time there is an update you reply to the first post. This creates a lovely overview of the current state and history of any deliverable or case in the team. There is an example below.
Example: Updating your team using a social collaboration platform
Prioritise and align
These are meetings that are often called project meetings. To a large extent, these meetings have the same drawbacks as the update meetings, since updating and checking status is a big part of what they are used for.
These meetings are also used as “carriers” of the project heartbeat. Many deadlines are aligned within these meetings. They, therefore, end up being used to check if people have done their work.
However, if you structure the work well in a virtual team environment and all tasks are managed working out loud, the whole team will have continuous awareness of progress. Deadlines can be set in advance on dates when something can be finished, instead of being decided with the rhythm of the project meetings.
There is one exception: it is good to have meetings where you do planning and prioritizing. You should run them like a workshop where a new planning is the deliverable. More on this in the next paragraph.
My advice: Stop doing alignment meetings. If you WOL the team will have sufficient collective awareness of progress.
Brainstorm, problem-solve, plan, create
Not everything can be done Working Out Loud. If you need to create something together or solve a problem, there is nothing more effective than human interaction. Make sure you do not have too many people in these meetings. You should have the technology to support your creative process and capture the output, otherwise, there will be too much talking.
There are several supporting apps for this. MURAL is one of my favorites. It provides you with all the tools you used to have in a fully equipped brainstorming room.
My advice: All creative and problem-solving work can be done in (online) meetings. Make sure that you define a deliverable for the meeting.
Example: A screenshot from a brainstorm session in MURAL
Bonding is not often an official reason for meetings but still remains a very important aspect. There has not been a lot of research on this yet, but it seems like about 50% of the workforce really misses real contact with their colleagues in these times of working remotely. Another aspect that’s starting to surface: I hear a lot of managers complain that the more introvert people in teams seem to drift further away in these big online meetings. They are dominated by a handful of extroverts.
First, the emptiness we feel because we do not see our colleagues live will be hard to solve by technology. Let’s hope there will soon be an opportunity to do this again. However, it is also clear that we will not go back to the way we used to work. Being partly remote is here to stay.
We should stop having unproductive meetings where the introverts are unhappy. We see that if you WOL well and have small meetings around clear deliverables these meetings are a lot more intimate than the bigger meetings and they are less energy draining. If you are involved in enough deliverables or cases, this is a powerful way to have frequent contact with colleagues.
My advice: Although online can never replace live meetings, we see that if you Work Out Loud in a structured way and organise focused, short, and small meetings around deliverables a lot of issues related to online meetings disappear.
Many of the issues that are linked to online meetings are caused by doing the wrong things in meetings. Start Working Out Loud to stay aligned. Make sure alignment meetings are focused on clear deliverables and keep the numbers low (~3 people). If you do run big meetings, make sure that the meeting is used for creation.