Why cutting down zoom meetings improves productivity

Virtual meetings, just like in-person meetings, need to be man­aged so that everyone gets a say, issues are discussed in a way that generates decisions, and everyone leaves with a full understanding of what needs to be done next and who has responsibility for it. Every meeting should feel safe, too. There should be no dominant person generating fear or making people feel uncomfortable, writes Colin D Ellis

One thing I hear all the time from senior leaders is that ‘meetings are an important structure for decision-making and progress evaluation’, and I never disagree, as it is a true statement. It is just that when you have seven meetings a day (most either 30 or 60 minutes long), they run back-to-back and are either dominated by people who lack respect or else don’t offer you the chance to talk, then I call BS. Those meetings serve only to drain productive time, energy, and the morale of those that attend them.

One study found that as many as 30 hours per month are wasted on unproductive meetings; when you multiply that by the potential productive output of the attendees of those meet­ings, you have a big problem. But like most inefficient legacy structures, most organisations just keep on with it in the hope that the next meeting will sort itself out. (It never does.)

Distractions should be removed, and people held to account for their behaviours to ensure that as little time is needed so that people can get back to work.

Some organisations are good at creating rules for their meetings that they print off and leave in meeting rooms; however, the principles are rarely followed and eventually become coasters for coffee cups. As General Stanley McChrystal said in his book Team of Teams, ‘The rules for any meeting are established more by precedent and demonstrated behaviour than by written guidance’. This is true of the good and the bad ones.

Over my 30 years of permanent employment, I went to my fair share of meetings and I generally had two issues with the rubbish ones:

  1. They were not well defined.
  2. They were not well managed.

Most organisations suffer from both of these issues at the same time, which is why meetings have the reputation that they do. They become a source of frustration and stress, and importantly have a negative impact on the time people have to get their work done.

During the COVID-19 crisis, poor meeting man­agement simply moved online and Zoom Fatigue became ‘a thing’. In the first published study on this new phenomenon Stanford University found issues of eye fatigue, increased cognitive load, negative self-image (as a result of seeing oneself all day) and reduced mobility. Many organisations realised that the ill-discipline was present regardless of the format, and that the issue is one of behaviour – as the mechanics of what makes good meeting management are well known and have been for years.

Virtual meetings, just like in-person meetings, need to be man­aged so that everyone gets a say, issues are discussed in a way that generates decisions, and everyone leaves with a full understanding of what needs to be done next and who has responsibility for it. Every meeting should feel safe, too. There should be no dominant person generating fear or making people feel uncomfortable. Distractions should be removed, and people held to account for their behaviours to ensure that as little time is needed so that people can get back to work.

Mostly however, organisations should work hard at reducing the number of meetings and increasing people’s skill sets for managing the time effectively. Better still, they could do what one of Microsoft’s engineering teams did during the pandemic and have ‘Recharge Fridays’ – days that are completely free of meetings.

Some organisations are good at creating rules for their meetings that they print off and leave in meeting rooms; however, the principles are rarely followed and eventually become coasters for coffee cups.

Other ideas you can do to better manage meetings and improve the amount of productive time that you have or the way that staff view them, are as follows:

  • You can start and finish your meetings at random times – have 22-minute meetings or 13-minute meetings – then stick to these timings!
  • You can build in appreciation moments where you share thanks for work done
  • You can take your meeting outside (weather and social distancing rules permitting) and get some exercise while you talk – indeed exercising in the morning improves your productivity by as much as 15 per cent!

Whatever you do, do something! Do not let your virtual or in-person meetings dominate your days to the point where it has a negative impact on the quantity or quality of work that you are able to produce. Meetings are important, but not as important as the results that they often get in the way of.

Image Source: Pexels