Do you like going to meetings? If you’re like most people, your answer is a resounding “no.”
In fact, one study even found that 17 percent of employees would rather watch paint dry than attend one. Complaining about useless meetings is as much a part of office life as dealing with performance reviews and participating in mandatory fun.
However, getting together to talk through important matters is an essential part of many jobs. Some meetings are, in fact, necessary and beneficial. Eliminating useless meetings can help to maximize the ones that really are important and required. But, how can you tell the difference?
What Makes Useless Meetings, well, Useless?
- They’re a waste of time and other limited resources – Quite simply, many meetings are a waste of time, energy and money. Most workers have lots of things to get done every day. Often, they have more than they can handle. Long, drawn-out meetings don’t help with that. In fact, they take up a tremendous amount of time and energy. Ultimately, that costs the business money. Think about it this way, if 14 people attend an hour-long meeting, that meeting actually absorbed 14 hours of work-time, not just one. In many offices, an awful lot of time is poured into useless meetings that might be used in another way.
- “Maker’s schedule vs manager’s schedule” – Paul Graham, an essayist and venture capitalist, wrote an essay that helped to illuminate common problems with meetings. As he later explained to the New York Times, managers think about time really differently than workers or “makers” do. Managers think in hourly blocks, while the rest of the working world tends to see their day in terms of tasks that need to be accomplished. The end result is that managers benefit from meetings the most. Many actually enjoy them. But, the vast share of employees would often rather use the time to accomplish tasks.
- They lower morale – Meetings interrupt the day. They throw folks off of their routines and force them to pause tasks that they’re engaged with. Meetings absorb time and energy from employees. And that, in turn, lowers morale and productivity. Over time, too many useless meetings can take a real toll on employee engagement and happiness.
Thankfully, there are ways to get around the traditional meeting structure and collaborate more effectively. Consider whether or not any of these alternatives could work for your team before scheduling your next meeting:
The first thing you ought to consider is whether you need to have a meeting at all. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t meet. Is the answer is nothing, then you might want to consider opting out altogether.
Perhaps the meeting isn’t exactly crucial, but there is still something you’d like to discuss with the group. Is there another way you can communicate the information that you wanted to share in the meeting? Can you send an email instead? Can you tag the conversation onto another occasion when you’ll all be getting together?
Similarly, consider canceling routine meetings. Ask yourself whether or not they’re really the best use of everyone’s time. Sitting down together regularly might sound like a good idea. But, structures like this can lead to unnecessary meetings. So, don’t meet with the team because it’s a Tuesday and you always meet every other Tuesday. Instead, only schedule meetings when you really need to do so.
2. Request regular updates
There are a few meeting formats that are common across industries. One of these is the project status update meeting. It’s necessary to share information regularly, so routine meetings are established to keep everyone in the loop. But, these days, tools like email and Slack allow us the option to do things a little differently.
Instead of meeting, consider requesting project status updates from folks at designated and regular intervals. Ask individuals to provide the information that you need when you need it. They can also share these updates with anyone else from the organization who would benefit. Similarly, consider sharing any updates that you may have for others through email or some other less disruptive method. Perhaps meeting isn’t necessary.
3. Put together a quick video
Some messages are better communicated visually than through writing. So, email isn’t always the best way to share information. Perhaps you feel you need to meet in person so that you can be sure that everyone gets the right message.
In these cases, you may want to consider putting together a quick video to share your ideas. This doesn’t have to be a complex presentation with dozens of typed up slides and graphics. You may even just want to shoot a quick video of yourself speaking and sharing an idea. In this way, others will be able to process your tone as well as your message.
Also, taking the time to write something out isn’t always the most efficient choice. Putting together a quick video message might save you time when compared with other options.
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4. Meet virtually
It’s amazing that some folks are still flying across the country just to sit in on a half-day’s worth of meetings. Businesses would be wise to consider an alternative to this, at least in some cases.
Virtual meetings allow for greater freedom and flexibility. They save employees time and they save businesses money. Sometimes it’s important to be face-to-face. However, getting together via a virtual meeting checks a lot of the boxes that meeting in person does.
Keep in mind that there are important dos and don’ts to video conferencing. One especially helpful hint is to use your camera to make virtual eye contact while you’re speaking. It could help the conversation to feel more natural and run more smoothly. Many of the rules that apply to meeting in person also apply to getting together virtually.
“The key to a successful video conference or phone conference meeting is to remember that you are in a meeting,” said Susan Colaric, assistant Vice President for Instructional Technology at Saint Leo University, speaking with Inc. “Give your full attention to the participants as you would if you were in the same room. Don’t be distracted by email, Web surfing, or texting. Try not to eat or drink so that you can be prepared if questions are directed to you.”
5. Grab a bite
Are you meeting because you need to catch up with someone? Or, maybe you need to get together with a small group of people and share information. If the meeting you have planned is casual, why not grab a bite to eat together instead? Any meal will do. And, you can meet inside or outside of the office at your convenience and preference. This casual and friendly meeting alternative isn’t for every circumstances. But, it can work well in certain cases.
Sharing a meal binds people together. This isn’t just true for Sunday dinners with your extended family or brunch with buddies. It’s true at work, too. There’s just something about breaking bread with another human being that helps to build a relationship. For this reason, sharing a meal can be a great meeting alternative for the right group.
6. Get creative
There are so many different ways to attack a workplace challenge, if you’re creative and willing to invest your energy into the process.
Consider the goals you’re working toward and whether there is a creative way to tackle them other than presenting them at a meeting.
For example, Joel Califa, a first-time manager at the cloud computing platform DigitalOcean created something called “goalfest” to help his team succeed, according to Fast Company. Califa wanted people to know more about what everyone else was doing, so he created a spreadsheet where everyone could set goals and evaluate their own progress. Workers set their objectives, held themselves accountable, and communicated what they are doing to others.
A little creativity can go a long way. Is there a creative alternative that can help you meet the goals of your upcoming meeting?
7. Stand up
If you must meet, but you want to be efficient and keep things short and sweet, you could try having a standing meeting. Researchers have found that meetings are 34 percent shorter if participants are standing up. It helps participants to make their point more quickly. And, it encourages folks to cut back on sharing less-than-essential comments, too.
Plus, standing is good for office workers who already sit for an average of 9.3 hours a day. And, many meeting attendees will appreciate that their able to get back to their work that much faster.
When it comes to meetings, less is definitely more.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you cut down on useless meetings? We want to hear from you! Share your tips in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.