To Zoom or Not to Zoom, that is the question? Or is it?

more effective meetings

In certain circles, a debate still rages on about virtual vs. hybrid, vs. in-person meetings.  Everyone has their opinions about which is more effective and why.  However, the question that comes to my mind is how effective are meetings in the first place?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve sat through plenty of meetings where only a handful of people are doing the majority of the talking.  As a result, people have tuned out, closed down, and are not on the same page.  Because of this all-too-common scenario, one of the frustrations I consistently hear from individuals at various levels within organizations, regardless of the size of the business or its industry, is meeting frustration.

Meetings have been identified as one of the constant frustrations even well before the pandemic.  All that the pandemic did was force us into having to meet remotely due to safety reasons.  In that moment, many jumped to their video conferencing tool of choice (Zoom, Teams, Webex, etc.) without much thought.  So, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you are going to keep getting what you got, which is a whole lot of meeting frustration.  Moving to remote only brought the challenge to the forefront or in this case, the screen front with participants literally tuning out by shutting off their cameras and/or going on mute, etc.

According to a University of North Carolina study where 182 senior managers in various industries were surveyed:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their work
  • 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking

Once upon a time, participating in meetings was looked at as a status symbol.  However, today, meetings are looked at with dread and as a complete time suck causing employees stress to find the time to actually get their work done.  This lack of time to do work is costing organizations billions of dollars each year with a lack of productivity, creativity, collaboration, and engagement which can wind up translating into safety and quality issues, time loss, sick time, and eventual turnover due to increased levels of stress and burnout.

Meeting Bloat and Frustration

When it comes to stress in relationship to meetings, there are several things to consider:

  • Are all your meetings necessary?
  • If not, what meetings can be eliminated?
  • Are there other ways to accomplish the objective other than through a meeting?

During the height of the pandemic, many organizations made a deliberate effort to push out information to their employees.  Because information was constantly changing, some organizations began holding daily meetings with their entire workforce to make sure everyone was receiving necessary communication immediately.  This effort helped to alleviate some of the fear and anxiety of staff.  However once things started to level out and become more manageable, the meetings continued.  Why?

In a recent article by Forbes magazine, some organizations are making it part of their process to evaluate the need for meetings.  According to the article,

Open-source software platform GitLab has annual “meeting cleanup” days to reset which recurring meetings are needed, and some teams have “async weeks” with greatly reduced meeting time. Software firm Asana conducted experiments this spring using a process they call “meeting doomsday.” It involves having workers review which standing meetings are valuable and then scheduling a time to delete them all, only adding back the valuable ones after considering how often they need to happen and who really needs to attend.

And Slack said in June it had not only added “Focus Fridays”—a practice many companies, including HP, have used to ban internal meetings on certain days—but “Maker Weeks” twice each quarter. During those weeks, all internal recurring meetings are canceled, offering not only more time to focus but a “reset” to review which meetings still matter. 

“It’s basically a ‘kill all the recurring meetings’” exercise for a week before adding back the necessary ones, says Brian Elliott, a senior vice president at Slack who leads its “digital first” task force. Executives at Slack call the process “calendar bankruptcy.” “This [meeting] used to be eight people. Now it’s 25 people. Can’t we scale it back?”

The other thing to consider with regards to meetings is:

  • Are they effectively managed?
  • Have your employees been trained in facilitation?

Most meetings are not effectively managed or facilitated.  In the same Forbes article, the North America managing director for HP, Stephanie Dismore stated, “I tell my team ‘No objective, no attendance.’ “She says, if there’s not a clear goal, “I just decline the meeting.  If it’s important, it’ll get back on my calendar with an objective at some point.”

The 5 Ps of Effective Meetings

To help create more effective meetings, think about the “5 P’s”:

  • Purpose & outcomes – What are you looking to accomplish? Is the meeting to share information, brainstorm ideas, make decisions, present something new, etc.?  As mentioned above, “no objective, no attendance” can be a policy to adopt to make sure meeting objectives get clearly communicated from the onset.  When objectives are not clear, meetings become confusing and cause frustration by wasting precious time.
  • People – based on the purpose, who needs to attend the meeting and why? Is there a specific role you are looking for them to play or particular information you are asking from them?  Have they been made aware?  Make sure that is clearly conveyed.  The other thing to consider is each person’s location as that may determine the time and location of the meetings depending on time zone differences and the need for the meeting to be in-person, hybrid, or virtual.
  • Plan – design the agenda based on the purpose and type of meeting – a remote, hybrid, or in-person. Build from the place of the remote participant first.  Think about the efficiency of visuals as most people understand certain information better when conveyed graphically.  Remember to add breaks every 90 minutes so participants can remain focused.  Depending on the discussion focus, does the meeting need to be facilitated by a third party to get the best outcome?  What information needs to be sent ahead of time so participants can come prepared and meeting time is not wasted?  Have you built in time for asking questions or giving feedback?
  • Place – Depending on the type of meeting – remote, hybrid or in-person, the location is very important. Different locations create different energy.  Think about what you are trying to achieve.  What will be needed for technology?  Is everyone familiar with any technology that will be used?  If not, have you prepared them ahead of time?  If hybrid, will remote participants feel part of the meeting?  What needs to be considered related to logistics?  If in-person, have you considered accessibility, parking, safety, etc.?
  • Principles – do you follow a specific code of conduct for meetings? Has everyone been made aware of this code of conduct?  How will difficult situations be handled, such as sidebar conversations, decision-making, conversation dominators, etc.?  Facilitation skills can get overlooked but are extremely important for achieving the best outcomes and keeping people engaged throughout the meeting.  To help develop the skill in your employees consider rotating the meeting facilitation role to others in your organization.

By considering the 5P’s, meetings will be better prepared and run more smoothly.  For participants, if any of the 5P’s are missing, be sure to ask the meeting coordinator for the missing information ahead of time.  You will be doing everyone a favor.  Help others consider this information when they are requesting meetings to develop the habit of running better meetings within your organization.

Frustration is part of life but if we can help cut out some of the unnecessary frustrations that occur in our life created by ineffective meetings, the question is why not?