Dear Microsoft, help us make meetings more effective

Workers everywhere spend too much time attending business meetings. But maybe there’s a better way

We wonder aloud if a few simple upgrades to Microsoft Outlook could reduce the number of meetings we attend, while making others more productive and less time-consuming.

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To: Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft Corp.
From: Holger Reisinger, SVP, Jabra
Subject: Proposed changes to Outlook to improve business productivity

Satya,

I know that you’re busy, but I really need your help.

In fact, companies worldwide and their workers need it — desperately.
As you know, one of the biggest sources of lost productivity in today’s workplace is the proliferation of unnecessary meetings. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s a problem that costs U.S. companies alone some $37 billion annually.

The fact is, too many companies worldwide suffer from a “meeting culture”. That’s a corporate environment where workers instinctively book a meeting anytime they need to solve a problem — usually with little thought to alternative ways of resolving the issue. It’s a human behaviour that’s almost impossible to break. Believe me, I’ve tried.

While discussing how to overcome the issue with our New Ways of Working research partner, Louise Harder, she suggested that what’s needed isn’t a major change-management initiative, but rather a change in the way we behave when setting up meetings.

This is where you come in. Your product, Microsoft Outlook, is a key enabler of this meeting madness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Outlook. It’s a great tool for communicating — and yes, even organising meetings when they’re absolutely necessary.

Outlook enables our bad behaviours

But the problem is, Outlook makes it too easy to set up meetings: Pick a time, select your invitees, and hit send. No need to contemplate if the meeting is really necessary or if the invitees are the right ones to resolve the issue.

Plus Outlook’s rigidity leads most organisers to book hour-long meetings when they may only need 10 minutes for a quick chat. As a result, attendees tend to while away the other 50 minutes on idle gossip or checking the latest sports scores on their smartphones.

But you and Microsoft can help resolve this issue. With a few upgrades to Outlook, you can put more work time in our schedules, liberate us from endless meetings and unleash worker productivity across the globe.

Fewer, but more effective, meetings

Here’s what I propose:

- Categorise meetings based on time and type. Instead of its current one-size-fits-all structure, Outlook should provide a way to categorise meetings based on type and time required. This could include, say, a 10-minute “Talk” (which wouldn’t require a meeting room) or a “One-to-One” that lasts 30 minutes. If more time is required, there could be a “Decision Meeting” that lasts an hour, a “Workshop” that lasts 1.5 hours, and so on — depending on the organiser’s needs.

- Establish a mandatory meeting template. One of the biggest complaints I overhear during meetings is “Why did I get invited to this?” Attendees need more clarity over meeting purpose and why they’re being asked to participate. Each Outlook meeting request should prompt the organiser to fill out a template consisting of an agenda, detailed rationale and desired outcomes for the meeting. This forces the organiser to consider whether the meeting is necessary, investigate alternative ways to resolve the issue at hand and provide clear reasoning for the gathering. It has the added benefit of giving recipients enough information to opt out if they don’t feel their presence would add value.

- Add a splash of colour. It’s logical that attendees would need more preparation time for a one-hour “Decision Meeting” than a 10-minute “Talk.” But Outlook as currently configured makes it difficult to visually distinguish one meeting from another in the calendar. So I propose that you colour code the different meeting types so that attendees can better recognise them and prepare accordingly.

Satya, it’s clear that we need a new way of organising meetings for greater clarity, productivity and results. Your company can help make it happen. I hope you’re as excited about these ideas as I am, and I’d be happy to discuss this proposal with you in greater detail.

I’ll schedule the meeting.

Holger Reisinger