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Meetings: The office vice – how can this change?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Coffee / Pixabay)

In today’s workplace, people are busy. This means that meetings, no matter how well intentioned, can be a thorn in the side for employees. They interrupt the workflow and rob time from urgent projects. The frustration of meetings rings particularly true when the meeting is poorly organised: an unclear agenda, late arrivals, and no clear actions can become irritating. 

So how can businesses get their meetings back into shape to ensure they are the most productive they can be? Here are six tips looking at how organisations can create more structure, produce clearer results and lead to more enthusiasm among employees:

1. Less is more

Employees often find meetings annoying. They break up the working day into smaller parts, meaning people have to keep rearranging their days. People are most productive when they have uninterrupted time to devote to a given task, which can be difficult if their day is split up by meetings. According to a study by Sharp Electronics, some employees spend up to 16.5 hours of their 40-hour week alone in meetings. If there are only short breaks between meetings, employees can often be left feeling unproductive as they are unable to finish a task. Additionally, half of those surveyed complained that the meetings did not produce any clear actions (55 per cent) and were boring (54 per cent).

To counteract the proliferation of meetings and the increasing frustration of employees, teams should draw up a list of all meetings. Together they can decide which meetings to keep and which are no longer necessary. If new meetings for individual employees are added, a previous meeting should be discontinued. In this way, there is no longer a meeting surplus. Another, perhaps more ambitious way to prevent drowning in meetings is by implementing meeting-free days across the company. No meetings are scheduled on this day and employees can concentrate on their actual tasks. 

It’s worth noting that not all colleagues are always needed for a meeting. Managers should carefully consider who is really needed in the meeting, holding true to the motto "too many cooks spoil the broth", this also applies to meetings. By ensuring that only those employees who can add value to a meeting are present, meetings are sure to run more productively. What’s more, participants will feel encouraged to be actively involved rather than simply a silent listener. 

2.  Change of place, change of mind

Every employee knows it: they often sit bored in a meeting and the team leader delivers a standardised agendas. No one feels directly addressed or even creatively challenged. But every company thrives on the motivation and creativity of its employees, so what can be done to inspire enthusiasm in meetings?

It may sound simple, but by just changing the location of a meeting can shake it up. Instead of holding a team meeting in a small, dusty meeting room as usual, maybe exchange ideas in the kitchen or a lounge-like, open area of the office. The usual jour fixe is then kept short and sweet. In just a few minutes, everything important is discussed over a cup of coffee. That saves time. The trick, no chairs! This makes for shorter meetings and gets the meeting into action as quickly as possible.

If the focus is more on creative sessions, it is worth looking to host them outside of the office environments, whether it’s a café or the park around the corner. The main thing is that the employees are torn out of their daily routine and can freely bounce ideas off of one another.

3. Remembering remote workers

Today’s workplace is truly global, and some colleagues will work remotely full or part-time, meaning they can often feel left behind at meetings. Often only being able to participate in meetings to a limited extent. This is where unified collaboration and communication technologies can help, acting as the closest equivalent to being in the same room. 

Video conferencing is particularly helpful here, providing a much deeper level of immersive communication for rich discussion compared to chat or phone calls. It means that remote workers are not forgotten or ignored and that they feel much more engaged as part of the meeting.

But for this to happen, the technical foundations must be secured by IT – a stable WLAN connection is crucial for uninterrupted audio and video, both in the meeting room and at home. Hardware is also an important component. Without functioning microphones and speakers, audio-visual transmission is difficult to guarantee. If employees use external microphones and loudspeakers, they should ensure they are checked before the meeting.

4. Strict timeboxing 

To avoid meetings being unnecessarily long, it is advisable to keep to the given times. Punctuality is a first step in this direction – if colleagues are late, even if it’s the meeting leader, the meeting should begin without them. Extending a meeting as a result of late arrivals will quickly set a precedent of late starts becoming the norm. This behaviour not only deprives them of valuable time which can be spent doing other tasks, but also impacts other teams by making employees late for other meetings. What’s more, if the late arrival misses the opening minutes of a meeting, they can often be lost on the direction of the discussion.

5. Allow no distraction

In today’s workplace, it’s hard to imagine a meeting without at least one laptop, whether it’s to accommodate attendees across the globe or take notes. Laptops are now indispensable, but the problems arise when workers prefer to check emails instead of listening and participating in the discussion. This is not only distracting, but means that meetings can often lead to no clear actions as a result of attendees not paying attention – no wonder many office workers find them a waste of time. 

Adopting a no smartphone or email policy within important meetings is a sure way to limit these distractions. By doing so, attendees can consciously focus on the meeting agenda and make meaningful contributions to drive decisions forward, rather than dealing with distractions. 

6. Keeping track of minutes

Taking minutes in a meeting is a useful way to ensure colleagues who are unable to attend meetings can still benefit. They should include what decisions were made and key actions from the meeting.

In the modern workplace, unified communications and collaboration technologies mean entire meetings can be recorded, providing an efficient way for employees to catch up on anything they might have missed out on. What’s more, many of them now include a transcribing feature – which is quicker than any note taker – meaning absent attendees can get a full picture of what was discussed, who made specific points and what the next steps are. 

Based on this transcript, employees can also create action lists and subsequent agendas which can then be sent on via email. In this way, all colleagues are kept up to date and responsibilities are not lost.

So, we all agree that meetings are a necessary evil, but they don’t have to be a pain. However, it is clear that businesses and employees alike can do a few things to adjust how the conduct meetings and in turn everyone’s attitude towards them. Small changes can go a long way, allowing for a more motivated and productive workforce.

Sion Lewis, VP of EMEA, LogMeIn