I’ve been a remote worker for nearly 3 years. When I first started, I was one of only four team members who was remote. I frequently was excluded from meetings. Not because my input wasn’t wanted or needed, but because people would forget to dial me/us in. To say it was frustrating is an understatement; infuriating might be closer to the truth.
I now refer to that time as “the good old days.”
Fast-forward to 2020 and everyone at my company works remotely. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become ubiquitous. Those 5-minute “chats” beside someone’s desk or at the coffee machine have turned into 30-minute meetings. We’ve scheduled multiple full-day meetings via Zoom and I have one word for those: Brutal.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like I’m spending much more time meeting and much less time “working.” Anecdotally, almost everyone on our team has commented at some point about meeting overload, and I’ve read multiple articles that indicate we’re all burning out on meetings, even “fun” ones. What began as a weekly Zoom call with a small group of close friends started out strong in April but the novelty wore off by June. Weekly calls turned into monthly calls and now, I can’t remember the last time we had one. For most of us, it became just one more virtual meeting following a long day of meetings. Despite the adult beverages, it felt like work.
Making Meeting Management a Priority
Not surprisingly, meetings – both the amount and the quality – have come up in our organization’s quarterly employee engagement surveys. Results from the second quarter survey were an indication to senior leadership that changes were needed in the way meetings are managed.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback on the number and effectiveness of meetings within the team. We’ve heard this loud and clear,” Intelex Chief Product Officer Mike Hicks told his team. Four people were tasked with gathering some voice of employee (VOE) feedback about the frequency and effectiveness of the meetings that were being scheduled. They developed some best practices for meeting management based on that VOE, and I thought they were great, so I wanted to share them:
- Meeting invites should follow the meeting template (below) whenever possible, and invitees should be allowed and encouraged to push back on or decline meeting invites that do not include at least an agenda and an expected output.
- Make proper use of optional invites. Required invitees should be the ones expected to actively contribute to the conversation, and optional invitees should feel free to join or not at their discretion.
- All invitees (including optional ones) should be sent the notes and action items stemming from meetings. Use meeting notes and action items over recording meetings whenever possible.
- Meetings should be scheduled with enough time in advance to accommodate the calendars of all required invitees, respecting their regular working hours and lunch breaks. The larger the number of required invitees, the longer the advanced notice will likely need to be.
After sharing those recommendations, Hicks added: “I wanted to say it is absolutely OK to decline a meeting invite that does not have an agenda or expected outcome. Better yet, ask for those items to be in place before you accept. If there is still no agenda, expected outcome or you do not have a clear understanding of how you will contribute everybody has the right to decline. Even if the meeting invite comes from somebody like [a team leader] you can politely tell him to take a hike.”
He said he planned to ask his people managers to lead by example on this initiative, and admitted, “My own meeting habits need great improvement and I was called out by the team reviewing meetings in the meeting I scheduled with them.”
Mixed Results but Great Learnings
The result has been a learning experience for that team. Hicks said he’s heard mixed results and responses to the suggestions. “I have received a number of callouts and people declining my own meeting invites since sending this out the first time. I have to be honest and say that I was really annoyed at first but ultimately, they were right so I’m trying to change my ways.”
He reminded his team members that if they’re booking a meeting, they need to ensure there is a clear agenda and outcomes. “If you don’t provide those details or can’t provide them, you’ll have to be prepared to deal with the rejection and shame that I have suffered through. Though those people may seem difficult at first, they’re doing the right thing and protecting their own valuable time.”
Other suggestions included:
- Take a moment to question if a meeting is necessary at all. Could it be covered in an email? Is there a way to get the same output via some of our shared work tools, such as Teams or Miro boards?
- If you see that a busy person has an open half an hour in his or her schedule, that really is not an invitation to schedule them unless you clear it with them first, nor is it okay to book someone for a meeting during pre-work hours or after normal work hours unless you’ve cleared it with them.
- Finally, think about trying to end an hour meeting with 10 minutes to spare and a half-hour meeting five minutes early, since so many of us have entire blocks of time that are completely filled with meetings.
“Let’s all work together to improve our meeting culture,” encouraged Hicks. “This is about respecting everyone’s time and ensuring the time that we do spend together is as effective as possible.”
Suggested meeting agenda template:
<Reason for the meeting and short intro>
- <topic one> (<expected time>)
- <topic two> (<expected time>)
- <topic three> (<expected time>)
- <topic four> (<expected time>), etc.