During the COVID-19 lockdown, time in meetings sky-rocketed as people spent endless hours on Zoom.
As people return to the office, hybrid meetings – a mix of online and in-person participants – bring new challenges as people attend from different locations.
Companies will need to invest in technology for hybrid meeting environments that keep people’s attention and enable them to focus, irrespective of how they are participating.
While companies experiment with the optimal way of making this happen, we need to challenge the assumption that a schedule packed full of meetings is a signal of output.
The transition to a hybrid working environment is an opportunity for companies to dramatically reduce the amount of meetings while improving their quality.
We need to get better at prioritizing what we are working on over how much time we spend on things.
Busyness masks sloppy time management
No company can eliminate all meetings.
The right ones are essential for decision-making and fostering collaboration, but most organizations have allowed way too many to take place.
While technology is enabling us to work anywhere at any time, this doesn’t mean we should be expected to work everywhere all the time.
A diary full of meetings might use up all your time, but being busy really means that you will have difficulty accounting for how you are spending it.
If you don’t have time, you don’t have priorities, says Tim Ferriss in his book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’.
Too many competing initiatives risks that most of what we do will make no difference.
Businesses plan carefully what to charge for their services, but care less about the internal cost of their employees.
While there is no real price associated with it, requesting employees’ time won’t be properly valued while wasting their time won’t carry consequences.
Walter Isaacson, author of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs biography, describes how Jobs relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions.
Jobs was known for asking his top 100 executives to identify the company’s leading 10 priorities for the year ahead, upon which he would delete the bottom seven, announcing “we can only do three”.
People spending less time in the office has leaders worried about losing control, because they can no longer ‘observe’ people at work.
But we should be mindful not to allow presenteeism to simply be replaced by the notion that omnipresence in meetings is somehow desirable as a measure of endeavor, or self-importance.
Better starts with fewer, higher quality meetings
If we have little to show for the ever-increasing hours we spend away from our families and friends, we need to start putting purpose ahead of presence.
In order to value organizational time as the scarce resource it is, we should commit to managing our interactions better and improving how we disseminate the information from internal meetings.
Many meetings that take place in organizations are internal or recurring meetings to share information that is not urgent. Without a clear purpose, meetings that don’t reach decisions should be seen as costly.
Monetizing human capital prioritizes effort
The most valuable asset of any organization is its people, and yet while most companies have detailed procedures for managing financial capital, far fewer have budgets for managing organizational time.
Assigning an internal monetary value to people’s time can highlight the potential cost of misusing it.
As our attention becomes divided more than ever, we should acknowledge that taking on too much dilutes our focus and blurs our decision-making.
We should not overlook that there are simple rules and frameworks that can help us make better decisions faster and safely postpone what is not urgent.
In her book ‘How to Decide,’ former professional poker player Annie Duke outlines simple tools for sorting decisions to identify which ones are bigger and which ones are smaller.
Surgeon Atul Gawande’s best-seller ‘A Checklist Manifesto,’ explains how to break down complexity into small steps using simple checklists and basic guidelines.
A simple meeting cost calculator, for example, could help us to think in advance about the human capital cost of all the meetings we create.
If we set limits for reasonable hours that can be spent on meetings associated with recognizable initiatives and clear objectives, then that time will be spent more productively.
Understanding what people are working on needs a better system
To make the best use of more limited office time, we need to reduce the volume of meetings and make use of alternative platforms that enable us to communicate and consume information at different times.
As colleagues start to work asynchronously in different patterns and in different places, being able to share and contribute to work in progress without switching to different apps for live catch-ups is critical.
There are a range of different technology solutions to improve meetings, depending on a company’s size or sector and its wider ecosystem of tools.
At the core though, being able to intelligently schedule meetings, capture information, and assign actions that come from those meetings is particularly key when people are not co-located.
The shift in how we collaborate at work is accelerating the move by enterprises towards a portfolio approach for the broader world of
While decision-makers still want a foundational platform, single vendors cannot deliver the optimal product suite that includes all the interoperable tools employees need to work productively in a hybrid environment.
Companies following a best of breed solutions approach may pinpoint ‘single strategy’ solutions to enhance specific elements of their meetings approach, such as:
- Scheduling assistants like Clockwise aim to move or plan meetings at the optimal times
within your calendar to free up time for focus
- Transcription tools like Otter.ai capture meetings minutes from within your favorite video tools like Zoom or Teams
- Notes and task management tools like Fellow let you create workflows around how you create and share the information captured within meetings
- Asynchronous tools like Yac for audio or Loom for video enable you to avoid live meetings and have the conversation at a time that suits you.
At DuoMe, we believe that as people work in different places at different times, helping them to plan the most impactful times to network in an office or workspace with peers will be key to reducing the burden of trying to plan what topics and meetings to do in person.
This will require keeping on top of where people plan to work, particularly as employees seek greater autonomy to decide how best to manage their hybrid working schedules.
Making what people work on and where they plan to do it ‘visible’ means ensuring work in progress is available, understandable, and actionable.
An organization that supports transparency is where the ‘right’ people attend fewer meetings.
Higher quality meetings make accountability for progressing priority decisions and the allocation of required effort clear.
This discipline will improve the experience of the people involved and liberate others from being over-scheduled.
Thinking about the coordination of work as a system, not a set ofmeetings, will help teams to understand what’s being worked on as it comes together, irrespective of where it’s being done.
When we allocate our time to work on what matters, we are better equipped to prioritize our efforts and focus on outcomes.
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