Covid-19 has resulted in a number of changes in the way that people work. Because of the health risks associated with in-person meetings and working in the office, work has shifted online and where people still interact in-person, they are required to socially distance themselves.
Since March, with the onset of the pandemic, millions of workers in the United States have been forced to work remotely, a feat enabled by the emergence of technologies that facilitate connectivity and communication. Many experts believe that the Covid-19 has only accelerated trends toward remote working, given that open office plans have health risks that go beyond Covid-19. Increasing interdependence means that infectious disease threats must be considered in the design of work spaces, if we are to continue to reap the rewards of globalization.
There are also massive cost-savings that accrue to a business which, freed from the fixed costs of maintaining offices, can shift work remotely and develop solutions to make their workers as or more productive, creative and innovative than they were in the pre-Covid-19 world. Consequently, a great number of meetings are being held virtually.
This brings to the fore the question how we make meetings work post-Covid. People have always complained about the number of meetings on the calendar, few of which make them more productive, and many of which they feel are pointless and hard to feel engaged about. Remote meetings make things that much harder because many people are uncomfortable with the technology of video conferencing and virtual collaboration, and have struggled to adapt to the new, virtual environment.
Meetings are a huge part of work life. The results of a survey conducted by Doodle of 500 US employees, encompassing 100 company vice presidents and 400 non-executives, demonstrates the severity of the problems around meetings:
- 32% of executives and 21% of employees report that they spend over 20 hours a week in meetings
- 25% of employees have witnessed colleagues take selfies, watch videos or fall asleep during meetings
- 58% of employees say they have seen colleagues send texts, or leave the meeting room to answer a call or work on another task.
- 59% of executives say they were involved in meetings in which their presence was not essential.
- 60% of employees have been in meetings that did not achieve anything.
It is clear that many people feel disconnected, distracted and burdened by and during meetings and because they feel that many meetings are unproductive or unnecessary, many of them multi-task. The negative consequences of ineffective meetings are huge. Here are a few tips on how to make meetings more effective going forward:
Embrace the fact that meetings must be conducted differently
Likely, the economics and health concerns of the pandemic era have forced you to work remotely at least some of the time, and online has become the safest and most convenient place to meet, keep colleagues connected, and communicating on key decisions and subjects.
The flipside of remote work is that unstructured but necessary meetings happen less frequently, given that people are not running into each other at work, so, because virtual meetings are such structured formats, more work has to be done to make up for the loss of unstructured but necessary meetings.
A lot of the frustration around meetings is because of the number of meetings one has to attend where one’s presence is not necessary. Before attending a meeting, ask yourself a few questions that will help you narrow down the number of meetings you attend. Will the meeting be important a week, or year from now, or longer?
Explore whether your presence is essential for the meeting to take place. Do you have any unique insights that you will bring to the table? There is no point going to a meeting in which you are redundant. Do not attend meetings out of a sense of fear of missing out (FOMO). You can always find out what happened after the meeting.
Focus on the content of the meeting
Often this is overlooked but you need to narrow down your focus to what you are doing at that moment. Avoid multitasking. Multitasking is a myth. The very presence of an electronic device, whether it be your laptop, or mobile phone, can be distracting, even when not in use, according to research published in Social Psychology.
However, video conferencing comes with the advantage that it makes people more accountable, and so, less likely to engage in multitasking, because of your greater visibility. Another good option is to have standing meetings around a standing desk or in a place where people don’t get to relax and settle down. When people become too comfortable, they can lose focus so a standing desk is a perfect way to keep proceedings brief and to the point.
Finally, try and practice active listening during meetings by listening fully, concentrating on the content, contributing to the discussion and trying to recall what you heard afterwards.
Manage the structure of the meeting
Productive meetings are characterised by clear goals, a definite agenda, and clarity of processes, Make sure meetings have tight attendee lists, and expectations about desired outcomes are communicated well in advance in order to ensure better collaboration, and faster decision-making.