People are getting overloaded with meetings. There’s no two ways about it. A combination of the lack of informal conversations in office environments plus the ease of organising meetings with online diaries multiplied by there no longer being the limiting factor of “no meeting room available” means that for many of us there is no end to the meetings in our diaries. And no gaps between either.
Sure you can use defensive diarying tactics – blocking out “Focus Time” or hours marked “Do not book”. But quite frankly unless you place made up meetings with actual other attendees, your colleagues will get wind of it and they book that time out anyway.
As we try to make sense of what comes next in the world of office work, and see a hybrid in office/at home/at third place style of team working inevitably evolve, we urgently need to do something about how we meet.
I have a hunch that most meetings were rubbish before lockdown, but that the side conversations and sense of being with others that happened alongside the business of the meeting made them valuable. Zoom and Teams has stripped most of that side benefit away, so we are just left with the useless meeting. We’ve lifted and shifted in office working practice into digital tools, and it’s left us wanting.
The hybrid model that we are about to see will be worse. Meetings where some people are in the same room and others dial in are the worst sort of meetings. The technology hinders, not helps. We, I believe, have found that everyone dialling in works OK (putting aside the fact that that most meeting were rubbish in the first place). The hybrid experience might well accelerate calls, particularly amongst the untrusting type of manager who’s freaking out about this remote working thing already, for everyone to go back to the office. That would be a massively lost opportunity.
So what to do? Well, first off, how could Microsoft (because it is mostly Microsoft) help? Why is there no limitation, for example, on how many hours of meeting can be booked in any one person’s diary at a network level? How could the tools recreate the friction of meeting room availability? Everything is just frictionless because frictionless is the mantra of the software company.
At an individual level, one mindset shift that is vital is to regard meetings as work, not as the stuff that gets in the way of work. If you think the latter, it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think that meetings aren’t work then you will make decisions that push more work outside of the meeting. Meetings should be productive. Participants should be clear about their role, and what collectively success looks like. How many meetings feel like that?
And if you are spending too much time in synchronous virtual space with other people, think about how you might either stop having those meetings altogether, or find other ways to achieve the same outcomes. Collaborative documents, wikis, checklists. These are all tools at our disposal. Yet few use them, still. Strive for meetingless papers, not paperless meetings.