Apr 8, 2024

Turning Wasted Meetings into Workplace Wins: A Guide to Productivity

Meeting in a hybrid workplace

Meetings are considered quite time-consuming but necessary. People juggle different tasks at work, and another meeting is usually not on their wishlist. On the other side of the coin is the idea that meetings improve collaboration and problem-solving. How do you avoid the "this could have been an email" comments and actually have efficient and constructive meetings? Here are some effective meeting strategies that increase productivity.

The nature of the meeting

Meetings are crucial to ensure that strategic goals are met and to reach mutual understanding. History shows that important agreements were made in meetings that shaped the modern world we live in today. From gathering around the campfire to convening in the boardroom of a large Renaissance building, a great meeting could change society.

Meetings are as diverse as the number of employees at a company:

  • The goal could be to brief coworkers before the start of a new project or to gather feedback to make important decisions. Regular meetings are needed to check on how things are progressing and to address potential obstacles.
  • For creative purposes, a meeting can be a perfect opportunity to brainstorm together and come up with new ideas. You can use visuals, post-its, and videos to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Some meetings are mere presentations, where someone has prepared a slide to discuss a successful project or the business goals for next year. The goal is to inform and inspire.

Unfortunately, people find many meetings to be quite annoying and tiresome. According to research, only 50 % of the meetings are effective enough. People interrupt each other, and someone goes on and on about a boring topic in a monotonous voice.

Another issue is that meetings often lack clear agendas, and some attendees use them to pursue their own agendas, leaving everyone else in the dark.

Besides being a snooze fest, facts suggest that it takes time to bounce back after a meeting. In other words, productivity decreases directly after and deep, focused work becomes harder, as mentioned in a Harvard Business Review article.

How to run effective meetings

A proper meeting agenda and a defined meeting objective set the team up for success. A meeting leader, a decision-maker, and a note-taker who can send out a summary to all participants afterward are required. Ensure that it is not always the intern or the same person every time who takes notes, as this task can be quite tedious.

Always inform people in advance if they need to prepare something before the meeting, such as a slideshow or important material. A good idea is to provide a set of questions and topics that will be brought up in the meeting, starting with the most important ones first. If someone has to leave early, they will still be informed about the most pressing issues.

How about meeting time? A productive meeting usually lasts between 30–60 minutes, and the duration often depends on the topic. A team meeting can be shorter, whereas a meeting involving decision-making can extend beyond one hour.

Be mindful of when the meeting is scheduled during the day. In the morning, our brains are better equipped to brainstorm and think creatively, as it requires more mental energy. For complex problem-solving, some meetings are more convenient in the afternoon, when our bodies feel more relaxed and we are less distracted.

Fight boredom

Let's be honest - people tend to get bored in meetings and zone out. How do you switch things up? One way could be to invite different speakers so that participants can listen to different voices during the course of an hour or two.

Do not bring up the most difficult topic straight away, but rather start with an icebreaker, such as a small team-building exercise or questions about the weekend.

Also, encourage people to take notes to improve active listening and memorize facts. It can also be an effective way to get people to close down their laptops and not check other job emails during the meeting. It is quite tempting to read everything that pops up on the screen.

The best way is to use follow-up questions regularly and to write down bullet points on a whiteboard or similar.

End on a positive note

The meeting is soon reaching its end. Clarity is key. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, both during and after the meeting. Don’t forget to summarize everything that was discussed and decided during the meeting and inform about the next steps.

Here are some questions to consider to improve the next meeting:

  • Did we agree and discuss something of value to the business?
  • What is the next step?
  • Did we invite people who shared the right information?
  • Were the meeting’s purpose and agenda clear?
  • Was it easy for you to contribute to the discussion?
  • Was the length of the meeting enough?

After the meeting

Running between meetings is the daily exercise of an office worker. It should be worth the time and effort. A meeting leader’s responsibility is to gather notes from the meeting and create actionable goals. Some team members need to be assigned different tasks, or a manager has to follow up on various requests, preferably with a clear deadline. For full transparency, it is a good idea to summarize the meeting in a mutual project management tool like Trello or Asana. This is especially helpful for remote and hybrid workers. Encourage accountability by following up on what you agreed to or by putting the issue on the agenda one more time. Some meetings are simply the prelude to a new meeting, which is fine. Decision-making takes time, especially when there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Sometimes it is necessary to build a solid foundation.

What is meeting etiquette?

Meeting etiquette is an important factor in making meetings more efficient and pleasant. Why not take the opportunity to establish guidelines at the beginning of the meeting? It might feel uncomfortable at first but will make all the difference in the long run.

First and foremost, make sure to underline the importance of being on time. Nothing is more disruptive than people rushing in at the last minute or showing up in the middle of the meeting. Most people have busy days and don’t want to waste their time waiting for others.

To avoid annoyance, it is advisable to always start the meeting on time, even if not everyone has shown up. Everyone needs to give undivided attention and avoid distractions, including side discussions. Mobile phones should be on silent mode, and all notifications switched off.

Secondly, you should take turns in the meeting and give people time to finish their sentences.

Why not take the opportunity to create a collaborative and comfortable space for the meeting? A round table is nice to sit around since everyone can have eye contact and listen more easily. Proper lighting, green plants, and a projector are usually preferred in the meeting room.

Booking a room in advance is a great way to make sure that other colleagues are not bothered by the meeting and the space is ideal for creativity and collaboration. In Flowscape’s app, you can find and book available meeting rooms easily with just a few clicks.

What are some best practices for video meetings?

Video meetings are usually a bit more straightforward but can be difficult to master. Non-verbal communication is reduced, and getting your message across can be tricky. Some would even call it awkward, and Zoom fatigue is a thing. For some people, it is the other way around. They can be direct and focus more on the task than spending five minutes on small talk.

Most people prefer to look each other in the eye when they speak, and video meetings are no exception. Make it a habit to keep cameras on so that everyone is seen and heard and can get involved properly.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Some might not feel camera-ready for various reasons on a given day.

Make meetings more inclusive

One problem with meetings is that not everyone can or want to speak their mind. Usually, it is only the most verbally strong employees that get their voices heard and steer conversations their way.

Some meeting participants do not wish to speak up, since they are introverted or feel that they have too little seniority to have a say. In most workplaces, there is a hierarchy, which tends to mirror how people navigate meetings as well. Not everyone wants to be singled out and succumb to groupthink instead.

As a consequence, the best ideas are not brought forward and team leaders do not have all the information needed to make the best decision. It could end up being a costly mistake.

The best way to avoid this is to only invite people who the topic concerns directly, and not send out mass invites to random departments. Try instead to invite managers that are responsible for each team or different individuals that can get a new, fresh perspective. Yes, it can also include the intern. The whole point is to combine action-oriented thinking with dynamic ideas,

The meeting leader needs to lead by example and create a safe space where people feel comfortable enough to express their opinions. One way can be to follow up a statement with an open question to explore topics further. Never scold or punish an individual in front of the whole team.

If there are troublemakers in the meeting, one solution can be to assign them a task during the meeting to keep them occupied, such as writing down notes on the whiteboard, giving a short talk or helping out with handing out documents. If nothing works, try to approach the person in private and ask about their behavior and its implications.

When a discussion gets heated, the “parking lot” is a good example of how a topic can be put on the waiting list to get on with other topics during a shorter meeting. Make sure that the topic in question is visible on a collaboration board or similar for all meeting attendants to bring it up for discussion later. When people are passionate about a subject, it will make sure that they are not forgotten and feel seen and heard.

Another possibility is to create small groups who can brainstorm together and then share it with all participants later. Encourage them to ask questions in writing that later can be shown to everyone. This is extra helpful for introverts and less assertive employees.

Think workshop, rather than lecture.

When there are hybrid and in-office workers in the same meeting, it is important to make everyone feel included and heard. Sometimes people also work in different time zones, which can be a hassle. Take technical issues and miscommunication into account when people get together in the meetings.

Make future meetings about clarity and goal setting

Effective meetings, especially in the hybrid office, are not always a walk in the park. Some participants might feel sidetracked, bored, or redundant. They spend an hour in a meeting where no decisions are made and no one moves forward, instead of completing important daily tasks. A solid agenda, the encouragement of active listening and participation, together with setting clear goals, will make employees feel more inspired and less frustrated.

Want guidance on how to set up your hybrid office for success?

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