Meetings have fallen out of favor in the workplace. Business leaders view them as a waste of time, and employees rejoice when they are canceled. In fact, I recently attended an innovation dinner where an executive boasted that executives at his company start each day by canceling one meeting to boost productivity.
This anti-meeting mindset might be gaining popularity, but I believe it is misguided. It is a product of gatherings that lack direction and lull attendees into a default mindset that “this could have all been covered in an email.” As the coronavirus pandemic forces teams to transition to remote work, it is pivotal for business leaders to stay connected with their teams and provide virtual venues for discussion and collaboration.
My firm has always worked remotely, so virtual meetings are not foreign to us. Most of our clients are navigating uncharted waters, however, and we’ve been helping them embrace this new reality. Through that process, many of them have been surprised to learn how engaging, efficient, and productive a well-planned, well-executed remote meeting can be.
The keys to success
Too many companies view meetings as a one-way street. They encourage employees to share updates about ongoing projects, but they discourage them from sparking discussions or seeking feedback from peers. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that employees zone out during meetings and treat them as a waste of time. According to a Clarizen study, nearly half of all workers would rather watch paint dry or visit the DMV than attend a status-update meeting.
The purpose of having a meeting is to encourage employees to communicate with each other and solicit input from their colleagues. When an entire team collaborates on an initiative, better solutions emerge — and companies become more aligned.
Here are three tenets that can make any meeting productive:
1. Preach preparedness. Set an agenda before each meeting, distribute it ahead of time, and ask employees to do their homework. Meetings are not a time to play catch-up; attendees should arrive with a baseline understanding of the agenda items so you don’t need to waste time getting your team up to speed. Everyone can hit the ground running and devote the bulk of the meeting to brainstorming and innovating.
It is also important for each presenter to do his or her homework before speaking with the larger group. People who are working on the same project should meet ahead of time to ensure they are on the same page in terms of vision and goals. They could also consider creating and distributing visual aids to help illustrate their projects. Especially in a virtual setting, a PowerPoint or infographic can help boost engagement and understanding during a presentation.
2. Set the rules. Create clear ground rules for your virtual meetings, and hold your team accountable to those standards. At the very least, expect employees to be punctual. Arriving late to a Zoom call is just as disruptive as showing up late to an in-person meeting. Beyond that, you might consider requiring employees to be on camera at all times and asking them to close all tabs on their laptops. Do anything you can to limit multitasking, reduce distractions, and ensure employees pay attention.
3. Focus on the future. Every meeting should conclude with an action plan. Employees should know what is expected of them between now and the next meeting. Ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined so that multiple people are not chasing the same tasks and working on the same projects.
Also, ask your team members to provide feedback on the meeting itself. Did they enjoy the meeting’s format and agenda? What could have been better? Their insights will illuminate issues and help you continuously improve your virtual meetings.
Meetings get a bad rap because companies do not realize their value. Instead of scheduling meetings to foster two-way communication and collaboration, they schedule meetings just to have meetings — or just to cancel them.
The coronavirus crisis is not the time to cancel meetings. During this pandemic, they play an essential role in keeping your company connected and helping it turn ideas into action.
Christine Alemany is the CEO at TBGA. She has a passion for helping emerging companies grow and scale. Christine has more than 20 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programs, and launching products for startups and Fortune 500 companies.