Efficient meetings only

August 18, 2021

Meetings constitute an important part of any business and not all of them are bad or a waste of time, but sometimes they can be a disruption to your workflow. If not well thought out, they can turn into a glorified gathering that sucks out the productivity and energy of the team without any added value.

Is that meeting necessary?

The first step towards better meetings is figuring out if they are necessary. To do so, think about the purpose of the meeting. What are you hoping to achieve? What are the alternatives to holding this meeting? Can the topic be discussed through email or a quick chat on Slack or Teams? The idea is that a meeting shouldn’t be the first and/or only approach to problem-solving and decision-making. Instead, they should be the last resort, when other options aren’t suitable. For example, an email about some follow-up points might be better than a second meeting. And instead of an impromptu meeting to discuss some bugs with the dev team, it might be more efficient to send a quick message with a link to the user story or create a task in your ticket system.

The effects of video calls aka Zoom fatigue

In fact, figuring out which meetings are necessary is even more important now. As the workplace globally shifted towards a work-from-home setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have been on the rise. Especially video-format meetings. With that, many remote workers started experiencing Zoom fatigue, which is the feeling of extreme tiredness that is felt after using a video-call app. Imagine what that would feel like after back-to-back meetings spanning the entire workday (and then again in the evening facetiming family and friends).

Stanford researchers identified 4 reasons for this phenomenon.

  • The first is the amount of eye contact as well as the size and closeness of the people on the call, all of which are unnatural; not to mention the feeling that everyone is looking at you and the social anxiety that comes with that
  • The second is the constant reflection of yourself in your little camera thumbnail, which is like looking in a mirror for hours on end; this is not only stressful but also makes us more self-critical
  • Moreover, video calls require participants to limit their mobility given the video frame; such lack of mobility is also unnatural compared to real-life settings where you can get up in the meeting room to grab something or pace the room while on the phone
  • Finally, video calls make nonverbal communication much harder as it becomes a conscious behavior that takes a toll on our cognitive load

One way to avoid these Zoom fatigue effects is to switch to audio calls when the camera is not necessary. That way, you can even move those legs a bit while on the call. And when you simply miss seeing your colleagues, then scheduling the occasional social video call will be welcome.

The meeting is necessary. Now what?

We can’t avoid meetings completely. So how do we make the most of the essential ones?  The key – to no surprise – is preparation. A meeting is not the time to work on your improvisation skills. Makes sure to plan out the agenda and be clear about the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting. Even better, allocate time to each point on the list. Then again, not all meetings are created equal, and adjusting the level of preparation to your meeting needs is important (that status update meeting doesn’t need an elaborate agenda). Sending the slides of the presentation and the agenda in advance is also a good idea so that your colleagues can get a head start and come prepared. Also, think about who should be in the meeting and only invite the people whose input is essential.
After the meeting, make sure to summarize the points discussed and follow-up steps, and share those with the team. This helps keep track of your progress and ensure that all important information is saved for future reference, thus avoiding any redundant meetings.

So before hitting send on that meeting invitation, take some time to think whether that meeting is necessary and which format is best suited for it. It’s also worth considering the well-being of your colleagues before scheduling a video call or when you know that their day is already packed with meetings.

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