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We’re Battling a Meeting Epidemic. Here’s a Plan to Fight It

Liberate your calendar with this meeting elimination decision guide.

By Luke Thomas

Jun 28, 2022

One of the greatest mistakes that people make when starting remote work is that they try to move the office online. Instead of adapting, and running effective meetings remotely, they just keep doing everything the same way.

According to Bloomberg, people on average were working 3 hours more per day in March 2020 than before the Pandemic. These numbers did not improve as we the pandemic wore on. American workers now log in to their company systems for 11 hours per day, leading many people to feel burnt out.

You shouldn’t have to spend an entire day on Zoom calls or require that people are on Slack, present at the same time every day. The beauty of remote work is the flexibility that it gives employees to work when and where they want.

The first place organizations should start evaluating is how they spend their time is their meetings.

You have to flip meetings on their head. Meetings are best for collaboration, relationship building, resolving blockers, and removing ambiguity. Not for basic information sharing.

Most meetings are the total opposite. Use this decision table to liberate your calendar and eliminate any meetings that could easily be summed up in an email or instant message.

Framework

The first place you should look is at your routine meetings. Ones that occur more than once a month. These have a tendency to expand over time and you would be surprised at how often an hour-long daily standup could be turned into 30 minutes.

For each meeting, answer the following questions:

Step one: Identify meetings devoted to information sharing

The first red flag for any routine meeting is that the first half is information sharing and the second half is the meaningful discussion about the actions that will be taken.

Does this meeting or interaction involve information sharing or an update?

  • True
  • False

If true, try summarizing the information in an email to be sent before the meeting. Everyone who reads it will be on the same page and can focus on getting to the meaningful aspects of the meeting

Step two: Evaluate the purpose of the meeting

Does the meeting require collaboration?

  • True
  • False

Is the purpose of the meeting relationship building?

  • True
  • False

Is there a topic where the potential for misinterpretation is high?

  • True
  • False

Is there a decent amount of ambiguity?

  • True
  • False

Step 3: Liberate your calendar

  • If you answer mostly TRUE in step 2: have the meeting.
  • If you answer mostly FALSE in step 2: cancel the meeting and communicate asynchronously.

If you are sharing basic facts that can be processed and may be useful to look back on in the future where there is not a lot of ambiguity, then that can be a status update or an email.

What usually happens once you get into this practice is that you blend both of these worlds.

You still might have a Monday-morning kickoff meeting with your team, but you have built a bedrock of information so that you walk in the meeting with your updates already in.

All the information is already right in front of you so that you don’t have to go around in a circle and report everything.

Implement meetings with true purpose

Example: The coffee shop co-working session.

At a recent team onsite in Nashville, the Friday team posted up at a local coffee shop to get some work done. A couple days in a row (for a few hours a day), we’d huddle around a table, shoot the breeze, and get work done.

Yes, we were technically still working, but it was totally okay to have personal chatter too. The point of the session was to hang out and then get work done. This “meeting” wasn’t optimized for deep work, it was optimized for hanging out…with some work mixed in.

After I returned home, I thought about how much I enjoyed that unstructured format. While I couldn’t do this every single day of the week (as it would be super unproductive and I wouldn’t have time to do deep work), it was awesome in smaller doses. I felt way more connected to the team.

This made me think: Could we replicate that when we are all apart?

It turns out we could.

We now have a meeting every other week where we dedicate an hour to just hanging out. Every two weeks, we all jump on a Zoom video call for an hour. The unstructured format aims to replicate the feeling of being huddled around a table at a coffee shop.

This “meeting” is about shooting the breeze first and then doing work is second.

Sure you are going to do a bit of work but the point is for teammates are able to connect on a more personal level and check out what others are working on.

Doing everything you would expect everyone to do at a coffee shop, but remotely.

The bottom line: Rethink why you are having the meeting in the first place and what you are trying to accomplish.

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