Workplace meetings are dreadful when unnecessary, but they can be made effective

Every business organisation requires workplace meetings. The most effective meetings are brief (around 30 minutes), everyone contributes, decisions are made and each participant leaves with specific action points. In reality, 99 percent of workplace meetings – in my own experience – were long-winded, totally unnecessary, and most participants do their level best not to fall asleep.

Should workplace meetings be replaced by emailing? The short answer is – it depends on why you think a meeting is needed. For a few quick questions, certainly an email will be enough. Setting out the goals of a new project, reporting on progress and status updates, a workplace meeting is required. Face-to-face communication is always preferable, even in this day and age of online meetings.

The best advice is – set out clear goals for a workplace meeting, and do not overuse them. Repeated and unnecessary meetings waste time and money, and distract participants from their urgent priorities. Similarly for emails, establish clear reasons for emailing. Limit CCing everyone so the email becomes one long document of similar length to a nineteenth century novel. Important information gets lost in an over lengthy email.

Indeed, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, online meetings such as through Zoom have become overused – overcompensating for the reduction in onsite work and face-to-face communication. Zoom fatigue – the overuse of online team meetings – has become a serious topic of conversation. Sitting in your home environment to have an online meeting, but what happens when the kids, or the cat, run in and interrupt?

We have all read the stories of people, while in a Zoom meeting, having their partner walk in naked. Or the similarly prurient story of a man – shall we say, pleasuring himself – while participating in a livestream meeting. While we laugh at these examples of private habits becoming public, there is a serious consideration here – the encroachment of workplace life into our private spaces. The work-home life balance is being lost as we become more available through digital communication.

As we work longer and longer hours, our personal life space suffers. Being reachable by online communication apps helps to increase our workload availability, which includes workplace meetings.

In the days of on-site work, a Kanban board was very effective in setting out the deliverables and status updates of every element of an IT project. Every morning, we attended a daily scrum meeting, and this was great, because we all had a focus – the Kanban workflow. In brief, Kanban is a workflow management technique, defining each step of the production process, to deliver real-time outcomes in a project. It was first developed by an industrial engineer at Toyota corporation to improve workplace efficiency.

When calling a meeting, whether face-to-face or online, always bear in mind if this meeting will boost productivity, and maintain accountability for all the participants. Years ago, when I was an eager university student, we used an old but effective comedy-documentary film series called Meetings, Bloody Meetings, featuring English comedian John Cleese. In the days before office computerisation and the internet, workplace meetings were already the bane of existence for managers and workers.

Written by Cleese and Antony Jay in 1976, that kind of documentary needs to be updated. Its basic points are still valid; plan, prepare, inform participants, keep the meeting structured and controlled. However, times have certainly changed since then. While this article is not the place to extensively examine the impact of social media, it is necessary to make some relevant observations.

We all live in an immersive world of digital media, where we share our opinions, preferences, beliefs, photos, images – and we increasingly ask search algorithm to make decisions for us. Medical questions, concerns about romance, love, shopping, prices – all our questions and searches are increasingly interconnected. I do not care about celebrities and trivial gossip, however, consider the following.

When Kanye West, now known as Ye, shares antisemitic conspiracy theories and advocates a worldview based on that prejudice, millions of his followers read his opinions and take them in. All of us now have access to the opinions and decisions of others. His followers constitute an instant online ‘meeting’, where people can exchange their ideas and make decisions based on those considerations.

No, I am not suggesting that every workplace meeting can reach millions of people. We need to aware that social media has a huge outreach, and we should understand ways to use that reach wisely, including having workplace meetings that are effective. Do what is right for your organisation – workplace meetings can be efficient; an email can be equally effective if a meeting can be replaced. Don’t overuse one kind of communication over another.

One thought on “Workplace meetings are dreadful when unnecessary, but they can be made effective

  1. Love this article. There are so many meetings that could be an email! I think also the the pandemic did constitute more meetings than the norm, given the strangeness of the ‘new normal’ however easing back into our new reality I think we need to reassess what really requires a face to face meeting (which does impact on planning/working time) or could it be simply put into an email. p.s. Can you send your blog to my work place?

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