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Meeting our match: how to get the most out of your workplace meetings

We’ve all been there. You down tools, pull yourself away from your desk, and head on over to the conference room for that looming project-progress meeting.

You take your seat at the table, and the meeting sets sail. First, the pleasantries. Followed by the ‘brief’ review of the project itself. Whoops – someone’s arrived late. Cue the reiteration of what’s already been said to bring the latecomer up-to-speed.

By this point, ten minutes of the allotted 45-minute timeslot has already passed – and not a smidgen of real progress has been made. And the likely outcome? You’re not getting out of that meeting any time soon.

Is this a familiar experience to you? We wouldn’t be surprised. Often times, it can feel like meetings are our adversary, rather than our ally in the workplace – slowing us down, putting a stopper on our productivity, and generally boring the socks off us.

But, whether we like it or not, meetings have become deeply engrained within organisational cultures all over the world. And sometimes, they can be genuinely useful – nurturing increased innovation, creativity and ideas.

The problem is, the majority of time we spend in meetings actually ends up going tragically to waste.

We enter the progress reviews, the mind-dumping sessions, and the project evaluations, with the best intentions that they’ll give our productivity a helpful leg-up by allowing us to quickly brainstorm ideas and communicate face-to-face with our teams.

But as we’re sure you can relate to – in most cases, sadly the exact opposite is true.

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The trouble with meetings

The fundamental problem with meetings is that even though they’re only a small part of everything we have to contend with at work on a daily basis, they can start to seriously encroach on the time we have to focus on meaningful independent work when they run pass the allotted slot.

And when they fail to focus on or produce anything of real value, they can feel more like time vacuums – sucking away at our spirit while leaving us scrambling to hit targets and deadlines with much less time to spare.

It goes without saying, that this is definitely not the best way to drive positive business results.

Unfortunately, the data we have to hand paints a rather disheartening picture of just how counter-productive our meetings are. Do any of the following solemn stats ring true for you?

To start with, research by Atlassian shows that, on average, employees have their time sapped away from them by no less than 62 meetings a month.

If all those meetings were, let’s say, an hour long – that’s over a third of monthly working time spent chewing the cud with colleagues, without necessarily achieving anything particularly valuable.

39% of people admit to catching 40 winks in meetings But brace yourself – it gets worse.

The research goes even deeper to reveal that…

 91% of employees spend their time day-dreaming during meetings
 73% of employees focus on other work
• 39% admitted to taking a snooze
• 45% feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they have to attend
• …and 47% complain that meetings are the number one time-waster at work.

How can we possibly let our meetings go on like this?

In other revealing research, psychologist Kathleen Vohs suggests that meetings also use up a lot of our executive resources – impacting our ability to make coherent decisions and process other information. Meaning we’ve got less cognitive capacity to devote to other, more important tasks.

The impact of unproductive meetings on employee engagement

But meetings aren’t the only culprit eating away at our precious time. When you add in other unhelpful distractions like endless emails, social media, and noisy colleagues, it’s no wonder so many employees feel overwhelmed.

And in the midst of all this activity – only three hours of the average employee’s working day is actually spent being genuinely productive.

Meaning that 63% of our time at work is actually acting against the wider business. Troubling stuff!

Moreover, thanks to time-absorbing meetings, rather than enjoying a stable work-life balance – many employees are forced to take unfinished work home with them, in order to get it over the line on time.

Which begs the question – how can we create true employee engagement if employees feel compelled to prioritise their work lives above their home lives, without a clear way to fix the problem?

The fact is, meetings will never stop being a necessity. Organizations are a collective venture, and if no-one came together to discuss projects, ideas, and progress, they’d simply grind to a halt.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more proactive and efficient with how we put them to use.

We just need to redress the hugely lopsided balance of useful vs wasted productivity.

After all, meetings don’t get results – it’s people that do.

So we need to focus on how we can make our meetings as valuable as they can be, so our time, effort and productivity can be properly invested where it’ll really make an impact.

So how can we make meetings work, at work?

1. Stick to an agenda

To prevent your meetings from overrunning, create a concrete agenda – and stick to it. Avoid digression and too much detail. Keep each discussion point short, sweet and to-the-point. And if you’re running the meeting, make sure to always have one finger on its pulse so you can guide it to remain on topic.

2. Banish unnecessary meetings

Before you down tools to head to a meeting, try taking a Marie Kondo approach and ask yourself: ‘will this meeting add value for me?’. If the answer’s yes, go ahead and attend; if it’s a no, politely decline and return to the task at hand. After all, what’s the point in turning up to a meeting that won’t benefit you, and where your presence won’t have any tangible impact on the outcome?

And if you’re organising the meeting, don’t just invite every Tom, Dick and Harry in the office in the hope that they’ll add more ingenious ideas into the mix. At the end of the day, you’ll only cause resentment for taking people’s time away from them when they’ve already got a billion balls to juggle. As the saying goes – too many cooks do indeed spoil the broth!

3. Try out other means of communication instead

It goes without saying, but no matter how powerful the urge is, you should avoid holding a meeting unless it’s absolutely essential.

If you’re looking for collective ideation, you might find a suggestion box, or an online forum, is a much more time-efficient strategy to utilise.

Or perhaps make like a roving reporter, and visit colleagues at their desks for a quick-fire game of ideas-tennis?

And if you’re just looking for a quick review or catch-up, maybe email would be an effective alternative?

Some bonus meetings tips and pointers

And as a bonus, here are some stellar tips we’ve handpicked from a survey we conducted in 2018, where we asked people to share their thoughts on how they thought meetings should be run to achieve the maximum impact for everyone involved:

1. Plan your meeting. Have a clear agenda, with some achievable objectives and an idea of the actions you want to come out of it 
2. Allocate appropriate time for the meeting, and make sure it suits all attendees
3. Allow people time to prepare beforehand – don’t spring the meeting on them
4. Check all necessary technology is working before committing
5. Create an inclusive, collaborative, and positive environment – give people the confidence and space to share their thoughts and ideas
6. If you’re providing supporting materials, think about how you can make them as fun and interesting as possible
7. Choose an appropriate space for your meeting, and offer refreshments if necessary
8. Don’t rush the planning of your meeting – take the time to make sure it’s as valuable, engaging, and well-thought-out as possible!

It might seem like you’re often shackled by the ceaseless tyranny of endless meetings, investing a lot of your precious, fleeting time for little actual value in return.

You enter them with your plate already full – and leave with it piled even higher.

But this perennial problem has a simple solution. It just involves being much more focused around how we can get the most out of them.

Remembering that sometimes, less is definitely more.

If you put these steps into action, you might find that rather than reluctantly complying and resenting the obligation – employees genuinely appreciate the chance to get involved, and share their insights in a meaningful, productive way!

What do you do to get the most out of your meetings? We’d love to hear your ideas – why not share them with us over in the Twittersphere!

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