How to stop virtual meetings taking over your day?

Posted 13/10/2020 by Yvonne Moffat

In December 2019, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants. Fast forward to April 2020, just four months later, and that number increased 30 per cent to more than 300 million daily meeting participants.

Since many of us have been working away from our colleagues and clients, our meeting load has become meeting overload. What would have been done as a chat across desks is now a 15-minute virtual exchange, and such catch-ups quickly build up and take over the day. The fallout is blurred working hours as people struggle to balance back-to-back meetings alongside their own to-do lists within the typical day. Even teams that worked remotely before Covid-19 changed our world report an increase in communal screen time that is not always welcome or effective.

In some cases, meetings are your work, so this schedule is the norm but, for most, meetings are a sounding board for ideas. It takes time to implement the actions that come out of a meeting so without gaps in between each it is no wonder that ‘Zoom fatigue’ has become a common phrase of 2020. 

Here are three immediate actions to encourage a positive meeting culture in your business:

Ask ‘why?’ more often

Why is this meeting taking place? Why should attendees care that they’re there? And why does whatever you’re having the meeting for need to be done at a meeting? If you have sound answers to all these questions, give the meeting the green light. If not, consider whether the purpose can be achieved in another way.

Scan the attendee list

Are the right people at the meeting? They’re the right people if they can add something to the conversation and are responsible for at least some of the actions that result. There are exceptions to this but, in the main, meetings don’t need observers or extras. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a novel way of keeping the numbers down. He says: “We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. We call that the two-pizza team rule.” This avoids too many people at meetings. Elon Musk’s approach is even more radical. He encourages people to leave a meeting if they are not adding any value. That certainly focuses the participant’s mind, but it also makes you question whether you’re the right person to be occupying the square on the screen.

Invoke the 15-minute rule

This is the big one. Using the 15-minute rule when scheduling meetings means you don’t allow meetings to be scheduled back to back – there must be a 15-minute gap. And if that sounds all too reasonable, why not go for 30 minutes, which is even better? It needs to be agreed across teams and adhered to. When you think about it, it makes total sense. You want to arrive at a meeting with the right mindset – one focused on the impending agenda, not the recently departed one. People need breathing space (not to mention coffee and comfort) to give their best, so give them a break. And if people have something to work on at a specific time, that’s a meeting of sorts too, so encourage them to give it an appointment in their diary that prevents others slotting in yet another meeting. 

The back-to-back meeting culture that has surfaced from Covid-19 is inhibiting people’s ability to work productively, which in turn causes frustration and fatigue. However, small tweaks will help restore the enjoyment that comes from social interactions, whether virtual or otherwise. 

Helena Sharpstone is co-director of Sharpstone Skinner

People Management UK October 2020 




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