Are virtual meetings holding you back? Break free now!
August 8, 2022
Virtual meetings are a core element of our work. No matter if we’re part of a remote-first or hybrid team. Even if we’re async-first, we still have to meet once in a while. Despite the fact that over 2 years have now passed since the biggest work from home experiment in the world started, the core value of virtual meetings remains a mystery… As a matter of fact, this topic comes back to me literally every month in almost every organisation that I work with. “How can we avoid too many meetings”, “How many meetings per week are healthy?”, “How can employees win back time?”. That’s why I’ve decided to tackle this challenge once and for all. Let me share a few tips that you can implement right away. They will make a big difference, I promise.
The most common concerns that people express are: not having enough time for deep work, meetings being scattered throughout the day or the famous “this meeting could have been an e-mail” feeling. Since we’ve started working in a distributed environment, we’re desperately trying to copy most face to face habits. This is one of the culprits of a toxic meeting culture. “Let’s jump on a call” or “Let’s touch base on Zoom” are meant to replicate hallway or water cooler chats. Needless to say, this isn’t the way to go.
What adds value for you and the business
Let’s start with good news. If you feel like too many virtual meetings are holding you back from being productive, the business itself wouldn’t be impressed either. You must take steps to break this vicious circle. But to make this happen you’ll need data. It’s hard to prove that meetings aren’t productive without preparing yourself first. So try to observe literally every meeting you attend and take notes. Document all aspects that you think are far from perfection. This can be no agenda, delays, meetings being canceled last minute or multiple virtual meetings being held at the same time. What’s important though, isn’t just about focusing on negative aspects. Once you write down all those things, try to think about solutions. In other words – imagine how this could be done better. If you just challenge everything without suggesting new ideas, you’ll be perceived as a pessimist.
If a meeting takes much longer than planned, don’t be afraid to let everyone know that you have to leave. There’s nothing wrong with that. A certain time frame has been reserved for a reason. If you’re always there, ready to please others 24/7, people will take you for granted. Respect your time and others will start to do the same.
If you receive an invite without a subject or agenda, ask about the reason of the meeting. I know that you want to maintain good relationships with your colleagues. It may be hard to ask questions like this in the beginning. But come on – there’s nothing unpleasant or insulting about it. Don’t let biases influence your actions!
If you have too many meetings during a day, think about priorities. What really matters to you? You can start with the Eisenhower matrix to think about what’s important. If it’s just too much – just ask to reschedule. Yeah… now you’ll probably think “If only it was that easy…” Well, it is. Try and see what happens. Even if you don’t succeed in every case, you’ll be able to win back at least a little bit of time for sure.
Design a meeting etiquette for better alignment
It blows my mind to see how much time people waste in meetings because of no alignment. It really starts with simple rules that are all about mutual respect:
Always accept or decline meetings – If you schedule a meeting in real life, the other person doesn’t say “Maybe I’ll be there, but maybe I won’t”. Come on! So let’s apply common sense to virtual meetings. Don’t be mysterious but make sure to let the organiser know if you’ll make it or not. Don’t leave invites without a response.
Check others’ calendars – If only you can, use the scheduling assistant option. Check if others are free. Don’t send invites just like that. It takes a minute to find out if others are available.
Introduce company-wide meeting hours – There’s nothing worse than several, short meetings scattered throughout the day. It doesn’t let you focus on anything meaningful as you’re constantly interrupted. Think about 3-4 hours during the day when virtual meetings should normally take place. This way, you’ll have the rest of your day for deep work.
Block time in your calendar – Mark certain hours as “unavailable”. You can add a short note as well, if needed. For example “Working on X” or “Busy with Y” for more transparency. There’s also an option to “automatically decline” meetings… That may seem a radical step but if you’re really fed up… try!
An async mindset eliminates meetings
Introduce async meetings. Yes – you hear me! There are tons of tools that can help you with that. I mean Loom which is amazing for sharing visual updates, Slack Workflow Builder for asynchronous status checks or literally ANY project management software to track progress. The rule is quite simple – if you don’t document your work, you’ll have to meet. Why? Because you must always explain everything. You just have nothing else to refer to. So another tip – start with organising your projects and tasks in writing. Then you can make a short comment, tag someone or ask a question without meeting. This way, the context of your message will be clear right away. Thanks to different integrations, you can easily connect different tools and even schedule automated messages.
Instead of “jumping on a quick Zoom call”, ask yourself if this is REALLY necessary. Try to experiment a bit. Send messages first and see if that is sufficient. If it’s not, you can eventually follow up with a virtual meeting. But hey – practice makes perfect!
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