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Taking a Sledgehammer to the Process is Too Heavy

In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, protagonist Winston Smith finds himself scarcely able to get away from constant government surveillance via telescreens, two-way TVs in every home and virtually all public places.

Are you doing the same to your workforce with ubiquitous meetings, either in person or via videoconference?

No, I don’t mean to liken today’s leaders to the brutal totalitarian states Orwell described. But as NPR reports, UNC Charlotte Professor Steven Rogelberg’s research shows that companies waste tens of millions of dollars forcing people to attend unnecessary meetings. And according to USA Today, Microsoft Teams users tripled the amount of time spent in meetings from February 2020 to February 2022.

That’s too much waste in today’s world of perpetual disruption, where the world will change while you are stuck in a meeting.

Corporate Responses to Time Waste Are Too Radical

In response, some companies have taken a sledgehammer to meetings. Shopify deleted 12,000 events from employee calendars, freeing up more than 322,000 hours. According to The WSJ, Wednesdays are now meeting free, and Shopify limits meetings with 50-plus people to a 6-hour window on Thursdays. Instead of a 90-minute town hall announcing its restructuring, tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. posted a 10-minute video.

Such moves are steps in the right direction. But if leaders are not insightful enough to systematically improve meeting content, employees can waste time no matter what day you reserve for meetings.

The problem, as Professor Rogelberg told CNN, is that only 20% of leaders ever receive coaching on how to hold meetings. Therefore, many of the people calling the meetings are “incompetent.”

Rogelberg calls meetings an evolution from the command and control of the industrial revolution’s early days. Meetings are where organizational democracy happens. But for heaven’s sakes, get some coaching and do them right.

Taking the Right Approach to Meeting Efficiency

Meetings must have a purpose. No agenda, no meeting. Be clear about what the meeting should achieve – and what to avoid. Do not leave it to employees to rein in a meeting that lasts too long or rides off the rails – that’s your job.

We are taking that advice at Tompkins Ventures and Tompkins Leadership. Both companies are fully remote. Therefore, email, text, phone – and yes, videoconferencing – are vital.

But we recognized that we got meeting happy and recently pared multiple monthly meetings down into one, sometimes two gatherings.

Find the right formula for your company. The new way of work – fully remote, hybrid or in person – requires full use of all modes of communication. Videoconferencing software is wonderful. But so are email, chat and the old-school “pick up the phone and call.” After all, I doubt your employees want to be glued to a computer monitor from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.