Maybe the most commonly stated paradox in remote work involves meetings. A paradox is defined as, “A situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.” So. what’s the paradox when it comes to meetings in a team of any type?
The contradictory ideas at play here are:
- Meetings (in-person, online, or blended) are an important way of collaborating, brainstorming, and bring teams together. They are vital to great teamwork
- Meetings are killing productivity, and the need to be in the same place at the same time (even virtually) runs counter to the idea of flexible work and hybrid team collaboration.
How do you reconcile these supposedly opposing ideas? What should inform the way you plan and conduct meetings in a hybrid and flexible work environment?
First, you need to figure out why we have so many synchronous meetings. Some meetings are important, some are useful, but could probably be tweaked to make better use of everyone’s time, and others can be done away with entirely.
Good Reasons for Meeting
- Provide information to multiple people in a consistent way and clarify or answer questions as needed
- Provide a mechanism for quality brainstorming and decision making
- Reach agreement and buy in to critical decisions
- Conduct robust feedback and input in search of a solution
- Allow the right people to solve critical situations efficiently
Common Reasons That Sound Good But Often Go Wrong
- To create and foster relationships among the team
- To “bounce ideas off each other”
- Keep everyone “in the loop”
- Make sure everyone contributes to the solution
- Keep people engaged
Terrible Reasons for Meeting
- “It’s been too long since we got together”
- Emulate the office environment where people have constant access to each other
- Because you always met once a week in the past
- Test whether people are engaged
- “Most people are in the office that day anyway”
Solving the Too Many Meetings Problem
The trick is to figure out what you’re trying to achieve and investigate alternatives to blocking people’s schedules and making sure they’re available, despite promises of flexibility and accommodating time zones.
A lot of the solutions to the number and poor quality of meetings sound reasonable. Many companies now institute “no meeting Fridays.” That sounds great, but too often that means meetings that would happen on Friday get smooshed into already-crowded schedules the other four days of the week.
Have you investigated asynchronous solutions such as shared white boards, discussion groups, or very focused chats on Teams or Slack, with only a minimum number of scheduled meetings? Maybe small groups of people can connect as necessary and report out to the larger group asynchronously?
Have you created processes with accountability built in? It’s fine to say you shouldn’t have meetings that could be emails, but does everyone read the emails and take the required action?
We aren’t saying there should never be meetings, or that people shouldn’t actually, you know, talk to each other. We’re saying that work should reflect the desired outcome and respect the time, intelligence, and hard work of the people involved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.