Remember back before we got sent home for having cooties? Two or three years ago, when the workplace was as it had always been, we hated meetings. We complained constantly about them: A waste of time. Productivity killer. Boring. Remember?
Now, when we ask people what the biggest reason for returning to the office is, the number one answer is “so we can meet in person.” If they were so awful, why are people in a hurry to go back to in-person meetings?
Maybe in-person meetings weren’t so bad after all
Some of this is we’ve seen the alternative. Back-to-back Zoom meetings create issues all their own. It seems we were doomed to hold meetings, and the alternative wasn’t as glorious as we’d hoped. Another factor is, as Joni Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you got til It’s gone.”
What was the value of meeting in-person? As we move to a more “hybrid work model,” (whatever that means to your organization) we can re-think when, how often, and how we convene with our teammates. So, what’s a good reason for returning to Conference Room B, and when should we forego meeting?
(Good): Meetings had doughnuts.
I’m being a little sarcastic (sometimes Cheryl insisted on healthy snacks, but she has no joy in her life.) The point being, there was a component to the meeting that was not blatantly practical. People react differently when there is food. They take a moment (if only to chew) and interact more casually. Whether it’s sugary treats, pizza, or something more formal, the ancient human tradition of breaking bread together creates a psychological environment that can help build relationships and give people a chance to connect. Yes, you can send a gift card so people can order in on their Zoom Coffee Hour, but it’s not the same thing.
(Bad): Meetings often resulted in less-than-ideal solutions.
In a perfect world, meetings would create a positive energy that generate great ideas. Sometimes they do, but meetings are made up of people, and people are not always rational or positive. We want to please each other. We bite our tongues because Alice is really excited about this idea. There will be no living with Bob if we don’t just go along. My boss is shooting me dirty looks and everyone wants to leave early, so maybe I just won’t ask the question I know is going to stir up more discussion. Fear of conflict is a very real challenge to teams seeking high-quality decisions. Asynchronous solutions like using Teams or Slack, or discussion boards allow people to feel less intimidated and freer to be more candid. This is especially true when there are language or power differences that give one person or group more power.
(Good): There is a palpable energy that can really get ideas popping.
When they are well-facilitated and the goals are clear, brainstorming can create a “sum is greater than the parts” effect. People build on ideas. “Yes, and,” leads to incremental improvement of someone’s initial suggestion and that energy and excitement can increase buy-in to the answers you come up with. This means they need to have clear goals and be well-facilitated.
(Bad): Meetings go off track because of personal interactions, agendas, and power dynamics.
If there is a common variable to bad meetings, it’s the interactions of the people involved. Larry is like a dog with a sock, and keeps dominating the discussion. We get really enthusiastic about an idea that isn’t really part of the current discussion. A clear agenda with stated goals and timelines can go a long way to stopping us from engaging in time-wasting behavior. When the whole team understands and buys into the goals of the meeting, they go a lot smoother.
When deciding whether to meet in person or not, hybrid teams and their leaders need to start with the goal of the meeting and consider alternatives. Often the result will be an asynchronous component with a shorter meeting to build on the advantages of being in person. Just going back to meeting in person rather than on zoom (or continuing to think webcams will give us the same result as being face to face) will only give us the same results.
In The Remote Leadership Certificate Series, you’ll learn how to structure effective virtual and hybrid meetings, and much, much more. You won’t find a more complete remote leadership training course. The next session is starting soon. Find out more and reserve your spot.
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.