what’s the point of meetings?
A couple of years ago I was part of a group at work looking at why we have so many meetings and how to make them more productive. We came up with various best practices and pieces of advice but fundamentally the outcome was that people should only have meetings when there is a clear purpose to getting people together. We discussed how meetings shouldn’t be ‘curated reading’ sessions (ie. when no-one has bothered to read any of the materials which have been distributed beforehand) but also acknowledged that everyone is so busy (mainly with meetings) that they don’t feel like they have the time to prepare and just go from one meeting to the next.
This was prior to the year we have just spend primarily communicating over zoom or other virtual meeting platforms. Oh my goodness, if we’d known then that we were about to enter into the world’s biggest unplanned experiment into how to challenge and change the way we work. Now many of us spend hour after hour glued to tiny pictures of other people, suddenly unable to so much as stretch your legs without someone nosying at what you’re doing.
Has the way we interact and use meetings changed? I think, in some ways, yes – it has been a great leveller. Whilst previously there was a big sense of being ‘in the room’ or ‘not in the room’, suddenly everyone is as much in the room as anyone else. For global organisations where previously there might have been an implied hierarchy depending on where you were located, virtual meetings have created an equitable space where everyone is represented. Another positive is that it is so much easier to meet people face to face. Previously, it felt like you either had to see someone in real life or endure long conference calls where everyone was inevitably multi-tasking because no-one could see them. Now everyone can see everyone and you can’t really be doing five other things. Is that all good? It’s good in that people should theoretically be paying more attention but back to the earlier point, if people were multi-tasking in meetings previously maybe they didn’t really need to be in them.
Why is it relevant now? Organisations are starting to think about what being back in the office looks like. Some are already ahead and have hybrid workspaces designed to accommodate various types of collaboration. For others this is the catalyst for rethinking the purpose of the physical workspace and therefore what it needs to provide to people. So far, research suggests that what people are hoping for above all else is flexibility, and organisations will need to find ways to accommodate this. Meetings will need to adjust along with other aspects of organisational culture such as how we manage teams and measure performance overall, as presenteeism can no longer be considered a defining factor in whether someone is doing a job or not.
This is an opportunity to re-think the purpose of bringing people together in the same physical or virtual space, and to create workplaces which provide flexibility. By creating enough focused space for reading and thinking perhaps we can start to make meetings as productive and meaningful as the combined thought power in the room has the potential to generate.