For those of you who know me or follow my work, you’ll know that time wasting is a pet peeve of mine, and a factor that I regularly cite as one of the biggest drags on productivity growth.
So, when a recent conversation with a CEO friend of mine turned to the topic of meetings, my interest was piqued, for nowhere is more time poured down the drain than in the meeting room. My friend was in good spirits: he had just been in a virtual meeting with his team, and what would have taken a day-and-a-half to discuss face-to-face, had taken just two-and-a-half hours via video link.
The participants on the call had joined on time and had come prepared. According to him, the whole experience had been more efficient all round, and more than sufficient to address the needs of the day.
He is not alone. One of the by-products of remote working is that leaders and their employees are discovering the ease and efficiency of video conferencing and reaching the conclusion that connecting virtually can be as good if not better than connecting face-to-face.
A light switches on as companies start to realize that virtual meetings are not the logistical or technical nightmare they were a decade ago, leading many managers to ask themselves, ‘Why weren’t we doing this before?’
But I have another question – well, two in fact. Why has it taken a walk on the virtual side for us to realize just how inefficient and unproductive our in-person meetings are? And, more importantly, why are we not more productive “onsite” in the first place?
As a tech fan and a proponent of productivity aids, I am all for holding meetings via the digital ether. But in this particular case, my passion for technology is tinged with disappointment – a little sadness even – that we appear incapable of the same efficiency and productivity face-to-face.
No going back to status quo
Who knows, if the world continues to remote-work, maybe our ability to get things done in-person in the office will become irrelevant - but I doubt it. Remote working is here to stay, that’s for sure, but in some shape or form people will return to the meeting room and when that happens, things will have to change.
Starting from now, companies need to take a step back and re-evaluate how, when and why they conduct meetings, and draw lessons from the virtual world.
Until recently, just like the concept of working from home, video conferencing wasn’t taken very seriously– the typical example of employees jumping on calls dressed in a combo of work attire and pyjamas springs to mind.
But as it turns out, virtual communication is not to be taken lightly. Of course, there will always be instances of young children bursting onto camera in the background, but the benefits appear to be outweighing the embarrassing disadvantages.
And hey, if the job gets done faster and more efficiently via video call, does it really matter if your ops manager is dressed in sweatpants from the waist down?
No time for ramblings
Many of the lessons from the virtual world are simple but effective: Only hold meetings when necessary. Remove all potential distractions in advance.
Come prepared. Stick to the point. Listen to each other.
In a virtual setting, these come as second nature, but transport that meeting to the office, and the seemingly obvious flies out the window. On a video call, there is no scope for whispering to others in the room.
You cannot arrive late because you were held up in the corridor. Nor can you slip out unnoticed for a toilet break or hide behind colleagues in the hope that your lack of preparation will remain undiscovered.
There is no knocking on the CEO’s office later that day to follow up – that call is your only chance to get things done.
There are not many positives to come out of COVID-19, but learning how to make the most of meetings, in-person and on-screen, is one.
- Tommy Weir is the founder & CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author. Contact him at email@example.com.