Clearing The Calendar: How To Identify And Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
Learn to reduce the number of conference calls and meetings your team has to attend while increasing your team’s productivity (and morale).
It isn’t easy to be working at full brain capacity with so much going on in the world. These are unprecedented, tumultuous times. It’s important to give your team the mental and emotional space that they need right now, as it is more important than ever to bring emotions to the workplace. Helping your team adjust to remote work by reducing the number of conference calls can also help to improve morale — and productivity levels.
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Too Many Conference Calls
These days, work feels like going from one videoconference call to the next. Scheduling conference calls or meetings often feels like the simplest way to tackle business issues. Want to brainstorm ideas? Let’s hop on Zoom! Not sure which action items to work on? Let’s jump on Meet! Need a status update from your team? Time for a conference call! Unclear about what the project scope is? Let’s schedule a meeting!
Does this sound like your team? There is a time and a place for a videoconference call or meeting, but in the age of remote work, I’m hearing that many workers feel overwhelmed with conference calls. The future of work has accelerated, and millions of Americans are adjusting to working from home. Many team leaders are managing remote workers for the first time. In turn, a number of managers have asked me for advice on reducing the number of meetings so their team can spend more time working, instead of talking at each other.
Replace Conference Calls With Concise Written Communication
With remote work, clear and concise written communication becomes essential. In many cases, you can replace large conference calls with brief but comprehensive documentation or succinct memos with detailed appendices. If your team struggles with writing clearly, start with small adjustments to give workers time to learn and adapt.
Keep in mind that clear written communication is a sign of clarity of thought. Writing a detailed memo requires better thought and understanding of what is important and how things are related. When your team members have clarity of thought, it’s easier to rally your team around a common goal. Your employees will be thankful for fewer meetings, and your team will be more closely aligned on goals, project plans, strategies and processes.
Consider this: Jeff Bezos has said that in meetings of Amazon’s executive team, before any discussion, everyone sits in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed narrative memos. These carefully crafted and edited memos allow the team to spend the meeting having more in-depth discussions — they make the meetings more productive. Bezos shared his tips for writing memos in an annual shareholders letter.
In other cases, you could replace your conference call with an email, Slack message, or an @ mention in your team’s project management software. Sometimes, it’s best to plan a solo brainstorming session to clarify your ideas before writing them down to share. Personally, I find that I do my best brainstorming while walking outside, getting some fresh air.
How To Decide Whether To Schedule That Next Meeting
Ask yourself these questions to help with your decision-making process for scheduling meetings.
Do I know why I want to schedule a meeting?
It’s tempting to schedule a conference call when you don’t know what to do on a project — it provides an illusion of progress. But if you’ve already had a meeting to plan and structure the work, spend some solo time thinking strategically. Evaluate the scope of work and the current progress toward milestones, and you should be able to start figuring out your action items and other progress that must happen. Then, ask yourself the next question.
Do I need input from colleagues?
Now that you’ve figured out the action items, you may find that you don’t need outside input. When this is the case, get to work instead of scheduling a meeting — at this point, that would be an inefficient use of your team’s time. On the other hand, if you need your team to provide feedback or answer questions before getting to work, move on to the next question.
Is a real-time conversation necessary to move the project forward?
If you need some feedback or additional information from your team, ask yourself whether you need a real-time convo. If not, you may be able to communicate over email or an instant messenger or group chat (I use Slack with my teams). In some cases, asking for clarification directly in your team’s project management software may be the best course of action. The more you allow your team to work asynchronously, versus in synchronous calls or meetings, the more chunks of time your team will have to focus on deep work. But if your specific questions do require a real-time conversation, then you may need to schedule a conference call or meeting.
Do you really need a face-to-face meeting versus a conference call?
I recommend videoconference calls versus audio-only conference calls. The addition of video makes conversations more effective because of visual cues — participants can read body language and easily know who is speaking. If it’s a quick question with only one person you know well, a phone call is probably best. But if it requires more discussion, schedule a videoconference call.
Spend an adequate amount of time preparing for the videoconference call to make it as efficient and productive as possible. Write down goals for the videoconference and desired outcomes, and prep and send out materials in advance.
In some cases, you must communicate face to face and in person. We won’t be able to cancel all meetings, but we can do our best to make the most of them.
Hopefully, with these questions in mind, you’ll be able to reduce the number of conference calls and meetings your team has to attend while increasing your team’s productivity (and morale).
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Category: Human Resources Industry Trends
Updated: July 13, 2021
Quick note: This is not to be taken as tax advice or legal advice or payroll advice. Since tax rules and laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a CPA / tax advisor and/or attorney for specific guidance.