Do you really need a meeting?

Remote meeting

In the post-lockdown world, unnecessary meetings won’t just be frustrating and tedious. They are also another vector for the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. Our offices will likely look very different for some time in the aftermath of this crisis, as will our office culture. Video calls, Instant Messenger Systems, and chain e-mails will all be a much bigger part of our lives. Of course, sometimes meetings will be necessary. But only sometimes. To help you decide when that might be, here are six questions to consider when planning a meeting:

1. Is the meeting’s issue both complicated and impactful?

When it comes to meetings in the post-lockdown era, the following will be a very valuable rule of thumb:

The more complicated and impactful the issue, the more likely a meeting will be necessary

The key element here is that both complexity and impact are required together to justify a meeting. If an issue is complicated, but not impactful, it can be dealt with in an email that employees can read at their leisure, or when it becomes most important. If an issue is impactful but not complicated, a phone call will most likely be enough to give the concern the weight it deserves. When an issue is both complex and impactful, a meeting gives it apt weight and allows for other factors to come into play that cannot be effectively serviced by video calls, phone calls, or emails.

2. Is an important working relationship being initiated or maintained?

The importance of getting to know colleagues and business partners in a workplace will vary across sectors and industries. In some sectors, employees work in parallel, while for others collaboration is crucial. Since every sector is staffed by people, not robots, sociability will always have some value. When a meeting involves needing to get to know someone better, body language and tone become more important communication concerns. 55% of our attitudes and emotions are expressed via body language, with 38% conveyed by vocal tone, leaving only 7% of feelings and underlying perspectives shared directly verbally. What constitutes “important working relationships” is up to interpretation of course, but in the COVID-19 era, that interpretation takes on a new meaning, and businesses need to keep that in mind.

3. Are you expecting feedback or questions?

Assembling your staff to simply have your staff listen to you talk isn’t a meeting. A meeting implies exchange, engagement, and sharing of information and ideas. If you only need your staff to listen, you can send an email since no interactivity is required. If what you are discussing requires detailed staff feedback, or if you anticipate lots of complicated questions, a meeting becomes more necessary. The two adjectives there are key. Detail and complexity. If the questions and feedback are general and likely simple, emails or video calls can suffice.

4. Are you trying to be creative or generate new ideas?

The more creative you require your team to be, such as in a collaborative team meeting or a workshop, the more valuable in-person meetings could potentially be. However, if you are expecting a clear and structured meeting, where everyone takes turns to vocalise their ideas, then video conferencing should be used. If you need the more free-form, free-flowing, bouncing discussions that are present in creative settings, video conferencing can be more problematic. Again though, this needs to be an important creative session. Alternative arrangements can and should be made for less urgent or essential sessions.

5. Is this a regular meeting?

Unless they are so important as to be essential, regular team meetings may become a thing of the past in the post COVID-19 lockdown world. Regularity is a reasonable, if not exact, indicator of importance. In most sectors, a meeting that happens every day cannot be that important since there cannot be that much new information to convey. In most cases, the rule of thumb should be thus:

The rarer the meeting, the more important and thus necessary it becomes.

A meeting’s rarity could be caused by the issues not coming up very often, by the participants not often all being in one place, or because something entirely unexpected and unforeseen has happened. Whatever the case, the rarer and more irregular the issue being discussed, the more likely the meeting is necessary.

6. How long is this meeting going to be?

The level of time disruption caused by a meeting is often much longer than the meeting itself. People have to conclude tasks they are working on at a point that they can be resumed, and then there’s the disruption of making sure everyone is on time and going to the right place and so on, and so on.

All this makes the question of “how long will this meeting be?” very important. If it’s shorter, that suggests its lack of importance, which in turn suggests that alternative means could well be necessary.

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