How to make pandemic-era meetings work

Business meetings can be either a bane or the best for productivity. But what makes them work in today’s video-streaming universe?

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It all depends, according to new research from The Manifest, sister site of Clutch, a Washington, D.C.-based market research firm, that polled 400 full-time U.S. employees to collect their views on successful meetings.

First, virtual meetings are playing a key role in many employees’ work. In fact, 44% of executives and founders spend at least 10 hours in meetings every week.

In the survey, The Manifest found that businesses should hold quick, focused meetings with actionable agendas and effective facilitators, especially since so many meetings are being held remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey also revealed that people across a company often have different relationships with meetings: Executives need to make sure they schedule meetings strategically so they can do the rest of their jobs, and HR professionals should be given the opportunity to use meetings to improve in their role.

See also: HRE‘s Number of the Day: virtual meeting overload

“Without an agenda, a meeting is useless.” – Laurie Wilkins, founder, Call Outdoors

Other findings (with some advice from The Manifest) include:

  • More than half of employees attend meetings focused on checking progress (53%) and solving problems (51%) in a typical week. Businesses should primarily use meetings as a venue where employees can share their accomplishments and troubleshoot their problems.
  • Almost all business meetings (90%) last for one hour or less, suggesting that employers should consider briefer meetings.
  • Sixty-one percent of managers consider problem-solving and collaborating a benefit of meetings, so companies should train all managers to conduct meetings effectively for those aims.
  • Almost half (47%) of HR professionals say that meetings help them do their jobs well. Businesses must remember that meetings are a skill-building opportunity for employees in the HR department, researchers say.
  • Sixty-nine percent of employees surveyed spent more than one hour of their workweek in meetings.

To fuel effective meetings, survey participants said, companies should require a clear agenda. “Without an agenda, a meeting is useless,” says Laurie Wilkins, founder of Call Outdoors, which publishes guides about outdoor gear and equipment. “You should have at least an outline of all the things you’re focusing on to ensure a seamless flow of the meeting.”

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Read all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

Wilkins believes that before a meeting starts, meeting facilitators should ask: Is this meeting necessary? If the meeting will simply be a series of questions or a presentation that won’t genuinely help many of the people in attendance, it may be better handled over email or phone.

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Commenting on meetings held remotely on Zoom or Google Hangouts, survey participant Jill Santopietro Panall, owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, says that such meetings represent a hurdle in building people-reading skills essential for leaders.

“I’m missing the opportunities to watch the natural interactions in meetings that allow me to perceive issues and challenges,” she says. “When everyone is facing front and blandly looking at the camera, on their best behavior, there’s no way to see whose eyes dart to a particular person or who is texting under the table. All of that is incredibly instructive.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].