Meetings are not the problem

If you are finding Zoom too much and struggling to maintain your headspace, the tactics shared here may be useful. At least, it could spark an idea for how you can take control of the remote world we are now in. It’s probably going to be a while before we are all together.

Meetings are one the biggest bugbears in the workplace. We accept them as a necessary evil but we should expect more. Done well, meetings are an opportunity for connecting with the team, working towards an objective, and reinforcing processes and expectations. Good meetings are only as long as they need to be, which is to say as short as possible.

I believe the issue lies with the framing of meetings. A bad meeting can be ruinous. It feels like a waste of time. I have held some bad meetings in my time. One’s that didn’t respect the time of attendees, where nothing was decided, and lacked any real outcome. Don’t be like me. My tendency to lose focus, and wander off on whims does not lend itself well to conductive work at times.

Meeting principles for remote workers to maintain control.

I try to employ these principles when I am scheduling a meeting. This structure doesn’t apply to chats, and I invariably fall short of these from time to time.

  1. Identify who the audience is, and assess why they are meeting you
  2. Establish why you’re meeting – State your intention 
  3. Determine what you want your audience to think, feel, and do

Identify who the audience is, and assess why they are meeting you.

Straightforward enough, you need to know who you are meeting and understand why you are calling a meeting. Not everyone needs to be on a meeting, and where there are optional attendees it can be useful to mark them as such and state why optional attendees have been added in the body of the invite.

People often feel obliged to attend every meeting that comes in, especially more junior members in an organisation. Giving them the out explicitly, by tagging them and including why they are optional in the body of the meeting, can remove the pressure to attend. In my experience, setting attendance as optional isn’t enough of a gesture as it gets lost in the mire of notifications and requests.

Establish why you’re meeting – State your intention.

So obvious but often missing. The agenda. Why are you calling a meeting with these people? What do you aim to achieve? By stating your intentions up front you can determine if you have the right people in the room/zoom. Clear intentions also help determine the length of a meeting, keep attendees focused, and serve to mitigate the risk of things getting derailed. It is important to limit these intentions for the sake of the group. Maintaining the rooms attention gets a bit tricky when you state more than three intentions in a single meeting.

Determine what you want your audience to think, feel, and do.

Consider people. They are giving you their time and you should respect that. Do you want to be responsible for holding the boring meeting that people skip, or the one where people leave feeling energised? Feelings do not get talked about much, but are vital to how we conduct ourselves in all aspects of our lives. This includes work. Consider the outcomes and next steps, not just for you, but for the attendees.

How about no meetings?

Some things are better said face to face. Everything else can be served asynchronously and outside real time. Sending relevant documentation ahead of a meeting is a way better use of time than everyone reading it during in the meeting. 8 people meeting for a one-hour meeting is the equivalent of one person having an 8-hour meeting. Additionally, there is nothing so soul distressingly and ego crushing as me trying and failing to read out loud words I have written. Please don’t make me do that.

Understanding your audience is key to communicating effectively. Meet people on their terms, and use an appropriate method that respects their schedule. Consider the following before calling a meeting:

I ❤️ email.

I know it ain’t perfect, but email is an excellent tool for communication. Especially when working with people in different timezones. An email is more effort to write than sending a message on Slack. This is good friction. As a medium, the burden of responsibility is placed on the sender. They need to think about what they are trying to say, and the message needs to be clear, and unambiguous, to avoid misinterpretation.

Grab the remote control, and change the channel from Slack & other chat apps.

There is far more psychological pressure to get back to direct messages sent on Slack. An email that you get can sit happily for hours, or days, without feeling the expectation to reply. The immediacy of sending a slack message can feel quick for the sender, but it applies a pressure. The receiver feels obligated to respond quickly, and senders can feel ignored if they are left waiting too long. As this article indicates, a touch dramatically; The time we have between reading and answering a text message is 8 minutes. 

Instant messaging is real time, and the answers are far more reactionary. Less thought goes into chats. This means threads full of clarifications and rude notifications for everyone. Basecamp put it nicely when they said: 

“Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting, with random participants, and no agenda.”

Living at work is still living.

This pandemic has been devastating, and there are lots of awful things happening in the world. Tactics for working better remotely is not something that is high on the list of priorities for many. Also, I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to work in a place that has put their support behind their staff, and acknowledge this is a stressful time where many have lost their livelihoods, their lives, and loved ones.

If you are in a position to help others, please donate money or time to the many causes that are calling out for support. The Lebanon Red Cross are in desperate need for donations at the moment.