“Meetings are great!” said no one, ever. Hey, I know that some meetings are necessary and sometimes even productive.
But at what point do we admit that these are the exception rather than the rule?
When will we recognize that we're all addicted to wasting our time in pointless, directionless catch-up meetings?
Did you know, for example, that 91 percent of us say we've found ourselves daydreaming during meetings? That 39 percent have gone even further and actually dropped off to sleep? And that nearly half of us believe that meetings are the single biggest time waster at the office?
The numbers are scary. Research suggests that up to 15 percent of all a typical company's time is spent in meetings, which, more often than not, are seen by participants as being unproductive and inconclusive.
And as we climb the corporate ladder, we only spend more time in them. It's been said that, while middle managers spend around 35 percent of their time in meetings, for upper management, this rises to an unbelievable 50 percent. The equivalent of half a day, every day. Tell me that isn't frightening.
It doesn't have to be this way. There is a solution. And the time-saving hero may just take an unlikely form.
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What Are We Meeting About?
It would be disingenuous to pretend that all meetings are unnecessary and unproductive, of course, I'm a big fan of brainstorming sessions, for example, which can generate hours worth of ideas in a few minutes. But the majority of meetings aren't like this. In fact, brainstorming accounts for just five percent of meetings in the U.S.
The vast majority are dreary, prosaic affairs; staff meetings (45 percent), task forces (22 percent) and information sharing (21 percent). We're talking about the basic transfer of news and information here.
These well-meaning (but misguided) attempts to improve productivity actually crush it, by taking people away from their daily workflows when there's really no need to. To compound matters, the most common meeting start time is 11a.m. slap-bang in the middle of the morning, proven to be the most productive period of the day. The truth is, there are much better ways to catch up with your staff, share information and discuss project progress. And one in particular:
Video to the Rescue
Across the web as a whole, there's a growing shift toward video. And it's interesting that we're now seeing companies turn to video as a tool to minimize their mountain of meetings. It's a solution that's increasingly accessible, facilitates the sharing of information, news, and updates, and let's face it, is much more engaging, personalized and productive than some other communication channels, including email.
Did you know, for instance, the average office worker checks their email 36 times in an hour, and subsequently spends 16 minutes refocusing after handling an incoming message? Crucially, video updates can be recorded and produced in a way that doesn't interrupt your work day. It's as simple as point, shoot and send whenever is most convenient for you (more about this shortly).
These videos can also be viewed in a way that doesn't interrupt the work day of the recipient. In fact, they're available anytime on any device and can be watched by an unlimited audience, across multiple locations and time zones. Perfect in today's increasingly global workplace.
One company that is a firm advocate for using video to replace redundant meetings, is HelpScout. Earlier this year, People Ops guru Leah Knobler wrote a great article explaining how this works for them. You should check out the article, but, to summarize, they've replaced their weekly "all-hands" update meeting with a simple video update. This covers everything from company news and birthdays to new feature updates.
As Leah explains, "Videos are asynchronous conversations, so people can watch them whenever it works best. No more calendar invites and hangouts for dozens of people, which, let’s face it, never go as smoothly as we want anyway. And while you could send a weekly email update, how boring is that? I’m nodding off just thinking about it."
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The fact that video updates are one-way conversations isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. Creating a video update encourages you to filter out what's most important, and gives you the platform to get through it without interruption.
As Geoffrey James wrote in Inc., "Update meetings have a tendency to degenerate into BS sessions, where everyone must prove he or she is important by commenting on, or objecting to, everything that everyone else says. If you've ever worked anywhere, you know what I'm talking about here. Such activity is not just unproductive; it's actively counterproductive."
Video updates are, on the whole, more considered, more calculated and consequently, a more efficient use of everybody's time.
Creating Video Content
A lot of people still see video as an expensive, unattainable commodity, but the reality is quite different. There are numerous ways to create DIY video content, and professional video is more affordable and higher-quality than it has probably ever been.
For simple company update videos like, Leah at HelpScout, you can take HD video using your iPhone. Just point and shoot (ideally in selfie-mode so you can see how you fit into the frame) and you're on your way. Video hosting platform Wistia produced a great guide on how to shoot video using iPHone and, if you want a professional finish, I also recommend their down-and-dirty lighting kit guide which shows you how to build a professional lighting setup for less than $100.
You can edit and annotate the footage for free using basic, pre-installed editing software. Windows Movie Maker comes pre-installed on most versions of Windows and the same goes for iMovie for Macs.
There are other types of video, of course. Take training for example. In days gone by, you might need to take your team away from their desks to talk them through a new feature on your website or app.
These days, you can create screen captured videos that they can watch and re-watch at their convenience. This makes training content more scalable and more available than it's ever been. They can watch it at their convenience, and revisit it as and when their learning needs to be refreshed.
You can record your desktop or iPhone screen using QuickTime (pre-installed on Mac,) record a voiceover using your built-in mic, and, again, edit it using iMovie or Movie Maker. Of course, if you prefer a more professional look, or simply want somebody else to worry about the creation process, you can hire a studio to take care of it.
The bottom line is this: you should always take a critical approach to every single meeting you hold, and ask yourself whether there's a more productive way forward.
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I feel I should reiterate again, that some meetings are essential. I can't believe there's a business in the world that won't need to hold them at one time or another. The trick for forward-thinking, progressive businesses is to be able to recognise which ones are necessary, and which ones aren't.
When you're sharing company updates, corporate news, and project progress reports, a meeting generally just isn't necessary. There's this misnomer that meetings enhance communication, but on the contrary: there's a good chance that you're wasting your own time, and that of your entire team by calling them together at an arbitrary time during the working day. Ask yourself: is there not another way I can share this information, that better fits into everybody's working day?
In some cases, an email update will be sufficient. But beware over-reliance on email it's cold, impersonal, and proven to be almost as deep a time sink as meetings if not used appropriately.
The more personable, fun and engaging you can make your internal communications, the more profound their impact will be. So dig out your webcam, start shooting and share your news with the team. They'll be happier, more productive - and the message will get through more effectively. Happy filming.