About 3 or 4 years ago I wrote a blog about the impact that advancing technology and the various tools were having within the business world. Where it was particularly evident was in the multitude of meetings and the length of them th
at seemed to be more and more prevalent. Then, participants felt that …
- They needed to respond to an email that was on a very important issue immediately
- They saw this being away from their desk as a chance to catch up at the same time they were certain that they didn’t miss a thing going on or being said in the meeting they were in.
- They had to excuse themselves from the meeting if the message they received absolutely needed an immediate response and required a telephone call … now
At that time what many noticed was that the management, department or team meeting that used to be 30 to 60 minutes in length had grown to be 2 or 3 times that. Then, so much time was spent waiting for important input from a participant who was busy doing work he or she deemed critical or important. At least it was seen as more so than whatever was being discussed in the meeting. Maybe you remember those days. Unfortunately, rather than things getting better, today, in 2019, the issue and related problems have only been amplified.
As to why this is happening there are a few contributing reasons.
- The sophistication of the tools from smartphones to pads or laptops has increased and this has increased what information we can carry around with us. Therefore, and with the rationale that whatever has come before us is important and must have an immediate response, that’s what we do.
- We have, unfortunately, become used to ‘these’ meetings going on and on and are actually taking much longer resulting in what many consider wasted time.
- We are too often questioning why we have even been included in any particular meeting to begin with and therefore see our responding to calls, emails or texts as much more important.
When working with a client who is trying to become more productive in the time spent in the office, the issue of lengthy meetings is often way up on the list of problems over which they feel no or little control. And when they are in that meeting and watch others spend time on their phones or laptops, eventually they think that they too should be using the time to handle their own issues … and they do.
Obviously this becomes self-defeating on multiple levels … to the individual, co-workers, the company and potentially, even to the customer. And from organization to organization several things have been tried in order to regain control.
- Some have banned the use of phones or laptops altogether through a ‘check it at the door’ approach. The problem encountered is that some of the very information needed to present or refer to during the meeting is no longer available in real time and that causes additional delays
- Some have scheduled specific breaks to occur every i.e. 30 minutes to allow all to check their phones for messages and respond if necessary. Although ideally that seems like a good plan participants tend to abuse the scheduled break time and fail to return when scheduled and needed. This too, only serves to delay the meeting especially if the one missing in action has pertinent input for the rest of the attendees.
- Others have simply asked those attending to ‘pl-e-e-ze’ refrain from looking at or responding to incoming calls or messages. It’s a nice request that requires very good personal discipline that some just aren’t motivated to exercise … again because what they are responding to is just more important in their view … personally and to the company.
Have no fear. This blog is not encouraging that organizations should simply give up and give in to what the wonders that technology has wrought. There actually are steps that can be taken that have the effect of regaining control while giving control … all for the good of the organization.
Kathleen Owens penned an article entitled “How To Get Employees To Plug In To Your Meeting And Not Their Devices” in which she offers ways that can change the pathway to greater achievement at less cost both in terms of time and money. She said that “When you bring your own device (BYOD) to a meeting, you’re not multitasking; you’re ignoring. It’s become hard to imagine a meeting in which all attendees simply listen–no smartphones, no tablets, and no laptops to distract. We’ve all had the desire to yank a device away from a distracted employee, or we’ve been guilty of staring at our own devices during meetings. The modern meeting is so full of people “multitasking” on smartphones or laptops that it’s easy to wonder why anyone attends them at all. She suggests:
- Become more selective in the people invited and expected to attend the meeting or as Owens indicates, “some meetings deserve to go away”. Especially with the likes of emails, senders often load up the ‘send to’ line with anyone they believe should know about it. The problem is that this is interpreted as mandatory and thus many meetings have attendees that really aren’t directly related to the topic and, at most, should be informed of decisions made if that is seen as important. If you find yourself in such a meeting and it really doesn’t apply to you, taking care of other things via your phone or laptop seems like the best use of this otherwise wasteful time.It has been proven that face-to-face meetings produce better results. And, according to a recent LogMeIn report, 73% of workers are taking a laptop, smartphone, tablet or combination of these devices into in-person meetings. The problem is that the main justification for using laptops and smartphones in meetings doesn’t benefit the actual meeting. Rather the beneficiary is the person with the device at the expense of everyone else in the meeting.
- It’s multitasking that the book should be thrown at. The problem isn’t necessarily pointed at meetings. Rather research has been shown that when we multitask our IQ falls 10% however our errors increase 50%! And BYOD can’t be blamed alone as there have always been distractions i.e. when people used to be called out of meetings to take a call.Talk about something we should ban, we can’t blame BYOD alone for this. We’ve always had distractions. As scientist and businessman Simon Ramo said in a Businessweek article, “Are cell phones in meetings any more or less distracting than people being called out to take phone calls?” Bottom line is that modern technology has increased the opportunity for distractions which are bad for productivity.
- Build a better meeting.
The best ways to keep meetings productive is to keep them short and focused and always have an end goal in mind. Don’t just print an agenda to hand out at the start of the meeting–upload the agenda to a shared file-server a day or two before the meeting. Ask people to collaborate on it, accessing the shared document to suggest additional top-line discussion items. By giving employees a say in the meeting’s structure and topics, they’ll feel more empowered to engage and influence the meeting’s outcome. Or, when starting a new project, you could hand out pens and notebooks to each person in the meeting, encouraging them to write not type, and to use a designated notebook for the project at hand.
Owens concludes that ”bringing our technology to meetings simply isn’t going away and neither are meetings. It is a leader’s job to run effective meetings, and sometimes that means encouraging a devices-off approach or actually incorporating device use into meetings. BYOD isn’t killing meetings, but new devices are giving distracted employees and poor management another weapon with which to beat the poor meeting to death.”
To the extent that you can take the lead in your organization that addresses the productive streamlining of your meetings I’m fairly confident that you will hear the loud and clear applause throughout the organization. It seems like a worthwhile endeavor!