Everyone Hates Meetings, Here’s How Technology Can Improve Them

Unproductive meetings are draining trillions from the global economy each year and destroying employees’ motivation. Almost everyone in business today has asked themselves this question: “how do I reel in this wayward meeting before it chews up more precious time?” We’ve all been in meetings that run overtime without actually discussing anything on the agenda. Heck, we’ve all been in meetings without any agenda at all. Or next steps. Or any follow-up. Fast forward two weeks and there will probably be another meeting about the same thing. 

Meetings are, and have always been a bane on productivity, if organized poorly. Inefficient meetings cost over half a trillion dollars a year according to a recent study into four of the world’s largest economies due to loss of time, demotivated teams and ineffective leadership. 

As a result, many forward thinking HR managers and CEOs alike are turning to technology for solutions. Perhaps creating the ideal environment for them may be a better place to start. 

Several new and innovative platforms are stepping up in the space which can actively improve these time-wasters.

What does the research say?

The State of Meetings 2019 report is based on the responses of 6,500 professionals and data from 19 million meetings, analyzing both the financial and personal impacts of poorly planned meetings. The implications of pointless meetings run so deep that HR managers are scrambling to find potential solutions. The key findings of the report point unequivocally towards both the importance of meetings and the destructive nature of unproductive ones. 

Meeting face to face is critical to align teams and develop an interpersonal trust. Whilst the digital age has removed much of the necessity to meet in person, virtual meetings don’t quite build the same rapport. “Although technology has made it easier and easier to meet remotely, and that is a good thing, there is something particularly powerful associated with individuals coming together and meeting face to face,” states Professor Steven Rogelberg from the University of North Carolina. 

According to the report, this shines truth through as a majority of professionals prefer to meet face to face over all other meeting types. Furthermore, over two thirds of those interviewed feel that face to face makes making important decisions easier.

So meetings aren’t going away any time soon?

The short answer is probably not. But then we’ve got another question on our hands: how do we optimize meetings so that they don’t leave us feeling less motivated than before? The answer is long and complicated, but worth the trouble since it could be multi-billion dollar one. 

First it’s important to look at the negative impacts of dead-end meetings. Some of the key findings from the report state that:

  • Almost three quarters of all professionals (71%) analyzed said that they lost time each week due to unnecessary or cancelled meetings. 
  • The main irritation professionals encounter from face-to-face meetings are ineffective leadership, time loss lost from cancelled meetings and poor organisation. 
  • Poorly organised meetings are a waste of time and money which can have a direct impact on client relationships.
  • Professionals spend on average two hours in poorly organised meetings each week – the equivalent of roughly 13 working days each year – costing companies and the global economy billions each year.

So, why are some meetings so much more productive than others?

It all comes down to organization, planning, who’s in the room (and undoubtedly who’s not), the room itself, as well as collecting and reflecting on behavioral based data and actions to improve the way meeting rooms can be utilized and experienced.

Improve the way meetings are scheduled

Setting yourself up for success may seem like an obvious concept but it really does need to be said. “While one pointless meeting might not seem of great consequence, these results certainly show that with a little effort to improve meeting scheduling–huge savings both in time and money can be made,” states the report. 

As we’ve seen with my own employee engagement platform, Office App, the most used function is our Meeting Room Dashboard, identifying that meeting efficiency is a major pain point for decision-makers. 

Some of the biggest issues for our clients when it comes to meetings can be solved by improving planning and scheduling, because making sure that the right people are in the room is critical when validating the time a meeting takes. 

Platforms like ours, along with others like Calendly and Doodle (the authors of the report) can ensure that users get the invite ahead of time, that meeting members don’t double-book and are reminded of meetings in advance, smoothing out the process from end-to-end. 

Improve the way meeting rooms can be utilized and experienced

The same way that an absent attendee can throw a meeting into pointlessness territory, the room itself can be detrimental to productivity. 

There are many questions that can be asked regarding the effectiveness of the actual space that’s being used. Is this room professional enough? Will this space stoke creativity or smother it? However, there are some standards which shouldn’t vary, irrelevant of the meeting’s purpose.

There’s nothing worse than trying to connect emotionally with a peer whilst sitting on the long end of a boardroom table. On the other hand, trying to close a deal in a cupboard because “everything else was booked” also isn’t a great look. One of the best ways to make this rough calculation is based on attendees per foot squared, with the sweet spot sitting somewhere between three and five square meters (10-15 square feet).

Being uncomfortable can radically detract from the attention span of attendees in a meeting. When it’s too cold or too dark, the room sets a negative tone of a meeting and makes people work harder to focus. Concentration also begins to wane when above 23°C (75°F) so managing the thermostat ahead of time can save a lot of wasted energy. The optimal temperature for professional performance is between 21°C and 23°C (70°F and 75°F).

Similar to temperature yet far less likely to be considered is the air quality of the meeting room. The ability to open a window and let in a fresh cool breeze can work wonders, but for the majority of office spaces, this is not always possible. Density of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can also have negative health and productivity effects on attendees. These include headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Keeping CO2 below 1000 ppm has been proven to lead to increased decision-making performance from professionals, as well as reduce absenteeism, bringing a range of health benefits.

Collect and measure data to make informed decisions

There are multiple ways in which technology can help organize and bring structure, making meetings more bearable. However, optimisation must be an ongoing process not a once-off fix. 

By providing data-based insights into the use of office spaces, data-driven platforms can empower management with their strategy moving forward and make each meeting more productive. 

In short, decision makers should find a way to capture data on employee productivity. Whether specifically focused on meetings or more broadly on employee engagement, investing in a data collection and analytics tool is the first step. Only once we begin to gain a better – and quantifiable – understanding of the situation we are in, can we make measured decisions on improvements.

The data collected will also continue to shape office processes over time. Advanced analytics allow decision-makers to continuously collect and measure what works on a regular basis. By investing in a better understand of how time in the office is spent, we can make moves to end the pointless meeting once and for all.

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