How many times have you found yourself complaining that you’ve got hardly any work done due to your day consisting of ‘back-to-back’ meetings?

Many of us have been in this position at one time or another but if you feel meetings are consistently affecting your productivity (or that of others) then it’s time to make some changes.

In any kind of business, meetings can be a great way of bringing your team together to discuss current issues, collaborate and make decisions. However, if they lack purpose, take up too much time or bring the wrong people to the table, then they can be a huge waste of time – for the individuals involved and for the business.

Pre-lockdown research shows that an astonishing 71% of meetings were unproductive and had overly long attendee lists. While it can sometimes be tempting to invite everyone along to a meeting (just in case they’re needed), it’s really important to remember the actual cost associated with that. Ten people in a one-hour meeting doesn’t cost one hour – it costs ten!

What about remote meetings?

During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all seen a shift in meeting structures with many now taking place remotely via Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other similar technologies. These channels are bringing huge benefits (not least of which is the elimination of travel time) but they do also have their downsides.

Too many invitations – Remote working means people are often being asked to join a string of meetings throughout their day with requests coming in from different colleagues (who in an office setting might have resolved the issue with a quick chat). That can result in more work being done out of hours to ‘catch up’, eating into family/ leisure time and potentially leading to burnout.

Lack of timekeeping – When a meeting is in-person, we would all usually consider it rude to turn up late but when it comes to remote meetings, start times often seem to slip. Sometimes the host is in another meeting which overruns and so is late, leaving everyone waiting to be ‘let into the room’ and other times it’s a colleague whose late or even forgotten to add it in their diary. You may think it’s just a few minutes lateness here and there, but if you have scheduled a meeting and leave everyone waiting for you to arrive, think about what that means in terms of the collective waste of time and its associated cost.

Distractions and veering off topic – This is not just a problem with remote meetings but with the distractions that can come with working from home, it can be even easier to lose focus or go off topic. Apparently, many remote workers are even taking to sitting in their cars to hold meetings in order to avoid the distractions of home – perhaps we should we call that a ‘vroom meeting’!

The listener – With remote meetings comes a new phenomenon – the colleague who attends but keeps the camera off, listening with half an ear while they actually get on with something else. That might be because their workload is too high (and this should be addressed by management) or because the meeting is not relevant to them (in which case they shouldn’t actually be there!).

Follow the Four P’s to make meetings better

Under current coronavirus advice, workers are advised to work from home wherever they can. We know that isn’t often possible in the construction industry and so anticipate that when colleagues need a meeting in our sector, some of those will be able to be held remotely while others will still have to be in-person (e.g. when a site visit is required).

Regardless of where or how a meeting is held, there are ways of making sure meetings work better. We’ve come up with the four P’s method.

  1. Be PRESENT – If you want everyone to be ‘present’ during a meeting (and not just sitting in the room while their head is somewhere else) then make sure the right people are there in the first place – that this meeting is truly relevant to them. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple inc. was notorious for asking people before meetings began, why they were there. Follow his example and question who needs to be in a meeting well before it starts (including yourself). And, if you’re holding a virtual meeting, keep those cameras on!
  • Have PURPOSE – Be really clear about the purpose and expected outcome of any meeting. Go as far as asking yourself whether a meeting actually what’s needed to achieve the right outcome? Does it have to be a long meeting or could a quick call be enough? If a meeting is the right thing, create a tight agenda and distribute this to attendees in advance.
  • Keep PACE – Start your meeting on time and begin by reminding people of its purpose and agenda items. Then keep a close watch on how the discussions progress, making sure there’s no veering off topic and thereby limiting the chance of the meeting overrunning.
  • Be PRODUCTIVE – If you end a meeting without any idea of what comes next then what was the point of that? End every meeting with a set of actions and a timetable for their completion. Follow-up the meeting by distributing notes and reminders of set tasks.

While many meetings are useful and important, we’ve all sat through the ones that seem like nothing more than a time-drainer. It’s not that hard to make improvements and following the four P’s could have a real impact – Be present, have purpose, keep pace and be productive. Give it a try!


Feature image: Fizkes/