2 meeting habits we should unlearn post-COVID

Tom Van ‘t Veld

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, the number of online meetings increased massively. Sometimes it seemed like, because we could no longer see each other in the office, we were compelled to sit in virtual meetings all day. I remember, when speaking to a customer (in a virtual meeting, yes), the desperate look on her face, as she told me she had fourteen meetings left that day. Fourteen! No wonder this phenomenon grabbed our attention at Xylos and ultimately led us to develop Meeting Camp. Meanwhile, in 2022 things aren’t quite as extreme as back in 2020. But still, there are a few habits we’ve picked up collectively, that I feel we all need to unlearn as soon as possible. Here are a few:

#1: Stop foreseeing more meeting time than is required

One habit many people picked up – probably because we were suddenly all having meetings back-to-back – was scheduling more meeting time than required. For a conference call on Microsoft Teams that should take forty-five minute max, we’d quickly foresee a full hour. The subconscious logic behind it: making sure we have enough time left, in case anyone is showing up a bit later, due to technical difficulties, for example. It’s only natural for a person that has the burden of leading a meeting does this. She or he is likely to present some ideas in that meeting. Giving yourself the maximum amount of time possible to put the ideas forward, is understandable.

But the gain turns out to be minimal. As people get used to this habit, they start to show up or work less punctually in the meeting. Before the meeting attendants realize it, an hour has gone by. Imagine a person having, say, fourteen meetings like this (during the course of several days). That’s three hours and a half gone to waste, for that person alone.

Luckily, we notice – when providing digital coaching for customers – that the tide is turning. Small but impactful technology tweaks Microsoft 365 has introduced are very helpful. If you haven’t made use of these yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Shorten meetings by default with Outlook Calendar settings

Microsoft Outlook includes a handy option that allows you to shorten meetings by five or ten minutes by default. In combination with the fact that you get a notification, five minutes before the end of a meeting, it is in my opinion one of the most important features added in the last year.

Our digital coaches insist to their apprentices to stick to those five minutes. Even if only to give yourself time to take a bathroom or coffee break. That’s not trivial at all, by the way. This moment gives your brain a brief moment to process information, preventing overload. Sticking to the five minutes will also incrementally build meeting discipline for everyone involved.

Bonus tip: Do you do a lot of online meetings? Use this moment to look outside for 2 minutes. Research has shown that this is good for our eyes, and it relaxes you.

#2: Stop treating online meeting as the inferior option

This advice may seem somewhat counter the points I’ve been making above. But it isn’t. Yes, online meeting has upset our meeting skills and habits. But that doesn’t mean online meeting is intrinsically a lesser option. There are some obvious advantages, like the fact a person can be part of a meeting without having to physically commit to a location. Decision makers, for instance, who are often in busy managerial positions, are able to keep projects moving forward – by just checking in for ten minutes, from a distance and giving their ‘go’.

Nevertheless, a lot of people say they are “tired of online meeting”. I would dare to suggest that it’s rather the quantity of (online) meetings that makes them tired. An online meeting is set up within a few clicks and because of that fact, we may tend to overdo it. That’s less likely to happen with physical meetings, because it’s simply more difficult to get several people together in one meeting room, at a specific moment.

So, the point is this: why not organize every meeting as if it were a physical one? That means: without assuming that it’s easy for people to check in, even if they don’t need to physically be anywhere to participate.

Embrace hybrid: use the Outlook Calendar to provide a standard Teams meeting-link

We’re all humans, so physically being together clearly has real social advantages. If (part of) the point of the meeting is increasing team cohesion. Then, sure, by all means, hold it strictly physically. Although, you should know you can organize team building activities outside the meeting room – or office for that matter – too. 😉

Anyway, the importance of physically hanging out with colleagues is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In more general terms, are you really going to jeopardize people’s agendas by requiring them to be physically present, every time? Consider making meeting presence via Microsoft Teams a standard option, via your Outlook Calendar settings.

Good to know: a new Microsoft 365 feature will soon allow participants to specify, in their answer to the meeting request, whether they’ll be attending offline or online. That way, you will be able to anticipate on how the meeting will take place (and foresee the right amount of sandwiches). When your team hasn’t been able to spend enough time together for too long, and it’s time to all be physically present, you can delete the Teams-link from the invite and let people know explicitly “this is a physical meeting”.

Want to talk with Xylos experts about your meeting culture?

Of course, there is no rule etched in stone about physical, online or hybrid meeting. Everything depends on what your organization wants to achieve. One thing that is for sure: you need to align your meeting technology and meeting culture, to attain your objectives.

That’s what Meeting Camp can help you with. Check out the web page and feel free to contact us, without commitment.

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