With Covid-19 reaccelerating and a burst of climate change-induced disasters, companies from Facebook to Google are creating more flexible remote work policies. On top of that, research shows the majority of employees want remote and hybrid work options long-term, and companies are drastically reducing business travel. All these factors mean more time communicating with co-workers and clients virtually.
While remote work offers a host of perks, it's also presenting a new challenge--virtual meeting fatigue. Some employees note working longer hours and spending up to eight hours a day in back-to-back video meetings. Remote workers are also experiencing a higher volume of meetings, up 13 percent from before the pandemic. So it's no wonder that more than 50 percent of employees complain of burnout and less of a work-life balance.
Meetings as a source of work interruption are nothing new, though. Long before the pandemic, employees and managers noted they spent too much time in meetings, leading to lost productivity. These issues have been magnified in the remote work setting and threaten to impede workflow, even for the most focused employees. Given these factors, then, as work settings continue to shift, leaders must also evolve their approach to the workday to help employees stay productive and mentally healthy.
One of the easiest ways to combat the burnout and fatigue that can happen in a remote work environment is to change the typical "meeting culture" that's long characterized much of the professional world. Simply put, it's time to reconsider how days are structured and to decrease the amount of time spent in meetings.
Each leader should examine three things before making this shift: how meetings are currently structured, the amount of time employees spend on video calls, and if the information originally slated for a traditional meeting can be discussed in an alternate setting.
Following are four ways to increase meeting effectiveness. They're strategies I've implemented with my team since the new year, and I'm seeing positive changes in both employee happiness and productivity.
1. Cancel Your 60-Minute Meetings
Reducing meeting time is the easiest way to quickly and drastically impact employee well-being. It's difficult for most people to remain engaged in a meeting for a full hour, especially over video. So get rid of them altogether.
I created a policy that meetings traditionally set for 60 minutes get reduced to 45 minutes, and 30-minute meetings are reduced to 25 minutes or less. This simple change is receiving praise from employees who appreciate that recurring calls now take up less time, giving them more time to prepare for their next meeting, especially when they have several meetings back-to-back. My team is also finding that shorter meetings are equally as comprehensive and cover as much material as longer meetings. That's because people typically try to fill up the time they've allotted instead of allowing the conversation to flow and end naturally.
Try it for a month and note the changes. You may find that those 45-minute meetings can be reduced even further if you implement the following recommendations.
2. Set an Agenda and Desired Outcome
It seems simple, but I've attended too many meetings in the past that do not have agendas and, even more important, no set goals. It doesn't have to be overly detailed, but attendees should see a plan when they sign on.
Having an agenda maximizes the meeting time and ensures that all priority items are covered. It also usually reduces the need for further meetings. Instead, managers can employ additional tactics such as using a short asynchronous/on-demand video to cover off any missed items, which attendees can then watch on their own time.
Keeping the agenda up onscreen during the meeting also helps keep attendees' attention. If they're feeling fatigued from looking at each other, it's another visual point of reference that isn't as mentally taxing. It also keeps their attention connected to the goal of the meeting, so attendees don't get (too far) off track.
3. Provide Attendees With Materials to Review in Advance
You can omit the first several minutes of a meeting if attendees have a way to brief themselves beforehand. For example, instead of a long intro to a meeting, send over a short video outlining what you hope to cover and accomplish in the meeting. This approach also provides another avenue for sharing helpful visuals that will make the meeting more successful.
A recorded pre-brief may sound like it adds extra work for the person coordinating the meeting, but I assure you that it does not. Instead, not only does it allow attendees to prepare on their own time and on their schedule, but the person leading the meeting benefits from being able to gather their thoughts and present them clearly in advance.
4. Set Meeting-Free Times
In my company, we implemented companywide Focus Fridays at the start of 2021 to drive home that meeting-free time helps employees be more focused and distraction-free. Of course, each team is different, but I recommend leaders block off large chunks of time in which employees know they don't need to be onscreen. For example, Monday mornings are frequently a time where employees need more distraction-free time to get prepared for the week.
It may not sound like a lot, but consistently spending a few hours distraction-free could mean that at the end of the week, someone gets to sign off early or attend a child's soccer game. In a world of working from home with regular interruptions, leaders must understand that location can't be the only workplace change. Instead, managers must take a holistic approach to the workplace, pay attention to employee needs, and adjust accordingly.
Because the fact of the matter is, virtual meetings are an effective tool to engage with co-workers, clients, and external stakeholders. By reducing the length of meetings, leveraging tools like asynchronous video, and implementing meeting-free times, leaders can increase the likelihood that employees will remain engaged, creative, and productive in a 21st-century workplace.