Remote Work Blog Series Reducing Meeting Bloat Across Remote Teams

"You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question." - Bill Gates

Meetings, they're the one thing across the board that remains unscathed, but not unaffected, by Covid-19. Because of Covid-19, there's a great deal more focus on the virtual meeting. Analysts are predicting sustained investment in tools that help us meet remotely. or those nostalgic for pre-pandemic days before our normal lives came grinding to a halt, meetings may be a welcome sight on a calendar—a chance to see colleagues and connect. And yet, in the US, some estimates put the average amount of time spent in meetings each week at 35% for middle-management, and as much as 50% for an executive-level position. Even more daunting: on average, as many as 73% of meeting attendees aren't even paying attention—they're checking email, continuing to work, or participating in some other form of distraction.

For many at Storj, working remotely isn't new. One thing that makes Storj so amazing is the wide geographic distribution of our employees, and the varying experiences they bring to our pool of talent. We have less than 50 employees but we're spread out across three continents, nine countries, and 23 cities. Many at Storj have long had the type of work that supports an independent work environment. But teams do need to meet, we do need to check in with our managers, and many are eager to have a conversation with an executive and check-in with each other. So, meetings are imperative.

Now that we know meetings will triumphantly survive at Storj, how can we reap the benefits of 30 minutes to an hour spent in a meeting? Where can we cut the proverbial fat? We've been analyzing how we "do" meetings at Storj this year, and offer our observations here for others, who want to increase the usefulness of our scheduled time together.

Try turning on your camera

When video is running, most folks are less inclined to stray from the topic at hand. It's a small accountability tool with widely known benefits. Yes, it may mean throwing on a clean shirt and checking your teeth, but these are small sacrifices. We also recognize people may need some privacy and don't always want to be "on." For this reason, use your discretion. What kind of meeting is it? If it's a 1:1, it helps to connect visually. For very large meetings where you're not presenting, it may not matter as much. In any event, demonstrating your active participation by showing your face or sharing comments in the chat function—actually participating in some way lets others know you're engaged and you want to be there.

Provide an agenda

An agenda for the meeting, circulated in advance, enables participants to prepare. Meetings are more productive when action items are identified and attendees are clear on their role in the meeting. Is this a decision meeting? A meeting to generate ideas? Who needs to be present? The benefits of a clear agenda include but are not limited to: time well spent, action taken, and goals achieved.

Respect each other's time

Holding team meetings at the same time every day allows people to plan accordingly . Each attendee showing up on time demonstrates respect for each other. Just as important, the person leading meetings should be mindful to start and end each meeting on time. Those who schedule meetings should remember to provide time between for bio breaks and breathers (e.g., 25 minutes for one on one communications and 55 minutes for team/group meetings). For companies like Storj that have employees all over the globe, inclusivity requires selecting meeting times that accommodate as many schedules as possible. No one enjoys being awake at 5 a.m. for a meeting, and having a meeting at 5 p.m. might be worse. At Storj, we have found that 10 a.m.-noon EST is a fair time frame to accommodate most of our teammates worldwide.

Record meetings

Reducing the number of meetings in a given week is certainly the goal here, but some people may want to take advantage of the valuable learning opportunities meetings can provide. Is everyone in the meeting necessary to move forward with the agenda? Does the person you're meeting with have an alarmingly full calendar? It may help to mark participants "optional" for meetings where their attendance isn't absolutely required. Recording team meetings and posting them in a central location,like a company calendar or an internal site, allows people the option to drop in to listen and learn on their own time.

Try a meeting free day, open office hours, or a social hour

Even if it's once a month or every other week, consider banishing meetings from your calendars for one full day. This is time that can be dedicated to focused, uninterrupted work. Also, consider if your team might benefit others in your company by holding open office hours—Fridays are frequently a good time. With a welcoming open-door policy, conversations might begin and other perspectives can shine a light on something not previously considered. Also, while the idea here is to reduce meeting bloat, it still may be helpful to have a weekly social hour where everyone is free to drop in and say hello to their colleagues. During this time of social distancing, giving people the opportunity to socialize, even if just for a bit, can be a welcome reprieve to the normal day.

To conclude, consider this last quote by the former CEO of IBM:

"Your value will not be what you know; it will be what you share." - Ginni Rometty

Our time spent together may be virtual, but it does matter. Some may think meetings are a necessary evil, or a welcome chance to connect. However you feel about meetings, they can, especially when planned carefully, enable us to share our ideas, move projects forward, keep momentum going, and catapult all of us through to a post-pandemic world.

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