Let’s pull back on virtual meetings, shall we?

I’m tired of virtual meetings, you’re tired of virtual meetings, we’re all tired of virtual meetings. It’s time to cut back on them.

On Tuesday, a week ago, I had three Zoom meetings, two Google Meets, and a Microsoft Teams get-together. With six hours of my day tied up in “meetings,” I didn’t get one bit of real work done.


Back before I worked from home, I often had days like this. They were bad days. But once I stopped working in an office, I became largely free of meeting days from hell. Then COVID-19 came along; everyone’s office suddenly became their kitchen, den, living room, or anywhere else they could work from a desk—and videoconferencing apps became all the rage.

Remember when you couldn’t buy a webcam for love or money?

At first, it was kind of fun. After being stuck at home for a few months, I liked seeing people. I actually did purely social meetings.

Two years later, and it’s another story. As a system administrator on the Reddit Sysadmin forum said, “Virtual meetings are the new norm, and I’m seriously getting tired of loads of meetings in my calendar, as well as endless, ‘Can I give you a quick call?’ chats that are the farthest from ‘quick’ at all.”

Exactly. One virtual meeting follows another, and the calls themselves go on and on, and … well, you get the picture. We’ve all been in those meetings.

I don’t know about you, but even a five-minute interruption—never mind one that goes on for an hour—knocks me out of my workflow. When those meetings drag on and pile up I’m shot for half the day.

Don’t get me wrong: some meetings can be useful. I have a good friend who tells me that with her crew, she can have days of nothing but meetings, which are actually productive. I haven’t been so lucky.

I do, however, have some recommendations on how to avoid unnecessary meetings and make the ones you do have more productive.

First, ask yourself whether this meeting is really necessary. Couldn’t the topic du jour be handled better in an email? I’ve been running organizations of up to several hundred people via email for decades. It may be old-fashioned, but it works. And, with email, you can deal with issues on your schedule. For people like me who work best when they’re in a flow, that is vital for getting our jobs done quickly and efficiently.

Say you need to resolve something small at an even faster pace—instead of calling a meeting, or even making a one-on-one call, just use Slack or some other instant messaging or groupware system.

If you do have a meeting, have an agenda. I don’t care how short or easy you think it’s going to be. Decide exactly what it is you’re going to discuss before you even propose a meeting. That done, put together a plan and stick to it.

Make the meeting as short as possible. Here’s how all meetings go: There are about five minutes of chatting, and if you’re doing video, there will be at least one or two “Your mic is off” admonitions. This will be followed by 20 to 40 minutes—if you’re lucky—of an actual productive conversation. It should then end with a five-minute wrap-up, a call to action, and a conclusion.

In other words, meetings should last from about half an hour to no longer than 50 minutes. The longer you go, the more your people will lose interest. Meeting fatigue is bad enough in real life, but online, when a distraction is just a mouse-click away, I’ve seen people doze off, or on one noteworthy occasion, start playing CounterStrike. Alas, in the latter case, they also had their mic on. It was funny … afterward.

You should not talk about when you should meet again. There’s nothing duller than everyone looking at their calendars and hashing out in real-time what works for whom. Do that via email, instant messaging, or in Slack.

Whenever possible do not have or schedule back-to-back meetings. Those never go well. People get tired and fade out—and then that’s it for productivity.

In other words, the main problem with meetings—both virtual and real-world—is meeting management. Master that skill, and you and your staff will be much happier, whether you meet online or in a conference room.

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