Meetings in Review

Having had my last meeting of the year last week, I thought it was a “good idea” to look at my meeting statistics for the year. Unfortunately, Outlook calendar does not have a ‘Year in Review’ feature, and so I manually compiled the statistics. This took longer than I expected, and I would not suggest anyone else doing this (also, I probably could have gotten the same accuracy by just randomly sampling 4-5 weeks in the year).

In 2022, I spent at least 1121 hours in meetings. That was 60% of my work time. As I’m still working remotely most days, almost all of those meetings were remote or had a virtual component.

Nonetheless, 71% of those meetings were with people that were not at my place of work. Regardless of where I was, the meeting would not have been possible without being virtual. This worked great most of the time when I was working from home as it was easy to meet with people all around the country (or world) and switch quickly between meetings. On the otherhand, my office at work isn’t set up as well for virtual meetings. Days where I was primarily in virtual meetings but had to go into the office were probably my least productive days: the office wasn’t set up for it, context switching with in-person meetings, and limited access to certain platforms. This doesn’t even include the commute time.

Overall, the meetings were a mix of types from one on ones, coordination, decisional, informational, working, trainings, conferences, and workshops; but I didn’t break it down into the diffeent types. If the meetings had more than six people in it, there was always someone remote as they were either working from elsewhere or traveling.

Meeting best practices and lessons learned:

  1. Always have an agenda
  2. Set the expectation for timeliness - do you start exactly on time or do you give everyone 5 minutes grace period to get settled? Always end meetings on time, but if you have to extend, check to see if that is reasonable or if another meeting should be scheduled.
  3. Schedule either virtual or in-person - avoid hybrid. Hybrid can be a success, but it takes more effort to make sure the two modes are integrated.
  4. If the meeting has more than 6 people in it, it can work just as well either virtual or in-person. It will be easier to schedule if it is virtual.
  5. Types of meetings that work best as in-person: brainstorming and working meetings. While these can still be very productive virtually, the in-person productivity gains are substantial.
  6. Types of meetings that work best as virtual: coordination, informational, decisional, one on ones, and reviews. These types of meetings can be done in person, but the greater flexibility outweights the potential productivity gains.
  7. When it depends on the specific meeting: training and workshops.
  8. One on ones or small groups can be very productive ways to hold discussions virtually.
  9. Informational meetings, especially to large groups, should be recorded and the materials made available before the meeting.
  10. Make all the meeting material available before the meeting if possible.

Shoulder conversations, random encounters, and networking are what is misssing in the virtual world. Networking takes extra effort - both to introduce your self to someone else (short one on ones are great for this), but to also to make sure to connect others (connecting people can have a real multiplier effect on productivity). For teams where chatting online is part of the culture, the effects of missing out on shoulder conversations and random encounters are reduced. When that isn’t the case, in-person can seem much more productive due to the positive effects of these encounters.

Written on January 15, 2023