Love them or hate them, meetings are a basic element of just about every business. And thanks to cloud computing, video and internet conferencing, there's little excuse for missing one. But are business meetings really helping us be more productive?
According to the Blue Jeans Network's second semi-annual State of the Modern Meeting Report, meetings still rule, but unless they're face-to-face, true business relationships are unlikely to form.
How We Meet
While the report doesn't necessarily explore the psychology behind meetings, it provides an interesting snapshot about the average business meeting. Perhaps the following will sound familiar.
First, the majority of us spend half of our days in meetings, with the average business meeting lasting 45 minutes and including almost five participants. Nearly half take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and forty percent are scheduled on Tuesday or Wednesday.
As for how meetings are being conducted, the report shows that desktop and laptop business users are increasingly skipping proprietary solutions like Skype for the ease and ubiquity of the web browser, thanks to technology advancements like WebRTC, an open-source browser-based real time communication solution. Many more meetings include video, but its use is very strategic. Those surveyed indicated that the five most common business use cases for video-centric collaboration include:
- Team meetings, especially for geographically distributed organizations.
- Sales and Marketing, where video is used for customer presentations and internal reviews.
- Human Resources, where video is used for recruiting and training.
- Executive meetings and board meetings
- International meetings with partners, vendors and employees to reduce travel time and expense
While we're all guilty of checking our mobile devices during meetings, mobile plays a significant role during meetings, with one-third of all meetings including one or more attendees participating from a mobile device.
As such, those using mobile to connect to meetings are doing so earlier in the morning and later in the evenings — there are three times more participants joining at 6 p.m. versus 5 p.m. on their mobile devices and two times as many at 7 a.m. versus 8 a.m. This could be an indication that more mobile users are connecting during their commutes, considering that the most popular cities for mobile users are also those with public transportation -- New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
For all those who have had to wait for others to arrive to a meeting, take comfort. You're not alone. The report shows most of us (55 percent) join meetings late, however, meetings in the Midwest are more likely to start on time than meetings on the East or West Coasts. And not surprising, CEOs, CTOs and founders are most often late to meetings.
Implications for the Future
While the snapshot of the modern business meeting is interesting, it does have some implications for the future. The report points out that technology is taking its toll. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of people believe they lost a deal due to the lack of face-to-face interaction and six percent have admitted to falling asleep during an audio-only meeting.
Furthermore, meeting organizers are overwhelmed by having to decide in advance whether a meeting will be an audio conference, video conference or web conference. Considering that 39 percent of video-centric meetings also have at least one audio-only participant, and thirty percent of video-centric meetings include screen/content sharing for presentations, documents or video-clips -- business meetings require a great deal of tech savvy that not only puts pressure on organizers, but can also overload an IT department.
Yet, it's not all bad news. Business meetings seem to be a place where women are leaning in more. Women lead the meeting charge, attending 14 percent more meetings than men and are 12 percent more likely than men to attend meetings on weekends. Have mobile devices made it easier for women to balance meetings with non-traditional work schedules or do women just enjoy a meeting more than men?
Are Meetings Making Us Smarter, More Productive?
What the report doesn't tell us is if meetings make us more collaborative and do they facilitate better business decisions. For that, I turned to academic research findings from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where scientists found that "individuals express diminished cognitive capacity in small groups, an effect that is exacerbated by perceived lower status within the group and correlated with specific neurobehavioral responses."
In other words, small-group dynamics have the potential to alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. A group of high performers may benefit from an increase in group dynamics when solving problems, while lower performing individuals see a decrease in their ability to solve difficult problems.
However, meetings don't have to result in decreased outcomes. Recent research has shown that the structure of meetings is important. A study from The University of Alabama in Huntsville highlights the need for engaging in reflexive phases -- such as time spent reflecting and discussing specific guided questions about a strategy and how they'd change it for future instances. In experiments where participants engaged reflexively, their awareness of their own roles increases, as did their knowledge base of their peers and how everything fit together to make a unit.
Productive meetings, as it turns out have little to do with the technology used, the time of day or whether or not they're face to face. Rather, it's all about how we use the time in those meetings. If we spend our time wisely -- reflecting purposefully through guided discussion, it will help everyone better understand the challenges at hand and their role in helping to solve problems or spearhead innovation. And isn't that what good social business is all about?