Most people greet the promise of a meeting with the special kind of joy that's saved for a trip to the dentist.
But meetings are a necessary evil of work life, even in an era when tools like Slack have become the hub of workplace communication. In her New York Times Magazine article "Meet is Murder," Virginia Heffernan detailed how companies are finding ways to transform the dread of gathering together at work.
We spoke with Heffernan and a pair of managers for whom meetings are a fact of life. Their responses indicate that meetings might be ripe for a little innovation.
Meetings are described in "Meet is Murder" as thieves of joy, productivity and mental freedom. Do you agree with that assessment? How can we change meeting culture?
Virginia Heffernan, Writer
Heffernan is the author of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine. Tweet to Virginia Heffernan.
The wrong meetings at the wrong time, yes. Very focused meetings, run well and hierarchically, can be a thing of beauty. As can convivial gatherings of people who trust each other, and know how to both talk and listen, and are willing to change their minds. As Costache says later in the piece, there is a certain volume of information — body language, laughs, sounds of dissent, assent or distraction, politeness or rudeness, faces alive with inspiration or less alive with boredom, the literal temperature of a room — that can only come through when humans meet in three-dimensional space. Executives and managers especially need meetings to gauge a group's attention and commitment.
"Meeting-free Wednesdays" is an experiment some companies are trying. This is a good start. As a writer, I am far more focused and less restless in meetings when I know I'll have a stretch of the work week to actually do the work I'm committing to in meetings.
John Staup, Vice President of Enterprise Talent Strategies, West Corporation
Staup oversees shared recruiting services and several other functions for the West corporation, such as budget administration, sourcing, employment branding, new hire analytics and other human capital strategies to achieve short-term and long-term staffing objectives. Tweet to John Staup.
Meetings are obviously necessary, but often times misused. What was once thought of as basic office etiquette has become a skill that actually separates A-players from B-players.
Sometimes a five minute phone call or quick email can replace a 30 minute meeting. On the other hand, people often try to discuss too many topics in one meeting. Unproductivity occurs when employees simply aren’t ready to accomplish anything during a meeting.
To me, it all comes down to preparation, which starts with identifying the need. What do you want to accomplish? Are you looking to share information? Solve a problem? Spur creative thinking? Build or develop a team or skill set?
Once you’ve identified the scope, then you can determine the medium — will you host the meeting in person or over the phone? Maybe there’s a need to do a screen share? From there, it's critical to provide a working agenda to all participants in order to maximize the team's time and avoid getting sidetracked.
Anne Murphy, Director of Marketing Content, Kapost
Murphy is responsible for the for the strategies, themes, and execution of all content marketing programs and assets for the company's B2B marketing efforts. Tweet to Anne Murphy.
Nothing beats person-to-person interaction. We may want to operate like machines at work, but we're all still human, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to pick up on facial expressions, emotional reactions and body language during in-person meetings. You might recognize confusion, frustration, excitement on your team — which you can respond to immediately to avoid issues or make better decisions down the line.
That said, a lot of meetings are a complete waste of time and, yes, thieves of productivity. Sometimes, an email really will suffice. And if you're running a meeting without an agenda, in which nobody understands the context or goal or why they've been asked to join, everyone will leave the room frustrated and stressed, and you won't have the answers you thought you needed.
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