Technology Won’t Kill Meetings – But We Can

untitled-presentation

Technology failed us.

We thought the world of work was to be reimagined. The death of the office. The end of email. A utopia of work/life integration fueled by work-where-you-want technology.

It hasn’t happened.

Six years ago 2.8 million people made daily commutes of two hours or more. In 2016 that’s risen to 3.7 million.

People report attending an average of five meetings a week with over one third saying they are unproductive, admitting to checking emails, Twitter and even Tinder.

And despite unprecedented access to virtual tools – our actual productivity has slumped to the worst level since records began.

Is it possible to spend a whole year in meetings?

In 2014, a research team from Bain and Company used data mining tools to analyse the Outlook schedules in a large company. It concluded that in one calendar year the organisation spent 300,000 hours in meetings.

Given there are only 8,760 hours in a year that’s quite some feat.

It’s because of what they termed the Ripple Effect:

  • The weekly Executive Meeting – essentially a status meeting – accounted for 7,000 hours.
  • 11 Unit Heads met with their senior team to prepare for that meeting – another 20,000 hours.
  • The 21 divisions racked up 63,000 hours in the subsequent team briefings.
  • 210,000 hours were “sub-meetings”. Literally – meetings about the other meetings

Very few of us do the meeting maths. As Jason Fried has written – the time blocked off doesn’t equal actual time spent. A one hour meeting with 6 people is a six hour meeting. A 15 minute meeting with 9 people is a two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting.

What if every meeting we had kept a real time counter of the salaries in the room, increasing minute by minute?

If you’re brave – try running this meeting calculator at your next one. Even if you run it based on the average UK wage the results are eye watering.

We all know we can be better than this.

Work can be better than this.

We can make it more collaborative, more efficient, more connected, more transparent, more elegant, more fun. 

In the current incarnation of Bromford Lab we’ve abandoned meetings altogether, even weekly planning. We run our work through Basecamp which prompts us to answer “What do you plan on working on this week?”.

We get a daily prompt to ask what we’ve completed and can answer it at our convenience.  The productivity , or sometimes lack of it, is visible for us all to see.

Technology is not to blame. It’s our failure to adapt our leadership for the digital age.

We still have a tiny percentage of leaders who are really living a digital lifestyle. There are still relatively few having open debates , showing transparency in public discourse , answering questions online and sharing progress.

Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then we will still have all those meetings.

The challenge is spotting the friction and noise that is dragging us back to 20th Century management behaviours – and then personally doing something about it.

Technology didn’t fail us. We failed technology. And it’s our job to fix it.

 

Top Tips for Meetings: No.1 – Don’t Have Them….

The meeting you probably had yesterday. And you will have next week.
The meeting you probably had yesterday. And you will have next week.

About 18 months ago I visited a multinational company specialising in networking equipment. There I sat , marvelling at some of the most state of the art communications systems on the planet:

  • HD Video seamlessly linking multiple sites , one in a different country.
  • Phones with tablets attached to them enabling employees to collaborate and problem solve in a shared digital space via touchscreen.
  • A huge video conferencing centre that tracked to whoever was talking (like the ones in movies when they have to speak to the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

But despite the availability of all this amazing technology – the CEO told us that employees still insisted on going to physical meetings.

Why? Perhaps , like zombies drawn to an abandoned shopping centre, they obeyed some kind of instinct, a memory of what they used to do. They felt compelled to travel for miles to sit around a table and go through a 20 item agenda and talk about stuff. And then complain they didn’t have enough time to do their jobs.

Feeling the need to shock them out of their habit – he had a brilliant idea. He wouldn’t ban meetings. He just stopped paying for travel expenses. They could still travel. They could have as many meetings as they liked. But they didn’t get paid.

Meetings stopped overnight. And everyone started using the technology.

One of the most popular posts from the last few weeks has been 9 Unusual Rules For Effective Meetings by Brad Feld

I’m a big fan of No.4:

If you’re not getting anything out of the meeting, leave

But my favourite is this:

Do we really need to meet?

Sound advice
Sound advice

Today we have technologies available to us to exchange views and collaborate in different and more effective ways.

Last week I did a presentation via webinar to two organisations  – one in Brisbane, one in Melbourne. At midnight. In my pyjamas ( I’m not posting a picture by the way – there is no Instagram filter yet invented to make THAT look good.)

It was just as effective as a meeting – probably more so.

On the same evening I also did the following:

  • Arranged a guest blog with Tim Smith – a thought leader on Generation Y and Generation Z ( read his post here)
  • Had a twitter conversation with Shirley Ayres – a thought leader in Digital and Social Care
  • Crossed (friendly) swords with Kate Hughes  – a thought leader in Communications and Marketing – who had done a neat dissection of one of my posts on her blog (read it here)

The interesting thing is this:

I’ve never met any of them.

That’s understandable with Tim – as he’s based in Texas. But Shirley and Kate both live in the UK. In fact, Kate and I have worked in offices that are barely 4 miles apart for the past 2 years. But our paths have never crossed.

Online and social technology means they can influence me and shape what I do – without having to meet in real life. I’m sure we will meet , and I believe online relationships can be enhanced by physical connections.

But we need to lose the snobbishness that suggests online is less “real”.  That looking into someones eyes over Skype is less authentic than looking into someone eyes over a PowerPoint presentation.

Next week you will be invited to a lot of meetings and will probably accept them without thinking – it’s our habit.

Or we can stop. Read those rules. Try a Google+ hangout. Or try any of the online collaborative tools that are available.

And do something more interesting with the time we saved.

%d bloggers like this: