Many employees have been working from home or remotely for well over a year now due the pandemic, with several companies citing they won’t go back to the office fully until 2022 — or ever. In fact, according to Forbes, the percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021 and 74% of companies plan to permanently shift employees to remote work.
Working from home has led many to complain about “too many meetings” to stay connected virtually. HR Executive says 76% of professionals participate in virtual meetings. This is leading to what many are calling “Zoom fatigue” (see these tips to help with video meeting burnout.)
But is it more than just being on camera constantly that’s a problem? Could it be you’re attending too many meetings that aren’t all necessary? Here are the top 10 ideas to help you and your team cut back on meetings and achieve better work-life balance this summer, throughout the rest of 2021 and into the future as working remotely becomes the new norm.
1. Schedule smarter.
We all want to avoid back-to-back, hour-long video meetings all day, all week long. Instead of scheduling meetings for one hour blocks, try a 45 minute meeting so everyone has time to stand up, stretch and refresh before their next block of meetings. Or, build in 10 minute (or longer) breaks into your longer meeting agendas so attendees can grab a drink, let the dogs out, check on the kids or run to the bathroom. Want to get in a lunch, coffee break, or quick workout away from your desk? Build it into your calendar, just like you would a meeting or appointment. Don’t need the full hour? End early or consider scheduling quick 10-15 minute touch-bases instead of a full half hour or hour session just because that’s the default calendar timeframe. Can you move weekly meetings to biweekly or monthly? Look at a full month and work with your team and leaders to see where adjustments can be made to save time and make things more manageable for everyone.
2. Does it need to be a meeting?
Early in the pandemic, everyone was lonely and trapped at home – but summer is here, and things have opened up more. Not every meeting series needs to continue forever. Can you convert a meeting into a quick group email update, phone or chat check-in? Can you use a web-based file sharing tool to share documents with updates each team member can add throughout the day or week? Just because everyone can quickly schedule video meetings does not mean every interaction has to be a video meeting. Here are some helpful guidelines:
You can convert a meeting to an email, chat or phone call if:
- You have a quick question.
- Not everyone can make the scheduled meeting time.
- You need to share data or information; don’t read slides or pages of data out loud to a group. Let team members read or absorb on their own time.
- You require individual feedback or updates; with email or office instant messenger services, check in with co-workers quickly throughout a project and save any extra disruptions.
3. Stay organized.
If you determine you need a meeting, keep it organized so it doesn’t run longer than necessary. When you need to have a meeting:
- Set goals. Meetings are beneficial to team morale and outlook if they set clear, precise and obtainable goals and objectives. Include the goal on the agenda and kick off the meeting reviewing this item. “By the end of this meeting, we want to accomplish xx.”
- Share a clear agenda beforehand. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a meeting that drags on with no clear point. Before setting up a meeting, ensure you are prepared!
- Share materials or “pre-reads” ahead of time. This helps avoid reading data or information to attendees. Instead, you can use the meeting time to discuss feedback and answer questions.
- Keep it quick and end early if you can. There’s no need to keep a meeting going if it’s no longer productive or if you finish earlier than expected. Stick to your agenda and timeline to maximize efficiency.
- Only include necessary participants. Don’t bog everyone down with unnecessary meetings that do not pertain to them.
- Ask for feedback to improve. After the meeting ends, or as a wrap-up question if you have time, ask the group how it went and if the format, topics covered and how it was run worked. Or, send a post-meeting survey. This will help you plan and improve future meetings.
4. Check that the scheduled time works for everyone.
There are awesome features when scheduling a meeting that allow you to check all attendees’ schedules and even suggest times — or sometimes rooms if in person — that work best for all. If you notice that several attendees are blocked at the time you want to set up a meeting, consider a different time or a non-meeting communication option. Here is a step-by-step guide to using the handy Scheduling Assistant in Microsoft Outlook, which is the tool the majority of companies use for meeting scheduling.
5. Avoid the lunch hour.
Lunchtime is a chance to have a break in the work (and school) day. It’s an hour from 12-1 p.m. to stand up from your computer, feed everyone, refill your water, get a screen break, grab a quick walk if possible and get ready to conquer the afternoon. Unless it’s absolutely essential or you’re scheduling a virtual lunch to catch up socially as you eat together, do your best to avoid 12-1 p.m. meetings.
Does every single member of your team need to attend every single meeting all together, or can you divide and conquer? For example, if you notice you are double-booked for important meetings, choose which one you want to attend and ask a team member to cover the other; share notes and follow-up action items after.
7. No agenda, no attenda.
This fun to say phrase means if you get invited to a meeting with just a date and time but no other info and you have no idea what it’s about, ask the organizer for an agenda and the purpose for the meeting. You may learn it’s not urgent and you can skip to have an extra hour of worktime, or you may be able to delegate to another team member once you see what’s being covered.
8. It’s ok to decline.
Just because you get invited to several meetings, doesn’t mean you have to attend every single one. Remember, you’re in charge of your own schedule— whether you work remotely or in the office. The same way you prioritize grabbing lunch, getting in a daily workout or wrapping up at 5 p.m. to walk the dog, you can prioritize your day of meetings. If you follow the delegate rule and asking for an agenda, you may feel more comfortable declining a meeting or two here and there to focus on tasks that must get done that day — or have some quiet planning or learning time.
9. Review the recap.
Is the meeting being recorded and you can watch at a more convenient time for you? Are recap notes or the slides being sent out after that you can skim for any action items that directly impact you and your team? If you know in advance, you may not need to attend. Ask the organizer. And if you are running the meeting, make sure to let the speakers know you will be recording and sharing as a courtesy.
10. Consider setting meeting-free times.
It’s not always possible, but many teams who do this report better productivity and more focus time for individual work. This can look different for everyone depending on what works best for their team and their roles, but some examples include:
- Monday mornings before 10 a.m.
- Thursday afternoons from 3-5 p.m.
- All M-F weekdays from 4-5 p.m.
- All M-F weekdays from 8-9 a.m.
- Meeting-free lunch zones: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Meeting-free Friday mornings or afternoons
- Meeting-free Wednesday afternoons (for a mid-week focus day)
Following these tips should help you conquer your schedule and enjoy virtual working. Think of your time like money − you have to budget it or you will run out and feel stressed. Take control of your schedule and enjoy the freedom that virtual working provides.
Here are some additional tips to stay physically and mentally healthy when working from home.