At some point during the past three months, you have probably attended a lot more online meetings than you normally would. If you are anything like me, you probably wondered why some of those meetings took place or why you were invited in the first place? COVID-19 has changed the way we work. More teams are staying in touch using digital technology. Zoom, the video conferencing app saw its shares increase in value as more people signed up to take part in online meetings.
It is understandable that as we continue to work from home, we will have to attend more online meetings. What many people don’t seem to realise, however, is that an online meeting is similar to a physical meeting in one crucial way: there is no guarantee that the meeting will be productive. A lot of people send out invites to online meetings because they confuse busyness with productive. Their supervisor is no longer breathing over their shoulder so they fear being thought of as slackers if they didn’t convene a meeting every few days.
Sending online meeting invites is easy. You just need to click a button. Unfortunately, the next online meeting you convene might be one that is distracting people from meaningful work. Before you send the next invite, ask yourself 5 questions:
What do I need the meeting for?
If you only need to provide an FYI, then a meeting isn’t the platform for it. Send an email and let those who have further questions follow up with you. A quick way to know if calling the meeting is justified is to consider if you’d have called the meeting during pre-pandemic working hours knowing everyone else is working on something else.
Are all the materials ready?
The best meetings are those in which all the materials that need to be reviewed have been shared to participants at least 2 days in advance. This allows everyone a chance to go through the materials and come prepared with their questions and valuable insights. It also saves time. Nobody wants to watch you share your screen and read a document during a meeting.
Do I have an agenda?
Meetings without an agenda should never take place. They easily go off track. It is almost impossible to measure if anything was achieved during such meetings (What would you measure against?). It’s hard to assign action points if no one knows what you intend to discuss in the first place.
Have I given enough notice?
You cannot send an invite 15 minutes to the meeting and be surprised when people don’t RSVP or fail to show up. Work from home does not mean they are available to attend meetings all the time. Many of your coworkers are still working on other projects and have to juggle time between working and taking care of their children. Be considerate. I recommend sending invites at least a day before. This allows everyone to check their calendar and make adjustments to their schedule if necessary. Even if you absolutely must, don’t send an invite with less than two hours’ notice. Poor planning on your part cannot constitute an emergency on your coworkers’ part.
Do all these people need to be there?
Ahmad from accounting has no business being in a meeting where you plan to discuss the templates sent by the design team for the new office banner. Unless a person has a valuable contribution to make or is going to be assigned a task after the meeting, they don’t need to be there. If you want to keep them in the loop, make sure they are emailed a copy of the minutes afterwards. They can follow up with you if they have further questions.