Ah, meetings. They tend to evoke a range of emotions for employees: excitement in those set to present the outcome of a successful project, dread in those prepared to receive bad job-related news, boredom in those about to attend a poorly organized, weekly event that always goes on too long and accomplishes too little.
No matter how a business’ staff feels about them, meetings are a necessity in almost every workplace. But that doesn't mean they should waste anyone’s time. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best tips for making meetings in any office as productive as possible.
Send out an agenda beforehand – and stay on-task
Vague, cryptic meeting invites tend to worry employees, for a number of reasons. One, the lack of detail makes workers think they’re about to hear bad news (job cuts, salary cuts, poor company performance, etc.). Two, the same ambiguity could signal to a busy, harried employee that the event will be a talking free-for-all with no firm end time, and will simply distract him or her from real work.
Dispense with these worries before they start by having a succinct, clearly written agenda sent out with your meeting invite. Let invitees know the time at which each portion of the meeting will begin and end, and what – and whom – each portion will entail. Give just enough detail to let people know what lies ahead, but not so much that you run the risk of boring them into not reading the agenda. For example, if you plan to use the first half of the meeting to have IT talk about a new timesheet-software rollout, save the intricacies of the log-in process, etc., for the meeting itself. Just give potential attendees the quick who-what-when-where-why version of what they’ll be hearing.
Once you’ve settled on and sent out an agenda, stick to it. If you don’t, employees may be hesitant about trusting the time allotments you give in any future agenda.
Set a no-tech policy
This one’s not going to win an agenda setter any new friends, but it is bound to cut down on the number of people who miss important information relayed at a meeting: Tell invitees their cell phones and laptops – unless the attendee is presenting and requires the latter – will not be welcome at the meeting.
And don’t accept “I put it on silent” as an excuse for someone to bring a phone. Even if they don’t read the email or texts they get during the meeting, attendees will still be significantly distracted from the task at hand simply by seeing or hearing a cell-phone notification. In a 2015 study, researchers found that test subjects’ performance on a high-concentration task dipped significantly when they heard the familiar ding or saw the new-message notice pop up on their phones.
So don't give in. No phones means no phones. With nothing else to do, temporarily tech-free staff will be much more likely to pay attention to the presenter in a meeting.
Go old (elementary) school
Anyone who’s been in a meeting that dragged on and on is likely to recall that a big contributor to the seeming endlessness was people talking. And talking. Cut down on sidebars, tangents and public one-on-ones (when a talkative meeting attendee interrupts so much that he or she begins having what amounts to a loud, public conversation with the meeting’s speaker, leaving everyone else with nothing to do but quietly look on).
Here's how: By implementing both a hand-raising policy and a strict delineation between speaker time and question-and-answer time. This means that no queries will be accepted during the speaker/presentation part of the meeting (which is generally when the overly enthusiastic question asker at every meeting begins inserting him- or herself into it by interrupting).
And during that Q&A session, reiterate that those with questions must raise their hands and be called on before speaking. This is another meeting point at which that talkative colleague is likely to want to speak for as long as he or she likes. Don’t allow it. If the person running the meeting doesn’t call on that zealous person, he or she won’t be asking a question. End of story.
Policy implementers shouldn’t worry that these rules will seem overly harsh. Having to cut someone off mid-sentence during a Q&A because he or she has droned on for a full five minutes without actually asking anything is far more uncomfortable for all involved than a few rules. So include these policies in the agenda that gets sent out, and have the meeting leader repeat them at the start of the meeting. This way everyone’s expectations are the same.
Take a break
Even after removing extraneous talking and distractions, some meetings will still necessarily run longer than some people will want to sit still. But resist the urge to ‘power through’ and get a multi-hour meeting accomplished without any sort of respite. After all, studies have shown that short breaks help increase worker productivity, and that's always the end goal.
So implement short intermissions. These can be as simple and do-it-yourself as telling everyone you’re breaking and to meet back in 10 minutes. Or they could involve having coffee and/or a snack brought in – but then removed before the meeting restarts. (After all, who wouldn’t be distracted by a coworker asking them to pass the scones or hearing someone slurp and chew?) Whatever sort of break it is, it should be as non-work and non-meeting-related as possible. That way, when everyone returns to the meeting they’re refreshed instead of being meeting-fatigued.
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