If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large, says Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. Urban myth or many a true word spoken in jest? Technology has enabled virtual meetings to be almost as effective as face-to-face meetings but are they any more productive? The time and money saved by avoiding travel helps everyone, but are they more or less effective?
Research by McKinsey & Company found that internal employee interactions account for over 50% of labour costs, with much of this taking place in meetings. The UK’s Work Foundation found that over 60% of employee interactions are non-productive – suggesting that too much of our time is spent on the trivial many, rather than the important few! Harvard Business Review has assembled some shocking statistics about the cost of meetings in the enterprise and their ripple effect.
Executives and middle managers who spend most of their time in back to back meetings and on conference calls have been described by Thomas Power as “people who do PowerPoint and chocolate biscuits.” The more senior a person, the more meetings they attend – with ‘upper management’ spending over half their time in meetings.
Alarmingly, 67% of meetings are judged by executives to be unproductive failures – a waste of time and money. And as employees are known to be a company’s most valuable asset, the way people spend their working time is the way that an organisation chooses to invest its resources.
So just who’s arranging all the meetings? Well pretty much everyone it seems, from office juniors to the most senior leaders. There are few rules governing who can and can’t schedule a meeting, and our calendars can be dramatically undermined by our colleagues. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, summed the situation up perfectly, “Just as you wouldn’t permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of fellow managers.”
There are some ugly truths about working behaviour and the reasons why meetings are unproductive. In face to face sessions, people usually try to keep their laptops open – unless instructed otherwise, and as many meetings are now conference calls or collaboration sessions, discipline and rigour around employee attention is difficult. Workplace behavioural surveys have found that around 92% of people admit to multitasking during meetings. 69% of people check their email, 41% multitask often or all of the time – and 49% admit to doing other, non-related work. Researchers have developed an App to reduce the impulse to use smartphones during meetings. Best of luck with that.
I can see you
Conference calls with lots of attendees (and secrecy buttons on) make it easy for people to remain anonymous. But it’s becoming less of an option as enterprise video takes hold. We’re gradually overcoming our reluctance to activate the video camera and when you can see and be seen, you’re more inclined to listen and participate. People stepping away from their desks for a crafty cigarette, to read the paper or make a coffee are easier to spot.
I can hear you
Most enterprise video conferencing apps provide Voice over IP (VoIP) audio. People can plug their iPhone earphones or USB headset into the computer. Few though realise that they can be heard typing, as the reverberation of the keys is transmitted to everyone on the call. It’s the height of rudeness as their reputation unknowingly diminishes.
Most people don’t schedule their work. They schedule the interruptions that prevent their work from happening. Death by PowerPoint meetings, where you stay awake because of the sugar in the chocolate biscuits are in rapid decline. Increasingly people are realising that the chokehold of calendars is actually ‘stupid busy’ compared to the power and utility of online video meetings.