Is it time to reduce the frequency and duration of meetings, and ensure that in-office meetings take place in person?
Recently, there was a small explosion in the Twitterverse. Nothing new about that, you might say. Something sets the Twitterati off every day. But this was something of a misunderstanding.
In early October, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of messaging and co-working platform Slack said that businesses should rethink the way they use Zoom, Teams et al and remove them from the office. Cue lots of people getting rather critical at the idea of removing what has fast become one of the world’s favourite communication tools.
But this wasn’t about hamstringing employees. It was about recognising that when people are working together in the same space, they might be better collaborating face-to-face than via a 17” screen.
“The 80% of the floor space that we dedicated to kind of factory-farm, battery-chicken housing for people to use their desks all by themselves and listen to their headphones, and not talk to anyone else… was a bit of a waste,” he said, as reported by the BBC.
“The best thing we can do is create a comfortable environment for people to come together and actually enjoy themselves.”
So is he right?
The power of face-to-face
Zoom flourished when the world found itself confined to the bedroom or kitchen table. Once the pandemic was over, people began returning to work and, according to ONS data from earlier this year, 24% of us now work to some form of hybrid office/home pattern. The same report suggested more people were planning to increase the amount of time they spent working at home.
For all those people, the Zoom call will remain a necessity so they can stay connected with teams at the office.
Yet a Zoom meeting can never deliver quite the same outcomes as an in-person one. As this well-researched post explores, video conferencing removes eye contact and (most) non-verbal communication from interactions. It’s easy to become a spectator rather than a participant. It can be harder to challenge a speaker because no one may see you shifting forward in your seat or opening your mouth to interject. You often miss out on the pre-and post-meeting chatter from which new ideas can spring.
Video conferencing is an amazing tool, but it doesn’t beat the face-to-face when face-to-face is an option.
The new reality of work
Mind you, Butterfield isn’t alone in championing fewer meetings in general. He suggests 20%-30% of meetings don’t have to happen at all. He likes the Jeff Bezos approach of meeting delegates reading a 6-page brief to scrap the need for a lengthy PowerPoint update. In particular he questions the need for report-style meetings intended not for discussion and planning but for attendees to present status updates.
These, he says, could be made “asynchronous”, taken entirely outside the meeting environment and recorded instead. “So for example, I can record mine at 08:17, and then listen to yours at 09:53 or whatever – that is itself worth a lot,” he said.
Video calls will remain an essential tool for communicating with employees outside the workplace. But it seems the takeaways from his intervention are that every business should consider reducing its meeting frequency and duration, and then ensure the in-office meetings that do happen take place in person.
Cintra can also help reduce the need for HR and payroll meetings, with software that makes life simpler. Explore it here.