180/02/2015

By Craig Daniel, VP of Products, join.me

Today’s workplace features fluid, cross-functional teams and globally dispersed, mobile employees. As a result, the ability to collaborate virtually is vital for businesses to succeed.

A recent survey revealed that, 92% of UK employees admit that the number of meetings they attend is rising, with 70% of those meetings perceived as having little or no value. In the UK, virtual meetings — where one or more participants attend via teleconferencing and/or web conferencing — now account for almost a third of all meetings. This statistic speaks volumes about the realities of today’s mobile, connected and consumerised workplace.

More than 25% of all meetings are now ad hoc; impromptu meetings that are neither pre-scheduled nor formal in nature. This trend is especially acute with one-on-one meetings, with 38% of internal meetings and 26% of external meetings reported as impromptu and unscheduled. A staggering five and a half full days are wasted every year by employees just waiting for late meetings to start.

Here are some top tips to change the way you run your meetings to ensure your business is collaborating in the most efficient way:

1. Start meetings quickly and keep them short
While meetings may be a necessary evil, the amount of time we spend in meetings is not always necessary. One solution is simply to start the meeting at the exact time it had been called for, and keep things within a reasonable time frame. While this seems an obvious concept, there seem to be more and more excuses that result in late-starting meetings.

There’s no way to avoid some of these issues, but the key is to push forward when you said you were going to, regardless of hiccups. Even if things start a few minutes behind schedule, you should consider the end time a hard stop to force speedy collaboration. The facilitator should keep everyone on task and make sure only relevant questions are asked during the meeting. Keep the meeting length short, to perhaps just 30 minutes, or an hour in rare cases.

2. Choose the right tools
We live in a highly mobile world. People are used to seeing immediate results from best-of-breed mobile apps and expect the same out of their solutions at the office.

Ask yourself if the tools you plan to use will help achieve the outcome of the meeting. More and more attendees are bringing laptops and mobile devices to meetings, so there may be less of a need for a projector than you think.

For remote presentations, you’ll want an easy-to-use solution, with screen sharing capabilities that are up to par but not so complex that you get tripped up. Most business meetings thrive on interaction, not solitary facilitator presentations, so make sure you’re able to seamlessly swap presenters.

3. Make the agenda clear
In today’s world of ad-hoc meetings, it’s often impossible to have an agenda set up before every meeting starts. That said, you should go into the meeting knowing what the goals are for the meeting, and state them at the start. It also helps to establish time limits for each point and assign an attendee or two to address each. You‘ll be surprised that the discussion almost always fits the timeframe allotted–people will trim some of what they say knowing there are only 10 minutes to solve an issue. Last but not least, ensure the agenda is visible to all meeting attendees.

4. Master ad-hoc meetings
Crises arise, secondary assignments become unexpectedly paramount, and markets shift quickly. We respond with ad-hoc meetings, which may be called for later in the day, or perhaps immediately. Because ad-hoc meetings are more of a norm than an exception these days, you must be prepared to expect the unexpected.

Calling people to an ad-hoc meeting via email is not uncommon, but probably not ideal. It’s very easy to miss a last-minute invitation to a critical meeting, especially in remote situations, when that message is buried in a morass of email threads.

Though you may have less time to plan for ad-hoc meetings, you can prepare for their eventuality. Touch base with all crucial participants to confirm their availability. And make sure remote attendees have all the information they need to successfully join the meeting on time.

5. Meet from anywhere
Team members may be on multiple floors, in different buildings, and working in various cities or countries. Often, they work from home. But they’re no less a team for all of that, and virtual meetings are essential to supporting collaboration.

Make sure technology is adequate but simple. A bunch of complicated features that go largely unused only make meetings harder to manage (and who really wants to involve IT for every virtual meeting?). Make sure your virtual meeting platform is compatible with mobile devices. Tablet computers and smartphones are lifelines for modern day workers and are often their only means of attending a meeting. Remember, your main goal is to run an effective virtual meeting…not to become a virtual meetings technologist.

6. Focus on future steps
Meetings are held for a reason–not to rehash the past but to accomplish immediate objectives and set goals for future problem solving and success. Every meeting carries with it the need to end with a clear idea of what’s been accomplished, what next steps there might be, and which participants are responsible for which actions.

A quick debrief at the end of the meeting is one way to accomplish this or record the call. That way, everyone involved can focus on the future without any room for confusion.

Ultimately, meeting complexity is on the rise and the need to manage this complexity drives the value of collaboration. Collaborating effectively results in enormous competitive advantage. Companies need to promote cultures that value collaboration and ensure it’s on their priority list.

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