By Martin Large, CEO, Steljes

I’ve seen meetings be a popular scapegoat when it comes to discussing productivity and business. They receive flack from business media commentators, often described as an area of inefficiency or referred to as a ‘productivity vacuum’. Yet, at the same time, studies are backing up the longstanding consensus that teams work better when they are encouraged to collaborate and have the opportunity to interact ‘face-to-face’. It all adds up to a bit of a productivity paradox: all businesses wrestle to some extent with making sure their meetings are productive, but it is impossible to be a productive business without meetings!

While productivity is always a top priority, is there reason to think that now more than ever businesses are tackling a particular crisis of productivity? There are plenty of sources that point to ‘Yes’. The Eurostat Labour Productivity Index, for example, revealed that worker output has stagnated since 2008. This is unusual, as although lower productivity is expected in the initial stages of a recession, persistently weak productivity after four years is a first. Then the UK Office for National Statistics issued a report in late 2012 revealing that productivity had fallen to 3.7% below its pre-downturn peak, another not-too-great sign.

The challenges faced by business owners in tackling this productivity problem – including time factors, human resources and rising travel costs – are various, but reports paint a picture of a strong tendency to turn to technology to solve the problem.

Many businesses typically embrace a completely connected working style commonly referred to as ‘unified communications’, investing in teleconferencing screens and smartphones to try and overcome the productivity ‘elephant in the room’. However, that leaves out a great number of other processes central to most meetings, such as humble note taking, minute sharing and brainstorming.

All too often, businesses just focus on the technology, but the reality is that this shouldn’t be the priority.

Business owners need to be embracing the whole user experience to make meetings as productive as possible. For instance, what is the point of being able to hear and see each other if one party still has to write everything up on a flipchart or dry whiteboard, and then everyone waits for those on the video conferencing link to see it and write their comments on their flipchart/dry whiteboard? Already this is sounding like a waste of time, albeit a common meeting scenario.

If you are still taking notes by hand and brainstorming on a dry-wipe board or A3 flip chart, not only are you not providing an efficient or inspiring meeting environment but, more importantly, you are not making the most of your investment in unified communications. The key to productivity is not in looking at the technologies individually, but in looking at the individuals using the technology, understanding how they use it, and taking the time to change or allow accepted behaviour based on their needs.

Time is precious, often even more so for SMEs, so business owners and directors need to create a collaborative working environment using the right technologies to enable staff to interact with each other in a more dynamic, natural way and do good work. Simply put, meetings aren’t dead; you just need to use them better.