Designing a Thoughtful Return to the Office

Oct 24, 2022 by Elise Keith in leadership & facilitation, communication architecture, meeting culture (11 minute read)

It looks to me like we've broken work. Not for everyone, and not everywhere, but for a lot of teams the WE part of work isn't working.

I know. This isn't new.

Work has been kinda broken for a lot of people for a long time. But take it from a lady who deploys lots of duct tape and safety pins: there's a big difference between kinda broken and all-the-way broken.

The lockdowns broke office work. They forced many people out of jobs, and many more into isolation in an attempt to protect our communities. Even though we went through this experience together, we experienced it alone. We were forced to craft a way of working that was uniquely tailored to our individual circumstances. As "3 weeks to flatten the curve" morphed into multiple years with an ever-shifting end goal, we developed new habits.

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Topics: leadership & facilitation, communication architecture, meeting culture

How many meetings are there per day in 2022? (And should you care?)

Aug 31, 2022 by Elise Keith in fun with meetings, meeting culture (20 minute read)

This is a popular search. For those of you building infographics and reports and term papers, here's the bottom line up front.

Our 2022 best-guess estimates for the number of meetings per day in the US:

  • 1976: 11 million
  • 2015: 55 million
  • 2020 lockdown: 80+ million
  • 2022: 62 to 80 million

For everyone else, read on to understand where these numbers come from, why they're irrelevant for most people, and when (or if) you should care about the number of meetings in your organization.

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Topics: fun with meetings, meeting culture

Intervention, Implementation, or Iteration: What do your meetings need now?

Jul 26, 2022 by Elise Keith in meeting design, communication architecture, meeting culture (8 minute read)

Did you know that the first stop sign was installed in 1915?

Before that, there wasn't much need. Horses rarely ran into each other, and most people traveled by foot. There were no speed limits, no lane markings, no directional signage, and few street name signs. Traffic control was not a thing.

The first stop sign was an intervention. More cars led to more accidents, and something had to be done.

Since then, our understanding of how to manage traffic has evolved. Today, the stop sign is one of many internationally recognized signals. We enjoy sophisticated, continually evolving systems for routing traffic.

Left: The first stop sign was installed in Detroit, Michigan. Source
Right: Traffic control on SW Moody in Portland, OR in 2020 Source

Like rapid travel, meetings used to be an infrequent activity. Courtiers, guild masters, and bishops met. Everyone else went about their business with no need to draft an agenda or call anyone to order.

“Let’s have one or two guild meetings this year.
50% business, 50% ritualized drinking, of course. All in favor?” Image Source

While the 20th century saw a rise in the management class, it wasn't until the 1980s that most of the workforce held jobs that required regular meetings.

As the percentage of people in manufacturing and agriculture declines, the percentage attending regular meetings increases. Source

Still, there wasn't too much traffic running through the conference room. Most companies shared a few meeting tips with leaders, then expected everyone to work it out.

Then the 2020 lockdowns arrived, and meeting traffic exploded. Calendars became gridlocked with overlapping, back-to-back video conferences. Software that analyzes calendar data saw increases in meeting time ranging from 13-148% (Sources: National Bureau of Economic Research, Microsoft). So many meetings!

Two years later, employees everywhere are crashing and burning out from sitting in endless meeting traffic jams.

Screenshot from a real calendar, blurred for privacy. This person contacted support hoping for an easier way to figure out which meeting to attend when he was invited to several at once.

The Great Resignation is hitting some companies harder than others. Companies with a well-designed Meeting Operating System - a system that directs meeting activity to ensure meetings flow effectively and efficiently - enjoy calendars that look a lot like they did before the lockdown. Those embracing asynchronous communications have even more time free for other work.

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Topics: meeting design, communication architecture, meeting culture

Meetings still lousy? Look for the "Yah, but..."

May 4, 2022 by Elise Keith in meeting culture (5 minute read)

Many teams endure too much time wasted in unproductive meetings. I am increasingly convinced that this is not due to a lack of knowledge.

Want to help me test this hypothesis? Take our short survey and share it with your peers!

Take a Short Survey:  5 Obvious Tips for Better Meetings

We are awash in information about How to plan and run productive meetings. We have centuries of useful tips and multiple professions full of people who know how to structure and lead a productive meeting to draw upon.

I believe instead that those ineffective meetings are a systemic issue. If leaders really wanted to address their meeting problems, they could - but they don't.

Something gets in the way. That something is baked into the team culture. It's the

"how things get done around here." It's a system that has no allowance for making changes to meetings.

Of course, the company handbook doesn't decree that "Thou shalt run soul-sucking meetings." If the meetings are bad and we're not talking about the meetings, then that's a shadow system. Shadow systems are full of unwritten rules, workarounds, and habits governing how people interact. Part ingenuity, part social conformity, and a whole bunch of just not looking too closely because we have other priorities right now thank you very much.

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Topics: meeting culture

How to Optimize Your Team’s Information Sharing in Meetings

Jan 5, 2022 by Elise Keith in tips & techniques, meeting culture (30 minute read)

Meeting overload, zoom fatigue, and too much time wasted in unproductive meetings: these problems grow during periods of rapid change. Bad meetings proliferate when we struggle to communicate well. And when things change rapidly, we need to share more information more often to keep on top of the situation. 

According to a 2013 study by PMI, $75 million for every $1 billion spent on projects is put at risk by ineffective communications. (source)

Remember 2013? Looking back, those seem like such simple times!  How much more money do you imagine we're losing now, after two years of constant uncertainty? If we struggled to share information effectively back then, it's no wonder that today's meeting madness has become so overwhelming.

Now imagine,  what else might we accomplish if we could redirect those wasted funds (and time and energy) towards achieving some worthwhile goals?

Good news! You can solve these problems for your teams by developing an effective communication architecture that includes a well-designed Meeting Operating System (MOS).

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Topics: tips & techniques, meeting culture

It's Time to Talk About Your Meetings. Here's How to Get Started.

Apr 30, 2021 by Elise Keith in meeting culture (7 minute read)

"How can we reduce the time we're spending in meetings?"

I used to love it when clients asked me this, because wow - what a softball! This is easy math. To reduce time wasted in unproductive meetings, you can:

  1. Cancel meetings.
    Look for any meeting that lacks a clear purpose or goals, and get rid of it.

  2. Shorten meetings.
    Whack 10 minutes off of every recurring meeting on your calendar, and stick to the new time limit.

  3. Invite fewer people.
    Eliminate meeting time for those people, who probably have better things to do anyway.

  4. Assign a timekeeper.
    This increases your team's awareness of time passing in the meeting and your odds of ending on time or early.

Here's a quicky video summing up these easy-math tips.

 

But do these simple answers help the smart professionals asking this question? 

No.

Of course not, because this isn't really a math question.

This is a question about how to change a team's meeting culture.

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Topics: meeting culture

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