Moving to a New Normal

Re-imagine Virtual Meetings and reduce fatigue

Do you hear about Meeting fatigue often? Are you looking for ways to optimise resource utilisation? Do you want to re-imagine the future of work?

Then this article is just for you.

Covid has resulted in many employees stretching for close to 11 hours a day, 6 days a week and may be expected to be available 24*7. Based on my interaction with people in the Industry, here are few patterns emerging: Increasing work hours, More meetings, Cost pressure to reduce resources, Remote working/wfh accepted by Managers and increasing trust in remote working model. At the same time, some organisations are also implementing new collaboration platform.

Many a times, when we would like to optimise something, we think of improving 5 to 20% or so.

Pandemic is a wake up call to go back to basics and re-imagine the way work is done not change incrementally.

Here is an approach which can yield huge savings in efforts as shown in chart below…

In this chart, Pre-Pandemic indicates the month before pandemic was hit — say Feb for India, Pandemic indicates the period when pandemic hit your organisation till date and New normal indicates the period in future (say a fortnight from now).

In this article, let’s see how meeting fatigue and efforts could be reduced by optimising and re-imagining the way work would be done in the New Normal.

First week of Pandemic

For a moment, let’s go back to the first fortnight when pandemic hit. Every organisation had the pressure for Business continuity and find ways to enable Work from home for most employees, Enabling collaborative platforms like Zoom / Microsoft team / Google Meet … So work was just getting shifted from office to home and meetings were conducted over Video calls instead of in person meetings.

There was apprehension if the model would work. So Managers started scheduling more meetings to review interim progress. Also anxiety of employees increased and hence team meetings were scheduled to keep in touch and engage employees.

That was fine for the first quarter in the pandemic period. Now there is limited clarity if vaccine would be invented and implemented for few quarters. Meeting fatigue has increased and employees are reaching the burn out stage stretching odd hours for weeks together.

So, What’s the solution?

Meetings were a form of face to face communication mechanism in an office environment. Before we go to to the solution, ask yourself these questions…

  1. How much time am I spending in meetings / Video / audio calls?
  2. How much time is my team spending effectively on meetings?
  3. How many participants are not contributing in each call?
  4. How many of them have fatigue for video calls?

When majority of workforce are working remotely and excellent collaboration opportunities are feasible through technology, the way meetings are held needs to be re-imagined.

Since most meetings are conducted over video / audio calls, let’s call meetings as “Virtual Meetings”.

Re-imagining Virtual Meetings:

Here are few areas to analyze and improve your team’s productivity as you move to the New Normal.

1. Is meeting needed? In the first place, due to collaborative platforms, is each meeting required? Eg: Can a email / call to the right stakeholder/ whatsapp group solve the problem?

Can current / new technology platforms be leveraged and managed offline. For example pure task traction calls can be automated and moved to auto pilot mode and exceptions could be discussed in other meetings.

2. Duration & Frequency : Revisit the frequency and duration of meetings? For example, can daily calls be moved to 2 calls per week. Can 4 hours meetings be reduced to 2 hour meetings?

When you get a meeting invite which are ineffective, how many times have you felt “OMG Yet another meeting”. So when you schedule meetings and send invites, you obviously wouldn’t want others to join with OMG mindset.

3. Agenda : Define agenda with some time to check on how teams are doing — Meetings without agenda would keep dragging and consume more efforts. Drop those parts of the agenda that can be tracked offline / discussed with less number of people. Based on pandemic situation for you, you could schedule few minutes in selected meetings to check on how people are doing / hear anxieties. Finishing on time is an art to develop as you go up in the ladder.

Finishing Meetings on time / dragging is part of your Leadership brand.

4. Invitees : Revisit the invitee list and define their roles — Leader, Facilitator, Reviewer, PMO, Presenter… What would each person contribute / take away from. For example, do we need employees from 3 layers from same team for a call. Who is a critical invitee and who can be updated later after the call, seniority doesn’t matter. Contribution matters.

5. Efficiency : Can one meeting with larger number of participants be efficiently handled by scheduling few meetings with less number of invitees and then have the final meeting with all. For example, if there are 10 invitees for 2 hour call, can first meeting be scheduled with say 4 members to take some decisions and then invite all 10 members for 45 minutes meeting. This would keep all engaged and also save efforts for employees to focus on other critical activities.

6. Mode : Do we need video calls (or) audio calls (or) mix of both. Each employee may not have right atmosphere and setup at home to be available on video calls throughout the day. Can we help in reducing video call fatigues and enable them to be on audio and more productive focussing on the discussion rather than worrying about background movements / noise at home on video.

There is no one size fits all solution. Meetings are part of organisation culture, customer requirement, Manager’s style. So you are the best person to re-imagine how you want to run meetings in future.

Results of Re-imagining meetings — Example

Let’s see an example scenario of how a smart Manager Amit redesigned virtual meetings for the New normal and results he got after a month.

Amit used to invite 10 members pre-pandemic days in BAU mode. His company works 22 days/month. After COVID, he had invited 7 more and increased call duration from 1 hour to 1.5 hours per day. Overall efforts for this call was 220 hours/month before pandemic, moved up by 155% to 561 hours post pandemic.

The formula he adopted:

Total monthly effort = Number of invitees * Call duration * Number of meeting days

Now Amit re-imagines the whole meeting purpose, invitees, duration and channel for the New normal with his team. He assumes as if he was going to schedule meetings from day 1 leveraging all tech platforms.

He automates some part of status reviews using tools like Sharepoint before the call by action owners and brings in the discipline for everyone to update status one day ahead of the call. He removes some topics that don’t need discussion with a larger audience. He realizes he only needs 8 members and call duration of 30 minutes and recurrence of alternate days leveraging various other collaborative tech platforms in his company.

He defines New Normal as the Future of how his team would work.

Amit has re-imagined 561 hours for 1 call to 44 hours per month in the New normal. Around 6000 man hours of efforts saved per year re-imagining 1 of his meetings.

92% savings from Pandemic time efforts,

80% from pre-pandemic efforts.

Can’t believe !!!

Let’s take a moment to see how efforts reduced.

Effort saves

This is potential effort save for just 1 call. Imagine you optimise all calls you attend / conduct each week, how much effort would you save?

Those of you who do earned value analysis can visualise how much would be the savings in SPI, CPI kind of Project management metrics. I have simplified the calculations for the benefit of all Managers.

There could be some variation in exact numbers when you apply your organisation formula / guidelines / tools. Intent of above calculation is to more explain the outcome of re-imagining work than exact calculations.

Benefits of the New Normal meetings

Within 2 weeks, Amit’s team was happy about quick short meetings and were highly engaged. Their team had time to deliver projects faster and focus on strengthening customer relationships. News spreads of how Amit had showcased massive improvement by re-imagining the way meetings were conducted. He was asked to present his approach to all Managers in his team.

Here is what Amit shared as the benefits by re-imagining Virtual meetings…

Benefits for the organisation / Manager: Effective resource utilization, Increased agility, Enhanced Productivity, More automation, Better engagement with Gen Y , Gen Z who prefer short meetings and more action focus.

Benefits for the employees: Reduce call fatigue, Higher engagement, Increased focus, Enhanced Productivity, Improved Quality of Life

Amit was proud to say that he eliminated meeting fatigue and that he and his team were able to have dinner time with family daily — which is critical during the pandemic.

He explained 5 step process of how Managers can implement and reap the benefits …

  1. Observe your work hours for couple of days
  2. Analyse meeting patterns, Seek feedback from stakeholders
  3. Go back to drawing board, brainstorm and Re-imagine “Virtual meetings”
  4. Pilot the New normal process
  5. Share & Learn from peers

Summary

The example shows the huge impact Amit has achieved optimising efforts spent in meetings, eradicating meeting fatigue, energizing teams. He achieved 92% effort savings (561 hours to 44 hours) by re-imagining one recurring meeting alone.

Impact of effective meetings

You can re-imagine various meetings that you schedule / influence those you attend and drastically change the way effective meetings are run.

Once the vaccine is invented and way of working changes with a blended model of Work from office / home / remote locations, revisit these assumptions based on organisation guidelines / preparedness of your team.

Make Virtual meetings one that employees look forward to join.

Let’s move to the New Normal and enable employees to get inspired / get solution / learn and contribute in meetings.

Share with your friends / colleagues if this approach would help them.

How are you re-imagining Virtual meetings? What tools do you recommend to others. Share your tips …

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Writer | Strategic HR | Growth Catalyst | Leadership Coach | FinTech

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Ambal Saravanan

Ambal Saravanan

Writer | Strategic HR | Growth Catalyst | Leadership Coach | FinTech

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