Boost Productivity. Break the Virtual Bad Habits

By Michael Patrick, Ph.D.

In this post-Covid “hang-over” period, companies are leaking productivity badly. The most immediate choices that leaders can make to boost productivity is to reset how we use our time and talents, use virtual meetings properly, and make fewer meetings more accountable.

Everyone likes to say that the thing they hate the most about their work lives are meetings. As a business consultant, I’ve learned repeatedly that meetings are also the most addictive, misleading, and often wasteful exercises that many companies engage in daily.

A recent study revealed that by February 2021, workers spent 2.5 times more time per week in meetings compared with February 2020. Chats with coworkers, have spiked and after-work conversations are up 42 percent.

During the pandemic and related social lockdowns, it made sense to work remotely. On the plus-side, we learned that we didn’t need expensive offices and terrible commutes to get all the work done. In this summer lull before the next Covid season arrives, many companies are sticking with their worst virtual meeting habits.

Three rules for boosting productivity:

Virtual meetings in a team environment are essential, but they are never inherently productive. We have to make them so and that doesn’t come naturally nor easily.

Rule 1: No one joins a virtual meeting in which they have nothing concrete ready to contribute nor leave without an assignment and deadline for reporting. Not all reports must be delivered in a meeting. Bullet-point and circulate content in advance in a less time-consuming fashion.

Rule 2: Delegate and empower decision-making, with accountability. Too many teams meet repeatedly because someone, often an overwhelmed leader, stalls making a decision until a topic is talked to death and they get a nod from someone above them.

Your job, leaders: As a leader, track how much meeting time is associated with a significant decision. Govern and restrict it, and empower your teams to take responsibility and move forward. Set the pace with accountability.

Rule 3: The person who runs the team meeting doesn’t have to be the person in overall charge. Running team meetings is a talent and skill that bosses do not often possess naturally. Task people to spend their time doing what they do best. Running a meeting is not typically the boss’s superior skill.

I consulted with a national firm that visibly improved productivity in one simple step. The president understood that he was a visionary who set the pace and direction for the company. While he would drop in or observe meetings, he stepped back from leading many meetings. He refocused his time on his priorities, and let someone highly gifted in running meetings take on responsibility for moving things forward in most virtual team meetings. That trained facilitator was highly skilled in reducing the overall time that otherwise productive employees spent tied up in meetings, held fewer meetings, and kept attendees accountable for concrete results. The result was a surge in productivity.

Time to Trim the Hedge

It’s time to rescue your virtual teams from the terribly wasteful bad habits that developed during the bizarre Covid-19 period. All those extra after-hours chats shouldn’t substitute for healthier and more productive use of virtual meetings. Here’s an excellent article on how out-of-control virtual meetings have grown.

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