Meeting of the Minds — Productive Meeting Tips from CloudPeeps CEO Kate Kendall

by Jennifer Spicer

posted on 10-17-2016

Another meeting? Sometimes, it seems as if all we do at work nowadays is attend one lengthy meeting after another. Are they actually effective — or, are we just wasting time? Advancements in technology have changed the way we collaborate in the workplace, making instant, real-time interaction possible — even with colleagues across the globe.

As we move into the future of work — and the boundaries between our personal and professional lives become further blurred — how should we go about rethinking our own workplace communication strategies? We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kate Kendall to get her insight on how to design and orchestrate more productive meetings. As the CEO and Founder of CloudPeeps, Kate is no stranger to meetings, but has found ways to make them productive and engaging for her remote team.

Do you feel companies are having too many meetings? Are meetings a problem we need to solve?

Kate: I think it’s important to recognize where people spend their time at work. If employees are spending much of their time in meetings, we must identify the goals of those meetings, and also verify whether the discussions taking place are conducive to achieving objectives. Unfortunately, most meetings nowadays fail to include one of the key elements of success — a post-meeting follow-up to ensure ideas and plans are being implemented. Without follow-ups, all the time spent in meetings could very well be wasted.

With so many people working remotely, do you believe virtual meetings are capable of being as effective as traditional, in-person meetings?

Kate: Absolutely. In fact, in many ways, I believe virtual meetings are more effective than in-person meetings. Video compels attendees to remain focused, and it’s less tempting to wander off task when your image is displayed onscreen for all to see. In-person meetings can turn into social events quite often, with people spending time chatting about personal issues rather than professional ones. Social interaction is very important; however, without clear boundaries in place, it can hinder otherwise-productive meetings. Personal communication should take place outside of day-to-day meetings, and virtual meetings increase the likelihood that attendees will be present and ready to join the conversation.

When do technologies — such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. — become distractions in meetings?

Kate: There’s no question about it: people are easily distracted today, and while multitasking may be fine in some instances, as a general rule, people should be present. While some meetings require the use of technology — when collaborating on specific documents or programming, for instance — in most cases, it’s not a prerequisite for a productive meeting. People who are using laptops or playing with phones during a meeting are often not present. Of course, people must be able to reach us, especially when emergencies occur that demand our attentions throughout the workday. But, in most cases, all you really need is a whiteboard, pen, paper, and attendees who are engaged. In fact, I’m in favor of getting rid of all technology in meetings entirely — including slides. For strategies and stories to resonate, participants must be present — off the laptop and ready to join the conversation.

Is there an optimal time during the workday to hold meetings, and how frequently should you schedule them?

Kate: I think it varies between companies, but in most cases, weekly meetings — with a quick recap at the end of the week — are sufficient. Having more time in between meetings gives people more time to execute. Regarding the best time of day, attendees must be engaged; so, scheduling times when people are most productive is key. Early-afternoon, post-lunch is generally the best time.

What would you say are the elements of a highly productive meeting?

Kate: First, the number-one priority of all meetings should be to achieve an identified goal through conversation directly related to that goal. Great meetings begin with an agenda that’s defined and followed. Furthermore, meetings that answer what, why, and how are generally most successful.

Second, productive meetings achieve their purpose with the least number of people in attendance. Nowadays, meetings tend to be too inclusive — far too many people are in attendance who have no direct connection to the goals.

Finally, productive meetings always include some form of detailed, post-meeting follow-up to ensure any steps or plans discussed are being implemented. Meetings succeed when specific expectations are set, objectives are clarified, and everyone arrives on time and ready to participate.

Are too many meetings detracting from productivity? Do you see companies eliminating them altogether in the future?

Kate: With an excess of meetings defining the modern workflow, it’s easy for boundaries to become blurred, and we routinely push tasks aside to attend meetings. At the same time, there is an unhealthy marrying of personal and professional lives in which people use their time off to catch up on lost productivity.

The “always-on” work ethic that many of us succumb to has made it difficult to separate productive time from personal time. Working after hours and from home is common, and the committed worker expects to carry work over into his or her personal life. Successful meetings come down to honoring productivity — holding meetings less often and keeping them short, focused, and on point. When everyone arrives on time and ready to participate, meetings can be extremely successful — valuable assets in the organizational toolbox.

In Summary

Forward-thinking companies may be toying with the idea of eliminating meetings completely, but in all honesty — we need meetings. The core reason that meetings exist in the first place is still valid: to promote collaboration and communicate ideas. While it is unlikely that meetings will be eliminated anytime soon, there’s no reason why traditional in-person meetings can’t be modified to better fit the changing needs of the modern workplace. For now, meetings serve an important purpose — and the fewer, the shorter, and the more productive they are, the better.

Hungry for more? Check out the full session from Adobe’s Future of Work Think Tank.

Topics: Future of Work, Leadership