In our personal lives, the three-word sentence that often requires the most courage to say (at least for the first time) is “I love you."
In our professional lives, it’s “Can we meet?”
There are few of us with calendars with a lot of empty slots in them right now. Whether you work for a large enterprise or a small business, it’s hard to avoid a range of meetings that include:
There are, of course, some other kinds of meetings that don't easily fit into these categories. They are often brief, in the moment and are focused on figuring out a next step of some kind. Let's call them “huddles."
A sales team might need to huddle quickly with marketing and product folks to make the last configuration to something a customer has provisionally agreed to buy. Or some members of the service team need to briefly huddle with more senior leaders on making an adjustment to a return policy based on customer feedback.
Both formal meetings and huddles can often be augmented, or at least replaced, by technology that allows for digital collaboration and communication in easy, consistent ways. There are lots of applications to improve workflow today, particularly at a time when many of us are working with mobile devices. The tricky part is knowing when to weave them into the meeting process.
The following FAQ should serve as a guide whenever someone lobs a "Can we meet?” your way — or even when you're asking the question yourself:
There's nothing worse than being the lonely individual sitting in a boardroom or breakout room, waiting and wondering.
It’s not that people skip meetings out of mere rudeness. Besides illness or other personal reasons for being absent, coworkers sometimes have to move a meeting because a customer is unhappy with their last purchase (or close to making a new purchase).
If a meeting has senior leaders of the company involved, the chances they’ll be unexpectedly pulled in a direction other than your meeting are even greater.
Finally, people are often late travelling back from meetings or events outside the office. All of this should be considered before the meeting invite is even sent.
Ask yourself: could collaboration or productivity tools achieve the same goal of gathering input or ideas? Could reviewing or approving something happen via a digital chat rather than in person? If that's the case, you may be able to either avoid the meeting, or at least make sure those who missed it will be easily able to catch up and contribute after the fact.
There are probably some meetings that consist of nothing more than people talking, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to think of examples.
Most of the time, business professionals are meeting to talk about some kind of documents, whether it's a spreadsheet associated with a budget, the creative that’s part of a new marketing campaign or a calendar of key events in customers’ lives that will form the basis of your sales strategy.
While gathering in person may be helpful to go over deep questions in some cases, there are a lot of projects where simply editing or adding to documents and files will help a team move forward on a project.
What you want is ease of access to the content, and version control to make sure everyone acts in concert.
As we suggested earlier, most meetings are called together for one of three reasons: to share information, solve a problem or make a decision. A few meetings may cover a mix of all three, but not often.
If you can share information that needs to be consumed by being read, for instance, using collaboration tools may be faster and easier than making someone show up at an appointed time and providing a verbal synopsis of what they're about to see.
Similarly, if you can make a decision through a quick online chat, there are probably a few extra hours you can give people back in their day.
Solving problems may be a different story. Depending on the nature of the problem, team members might have to ask each other questions on the spot, or describe proposed ideas that would be easier to say out loud or sketch on a white board than by typing into an application.
Be mindful about the process you'll be using to solve a problem as you make the call about asking for a face-to-face meeting.
The goal here is not to avoid meetings at all costs.
We can get some great energy by sitting down with our coworkers or even customers. A good meeting can improve morale or a customer’s impression of us.
In certain challenging situations -- like putting an employee on a performance plan because they're at risk or demotion or dismissal -- you’ll want to be as personal and direct as possible.
Instead, your objective should be saving meetings for the occasions when they are most valuable, which is only possible using technology strategically.
That way, when you do call a meeting (or are invited to one), you and others will show up feeling a greater sense of purpose, and a willingness to use your collective time and energy as part of it.