For many, working from home brought a wave of new meetings. Between clicking from Zoom to Zoom, it’s easy to wonder when you’ll get to do actual work.
It’s worth asking whether all these meetings are absolutely necessary. Estimates for the cost of unproductive meetings reach into the billions. Also worth considering: How are unproductive meetings and Zoom fatigue contributing to the Great Resignation and declines in employee engagement?
In this post, we’ll show you how to schedule meetings that have clear objectives, include the right people, and benefit everyone who attends. Whether you’re managing a team or just taking point on scheduling, these tips can help you combat Harvard Business Review’s three hallmarks of a bad meeting: Poorly timed, disorganized, and recurrent for no reason.
Before diving into these steps, let’s start small – with your meeting equipment.
How do you schedule a meeting?
Work smarter, not harder by automating much of the meeting scheduling process. Not only does this save you time you can put toward work only you can do, but meeting scheduling apps can actually do a better job than you can.
Clockwise, for instance, offers a meeting scheduling tool that does more than look at open blocks of time on your team’s calendar. The intelligent meeting scheduler suggests the best time slots based on ten different factors. These include work hours, time zones, meeting preferences, and Focus Time.
Optimize your process for scheduling meetings
Your process for scheduling meetings looks different based on a few factors, including whether you manage a team or an entire organization. Use the tips here to optimize your current process – adapt what works for you and leave the rest.
1. Determine the desired outcome
Identifying the main goal or outcome of a meeting should be the first step in your process. Why? The answer to “What do we want to accomplish with this meeting?” will determine if you should hold one at all. Not every meeting should be an email, but not every email should be a meeting.
If you’re trying to share weekly project updates, sitting around a table or on video conferencing may not be the best use of everyone’s time when those updates can be delivered through other means. Dedicated Slack or Microsoft Teams channels can serve as the catchall for status updates on a predetermined cadence – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. You can also make better use of project management apps to contain all the information anyone on the team needs – and refer them to it regularly to help encourage a routine of seeking information first and asking questions second.
Figuring out the purpose also helps you name your meeting effectively. Better-named meetings let attendees quickly ascertain the meeting’s purpose and whether it’s the best use of their time. They also help attendees mentally prepare for the meeting.
2. Schedule with your natural workflow in mind
What makes a great meeting time? It’s one that fits into you and your team’s natural rhythm of the work day and the work week. For example, a meeting held on a Friday afternoon may be the most inopportune time to gather colleagues together. It’s the end of the work week, when most people are itching for a break from their projects. This time also doesn’t account for any follow-up actions attendees need to complete. Instead of working with meeting outcomes fresh in mind, it’s more likely the work sits until Monday – when the meeting is no longer fresh. This principle applies to holding meetings at the end of other workdays, too. You may not have as much enthusiastic engagement during a meeting held at 4:00 pm on a Wednesday – and follow-up actions will likely get pushed to the next day.
With some of the worst times to hold a meeting in mind, consider times and days that can work based on the team’s work style. Meetings before mid-day – and the post-lunch slump that many people feel – can both reach attendees at good energy levels and with time in the day to take action on pertinent follow-up items.
Whenever you choose to hold a meeting, build in “passing periods” to allow for those with multiple meetings in a row to regroup before jumping into their next meeting. Outlook offers a feature where you can schedule 30 and 60 minute meetings that leave 5 and 10 minutes, respectively, open at the end. This means a 30 minute meeting ends at 25 minutes and an hour meeting ends at 50 minutes. Google also has a similar feature that ends meetings a few minutes early to allow attendees to regroup.
3. Determine who should be there
You can determine necessary attendees with the simple question “Who will meaningfully contribute to this meeting by way of questions or knowledge that can impact the outcome?” This can be a range of people from top executives to associate team members.
Once you have a clear picture of the attendees, consider whether you need to prioritize anyone’s time over everyone else when it comes to choosing a meeting time. If the contributions of an executive leader are absolutely necessary, you may find you need to adjust the meeting time to accommodate their schedule above everyone else. Yes, this may even require hosting a meeting at a less desirable time.
4. Set expectations
Most – if not all – meetings should have an agenda. This document lays out not only the goal of the meeting, but any questions or discussion topics that should be covered. It also acts as a tool to let attendees know what will be expected of them. Should they bring the obstacles they’re facing right now? Do they need to look over the events calendar to be able to offer feedback on the coming weeks’ workload? Whether through the description or direct messaging, every attendee should know why they are invited and what will be expected of them. This also means designating a lead who will keep the meeting moving.
5. Protect no-meetings days
Clockwise is built with no meeting days in mind, so we’re no stranger to this concept. It’s so important that it stands alone in this process building exercise. Instituting a no-meeting day helps fulfill the goal of transforming meetings from all-too-frequent to just-frequent-enough to make progress on projects.
If this is a new policy for your company or team, start slowly. Gather feedback from team members on a no-meeting day. You may find that some teams really need meetings to move things forward and closing off an entire day to scheduling these collaborations would not be productive overall.
6. Cap virtual meetings
It may not always be possible, but consider limiting the time spent on virtual meetings. This can be helpful whether you’re in a hybrid working environment or a completely virtual one. After determining whether or not a topic, discussion, or question should be a meeting, consider whether or not you could fit all you need into thirty minutes or less. You may need more time if there are many stakeholders on the call, but weigh each calendar invite with efficiency and time cap in mind.
If you’re not sure if you can fit a meeting into a smaller timeslot, try adding another 10 or 15 minutes. This can look like scheduling what you hope will be a 30 minute meeting for 45 minutes. This leaves space for any natural discussion flows that go beyond your intended meeting length while ensuring your meeting doesn’t cut into the next meeting. If you find that even an extension isn’t enough, you may need to reassess how long you need for different types of meetings.
Letting go of meetings
Did I really spend a whole post going over how to make a process for scheduling meetings just to tell you to forget about them? Not quite. The process you build for scheduling meetings is important, but it’s also important to let go of meetings that aren’t serving you or your team – even if they made sense at one point in time. The easiest way to do this is to audit the meetings and meeting types on your calendar. You can decide how often to perform this audit – monthly, quarterly, etc. – but doing so regularly can help you spot the meetings no longer serving the team.
Scheduling meetings FAQs
Let’s get into some frequently asked questions about scheduling meetings.
How do I schedule group meetings effectively?
The easiest (and best) way to quickly schedule a group meeting is to use the Clockwise meeting scheduler. Just hit “Schedule Meeting” at the bottom of the Clockwise sidebar and enter in your attendees, meeting length, the day or timeframe in which you want the meeting to happen, and whether you need a meeting room. Clockwise automatically suggests the ideal times to meet, rather than just when everyone is available. Our recommendations are based on your meeting preferences, Focus Time, and everyone’s time zones.
How do I schedule multiple meetings?
The best way to schedule multiple meetings at a time is to book your longer meetings first. That way, you can fit the shorter meetings in-between the longer ones to break up less of your Focus Time. When you schedule with Clockwise, we’ll automatically suggest the meeting times that preserve the most Focus Time for your and your team. And when you mark your meetings as flexible, we’ll automatically move them to open up even more Focus Time for all attendees.
What are some virtual meeting best practices?
Virtual meetings are often less engaging and interactive than in-person meetings. And it’s much easier for attendees to get distracted with things going on at home or other tabs. To keep engagement high, make your meetings conversations rather than monologues. Keep status updates and announcements to async channels. Ask questions and encourage attendees to raise their hands to answer or just blurt out the answers. And be sure to solicit their questions as well. Another tip: Illustrate your points with images, charts, or even videos. Humor is also engaging, and can be as simple as a funny gif in your slides or humorous anecdote to illustrate a point.
Whether you’re managing up by learning the ropes of meeting planning or settled in a leadership role, building a meeting scheduling process that anyone on the team can take part in will help improve everyone’s relationship with meetings. Meetings are a necessary part of any work environment, but they don’t have to be unproductive or constant subjects of social media memes. When approaching meetings and scheduling, remember the natural transition times in work, the people who should be there, the expectations for attendees, the time needed for focus work, and the weariness that comes with too many virtual meetings. Keep these steps in mind as you build your own process and turn a new leaf when it comes to the reputation of meetings at your company.