Everyone hates meetings. Makers complain that they interrupt their concentration and flow. Managers moan that their entire schedule gets eaten up by trips to the conference room, leaving no time for thinking, and virtual meetings in particular are so loathed that the internet is peppered with long lists of suggested activities to distract yourself and survive them.

So it takes a bold character to suggest that what the business world needs is more virtual meetings, but that’s just what Wayne Turmel did on Management Issues recently. Of course, Turmel is a clever guy and aware that his suggestion won’t be popular, so between multiple pleas for patience from his readers, he’s at pains to point out that what he’s advocating isn’t an increase in the total number spent by virtual teams in meetings but a redistribution of meeting time from few long meetings to more, shorter ones.

Why? Turmel says that remote workers have stuck too closely to patterns formed in physical offices since moving their work online. Setting up an in-person meeting is usually a logistical challenge, as multiple schedules need to be coordinated and physical meeting spaces booked. For this reason, traditional meetings are generally infrequent but long in order to accomplish what needs doing when you can actually manage to get everyone together. But this is a flawed approach to virtual meetings, according to Turmel

When people started to do online meetings, they followed the same model, for the same reasons, but there are several fundamental differences between thoughtfully run webmeetings and a traditional meeting:

People’s attention spans are naturally shorter online. Asking someone to sit for a long time in a static environment is going to impact their ability to engage, contribute and add value. You’ll get better work and attention from people who still have some energy and will to live left.

The logistics of setting up a webmeeting (once you master the software, which takes about three practices) are infinitely easier than trying to get everyone physically in the same place at the same time, book an available conference room, and all the other administrivia. It’s also much easier to get 45 minutes out of someone’s day than a couple of hours.

When people don’t have to leave their desks to attend, there’s a lot less wasted time. People can get more work done up to the moment the meeting starts, and pick up where they left off right away.

If the meeting is short and targeted, people will pay attention more.

The logical conclusion of this reasoning for remote workers gathering virtually, according to Turmel, is more meetings of shorter duration. The result will be more engaged meeting attendees, more productivity per meeting minute and a lot less doodling and covert web surfing.

“So put down the torches and pitchforks and let’s examine the notion that more frequent, but shorter and targeted online meetings, might be an option. It’s not like what we’re doing now works so well for most of us,” concludes Turmel.

Do you agree with him that more frequent, shorter virtual meetings might be an improvement on the current way of doing business?

Image courtesy of Flickr user David Recordon.

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