Monthly Archives: August 2019

How Valuable are Long, Face-to-Face Meetings in Today’s World?

In my long working life, and as I had climbed the “corporate” academic ladder to moderate heights, the increase in “meeting time” and the value thereof became a challenge. The challenge was specifically in enduring these and also accepting the value (or most times the lack thereof) in them.

Now, get me straight: there are quite a few instances where meetings are critical and highly valuable to the project! But there are even more where they are not, in my opinion. I would suppose it all depends on a number of factors to decide whether a meeting had been valuable or not and, in terms of objectivity, my perception is totally subjective and riddled with self-interest. I will, in the interest of fairness to meeting-o-philes, try to maintain a modicum of objectivity.

Let’s look at some of the advantages of face to face meetings:
1. Exchange of thoughts and ideas are instantaneous. However, misconceptions and misunderstandings often happen which rules out this particular value.
2. Voice volume, timbre and body language are valuable communication tools in this instance. How often have you read emotion into a perfectly straightforward e-mail? When someone reads an e-mail to you to which they had taken affront, have you noticed how they put their own spin on language emphasis, volume and other emotive touches?
3. This type of meeting also can prevent overly long exchanges of e-mails or other forms of digital communication.
4. If the meeting is minuted and there are other parties present, there is a “collective” knowledge backed up by recorded minutes for any further discussion or disputes, etc.
5. A good chairperson can manage the duration of the meeting within reason. However, a poorly controlled meeting can then become a bit of a nightmare and a colossal waste of some participants’ time.

Then, the disadvantages, which to some extent are opposites to the above but also just a bit more than that:
1. A poor Chairperson could let the meeting run on too long or stray from the immediate agenda.
2. You could die of deep vein thrombosis from sitting for 3 to 4 hours (can counter-acted by supplying aspirin as part of the catering regime 🙂
3. Some people love their own voices and, if unchecked, can really stretch out a meeting (related to (1) above).
4. Despite submitting written reports, some people tend to want to read out the whole document while it should (a) just cover key points for noting or, where it is an innocuous report, it should just be noted on the understanding members should have read it.
5. Unnecessary items appear on the agenda and which could mostly have been dealt with elsewhere or off-line.
6. Items not on the agenda are raised without using the “ordering and approval of Agenda” and without submitting such prior to meetings as is usually requested.
7. “Lunch” or catering is involved without making it a “working lunch”!!
8. Why cater for people who work on campus and who should have their own lunch made at home? – time and money down the tubes. What about the saying: There is no free lunch in life! 9. TIME IS WASTED.

And I have not touched on the many electronic/ digital tools placed at your disposal in the workplace (such as in mine) which could be used to minimize meeting time. My gut feel confirmed by informal testing is that some staff just do not know how to use the expensive infrastructure placed at their disposal or are historically opposed to it, including via “ageism” (and here I partly include myself).

And I could go on! But let me leave it there. Any meeting lasting for more than 60 minutes is a conference or workshop in my book!