Ever get the feeling you’re wasting your and your employees’ time in business meetings? Harness tech tools to make the most of your limited—and valuable—time.
By Debbi G. McCullough
Hands up all who find business meetings a waste of time? If you raised your hand, you’re not alone.
Three out of five employed adults in the U.S. report spending more time preparing for a status meeting than attending the meeting itself, according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll for Clarizen, a software firm. One third of those attending meetings find them a waste of time, and almost half of respondents said they’d rather watch paint dry or go to the DMV than sit in a meeting.
Another study highlighted a case where people at one company spent 300,000 hours a year either in or supporting the weekly executive committee meeting, according to research by Bain Consulting that was published in the Harvard Business Review.
For SMB owners whose time is limited—and who want to make sure their employees’ time is spent efficiently—it makes sense to tap into the tech tools, apps, and services that can save time by making meetings less frequent, less annoying, and more efficient.
Here are five tech tools and services that can help streamline business meetings:
Often, well-intentioned souls order meetings for status updates on projects, proposals, and clients. Yet asynchronous workflow tools—one example is San Francisco, Calif.-based iDoneThis—help remove that need. Users reply to an automated email (by a certain time, but not at a certain time) with an update of their daily achievements. The service sends a group team daily update on everyone’s accomplishments. That means members can sync up with the team by reading the update email, digesting what everyone got done—and avoiding a senseless meeting.
Online calendars and meeting planners
SMB managers can become so busy running their businesses, they overlook basic tech tools like online calendars for scheduling, says Jon Bonghi, chief marketing officer at Bolste, an Arizona-based SMB that designs all-in-one collaboration apps. He often sees SMB owners tracking meetings on Post-it notes and in cumbersome journals. “Yet helpful tech tools—such as Outlook, Gmail meetings and Apple’s iCal—can help you gain automated reminders and tighter control on attendees—a good thing because the fewer and more pertinent the attendees, the quicker, and more focused, the meeting,” Bonghi says. “Online calendars also help control how long the meeting runs—under 30 minutes is best.”
Online conferencing tools
SMB owners also find online conferencing tools—such as Cisco’s WebEx, GoToMeeting and Join Me—eliminate needless and costly travel while helping streamline the meeting via screen sharing and sharing documents. Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano, Inc., a social, media and analyst relations firm in Del Mar, Calif., spends most his year traveling and relies heavily on online conferencing to connect with clients and staff.
“Usually by midmorning I’ve attended four online conferences and achieved most tasks for my day, without leaving my hotel or home office,” Abramson says. “Online conferencing allows us to get business immediately underway.”
Abramson adds that mobile apps for conferencing services work even better. Using apps on smartphones, tablets and laptops to connect to the call over the Internet removes some of the connectivity and planning struggles with conventional conferencing tools, he finds.
For instance, recently, in France, he struggled dialing in to a conference call because the organizer didn’t note his location correctly. He called customer service, internationally, from France to the U.S., and learned the service required advance selection of the country for access.
“That’s not helpful for a global nomad,” he notes. Mobile conferencing apps—like MeetingMogul—help overcome the problem. They help him be more involved in the meetings where he can share his screen, make himself a presenter, allow others to present, while also automating the process. “The user joins the call simply by a tap on the screen,” he says.
Document management and file sharing
A McKinsey Global Institute report found the average worker spends 20% percent of her workweek looking for internal information often needed for presentations and meetings. Bonghi notes that file-sharing services—such as Dropbox and Google Docs—keep large spreadsheets, business plans, proposals, and PowerPoint presentations central, removing the need to track down and print out meeting materials.
“File sharing also helps reduce the inevitable confusion caused by lost or long email chains,” he says.
Cloud collaboration applications
A newer trend is cloud collaboration applications and software—for example, Slack and Bolste—which allow meeting attendees and hosts to easily file share and consult one uniform document during a meeting, updating along the way. Attendees go to the cloud, download files and modify the documents throughout the meeting.\
For example, each attendee works collectively from the one document in the cloud, making meeting collaboration easier and more efficient. The host invites only pertinent people to attend the meeting, which allows screen sharing, document storage and chat among attendees. Plus, cloud collaboration applications are accessible anywhere (via mobile, desktop, etc.).
There are also some non-tech ways that business owners and managers can ensure their meetings are efficient:
- Stand instead of sitting—experts say that when attendees stand, they focus better and are less likely to fiddle with distracting electronic devices.
- Invite only those people who are specifically pertinent to the topic.
- Cut off anyone who dominates the meeting.
- Announce the meeting will finish within XYZ minutes (and keep to that limit.)
This article was underwritten by HP: Introducing HP BusinessNow, the right technology to help your business grow.