Zoom meeting illustrationCollectively, we’ve been through—and are continuing to go through—a lot. The shift out of the pandemic mode and into hybrid work/life has only added more to our plates. We need space to process, rest, recover and let new ideas for addressing increasingly complex problems emerge, but our current schedules of near-constant Zoom meetings keep us on a hamster wheel and turn our calendars into time confetti.

Here’s what we are doing to free our calendars and change up how we do meetings at Dot Connector Studio. We hope you will use some of these ideas in your own organizations, and let us know what you are doing to reclaim time and space.

SETTING AND COMMUNICATING AVAILABILITY

We are a remote and distributed team working with many different clients and consultants at once, which makes it difficult for us to have team “no meetings” days. We love the idea, though, and if your organization can get everyone on board to identify and protect certain days as no-meeting days, we celebrate it and promise to always honor them!

We rely on each team member to set personal boundaries and communicate about their availability. We set our Slack statuses to let people know if we will not be available, and pin documentation to each Slack channel so everyone can access the latest project notes and updates.

We encourage team members to set their own boundaries with regard to schedules and communication. Immediate responses on Slack are never expected. This could take many forms, including but not limited to:

  • setting Slack “quiet hours”; using the Slack “do not disturb” feature; 
  • blocking out full lunch hours and focus times on calendar; and
  • declining meetings when we do not have the capacity to attend.

WHY ARE WE HAVING THIS MEETING?

  • When we look at our goals for the week, we ask, “What is needed to move this project forward?” Sometimes it’s a meeting, but often those meetings can be canceled or moved into different forms.
  • Our first question when scheduling any kind of meeting is: “Does this need to be a meeting?” If the answer is yes, and the work in question requires real-time, face-to-face interaction, we encourage team members to document action items from the meeting, providing recording and transcription and/or note-taking so that people who are not able to attend have a reference point.
  • Our second question is “Does everyone need to be at this meeting?” We try to have a reason for every attendee to contribute at every meeting. (Facilitators should try to be aware of the role for everyone on the call and encourage people to drop off if their input is no longer needed.)
  • We also ask: “What is the outcome this meeting will enable? How can we measure it?” We want to have clear action items at the end of each meeting.
  • For recurring meetings, we periodically ask: “Why did we establish this meeting? Has that job been done?” We revisit and experiment with format, and make changes based on experimentation. We even try skipping a few meetings, to see what happens! 

MEETING LOGISTICS

  • We schedule meetings at 5, 10 or 15 minutes AFTER the hour to allow for buffers for folks who have meetings stacked up. (Starting later works better than ending earlier – if we try to end early, we will likely fill the time!)
  • We are very conscious to end our meetings on time, knowing that many people are overbooked and a long meeting can impact the rest of someone’s day.

MORE EFFECTIVE, MORE ENJOYABLE MEETINGS

  • We encourage our team members to turn cameras off when needed: We love to see each other’s faces, but everyone on our team should always feel free to go off camera if you want to take a walk, have a snack, or just don’t feel like being on camera
  • If real-time screen-sharing is not necessary, we can switch things up with phone meetings so participants can move around and have a break from their screens. 
  • Meetings should have a facilitator—experiment with rotating facilitators so that everyone can have a stake. We can also try having a rotating person responsible for follow-up from the last meeting. 
  • Meetings should have an agenda. We use a collaborative, real-time agenda and take notes in a real-time, shared Google document that everyone can edit.
  • Checking in and out: Meetings should have beginnings and endings. We check in by sharing celebrations from the previous week, but there are lots of ways to do this. [See “Prompts” below in the meeting resources section]
  • Meetings shouldn’t be lectures; information should flow in multiple directions. We try to take different ways people learn into account; for example by including visuals and collaborative visualization exercises
  • We are also trying to experiment with other meeting formats—for example:
    • For status update meetings, try doing meetings over Slack 
    • Experiment with time limits or other aggressive time constraints—such as asking people to write thoughts down in one sentence. These can lead to powerful bursts.

SOMETIMES WE ACTUALLY WANT MORE MEETINGS

  • In larger team meetings, we can use breakout rooms to create smaller group meetings who then report back to one another. We can set multiple goals and use breakout rooms to advance different tasks and workstreams simultaneously and then report back to the larger group. This is also helpful when it becomes apparent that not everyone on the call is participating, but there are other collaborative tasks that they could be working on.
  • Co-working sessions are a way for us to hold each other accountable and collaborate as needed. Sometimes, scheduling in a time to work independently but together over Zoom actually helps us be more generative.

MEETING RESOURCES

Prompts

Here are some ideas for making virtual meetings more human and immersive

  • Checking in
    • Ask: “Why are you here at this meeting? What’s the most important thing we can get out of our time together?” Write it out in 10 words or fewer.
    • A lighter version: “Given the purpose of this meeting is ___, what is one thing you are curious about?”
    • Ask: “What is one surprising thing that happened to you this week?”
  • Checking out
    • At the close of the meeting, ask everyone to share one thing they are walking away with, or a new perspective they have, in one or two sentences
  • Experiment with senses:
    • Take a 30 second soundscape break where everyone unmutes and we listen to ambient noise in a collective soundscape
    • Ask participants to engage in a sensory experience, such as dipping hands into ice water or bringing a specific spice to smell

Rest and care

Feeling overwhelmed by meetings, tasks, or the often difficult problems our work addresses?

  • Take in the space you are in, orient to your surroundings. What do you notice? What can you see, hear, touch?
  • Engage in gentle physical movement of some kind (like stretching in your chair, going for a walk)
  • Do a meditation (example here)
  • Do a breathing activity (example here)
  • Sit or walk outside. If that’s not possible or available, sit near a window or watch a nature video (example here)

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Meeting Design

Rituals for Virtual Meetings