Are You Reading This During A Meeting?

Danielle Beurteaux

finance, leadership, CFO, strategy, digital transformationYour co-worker to the left is checking email on their smartphone under the table. (Everyone knows.) On the right? Those are some complex doodles happening under the meeting notes. (No one takes that many notes, and certainly not with a pen anymore.)

What are you doing? Thinking of all the things you’d rather be doing.

Meetings have an adverse affect on our brains, says science. And who are we to argue with science? Research from Virginia Tech found that IQs tank post-meetings.

But this seemingly intractable problem isn’t what you think it is. You don’t dislike meetings—you dislike bad meetings. Meetings take up 9 hours of the average U.S. office worker’s week—preparing for meetings, attending meetings, and dealing with post-meeting shrapnel.

And it’s not for lack of trying—there are many companies that are trying to fix meetings.

Microsoft has thankfully come a long way since the ever-present and universally disliked Clippy: I think you’re trying to have a meeting. Now the company wants to change how people work and collaborate and become the one solution for enterprise-level communications.

The company’s recently released Surface Hub is its new solution to ineffective meetings. With a very large touchscreen, it’s cloud-based, runs on Windows 10, comes with Bluetooth-enabled pens for writing directly on the screen, and has a camera, speakers, and microphones designed to improve on audio quality—something that is often sorely lacking during remote meetings. Remote attendants can see the whiteboard feature directly on their own devices. Of course, it also comes with a price tag to match its large size—around $20,000.

Microsoft also owns Skype, which just launched a business-level service with features including a direct link to a Surface Hub, integration with MS Office, and up to 10,000 people participating on one call for large conferences or “town hall” meetings.

There are also many, many tech startups, based all around the world, that are trying to fix meetings as well—proving that business meetings are an international scourge. from Helsinki launched SwipeToMeet, an app that’s designed to remove scheduling problems by automatically selecting dates based on calendar availability. The founder was inspired by Tinder after realizing that meetings could be scheduled on a similar basis.

Got a smartwatch? There’s also Do, a platform that organizes meeting information, from the schedule to post-meeting notes. And then there’s the tantalizingly named Less Meeting, which also offers meeting planning through execution and follow-up. The company’s website also includes a sobering meeting clock—they claim there are over 3 billion meetings held in the U.S. each year (and you probably feel like you attend at least 1.25 billion of those). Slack (the company’s tagline is “be less busy”) is a collaboration platform that recently added the ability to incorporate with Google calendar.

But here’s a dirty secret: You love meetings. They’re social gatherings. You get to talk. There might even been donuts. Room for improvement? Take heed of these tips from the Harvard Business Review: Keep them small—7 people, max—keep them short, device-free, and chair-free as well. Standing meetings have been shown to boost productivity.

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Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.