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New work, old problems - Meeting efficiency in times of corona

We believe in the value created by time. As TimeInvest, we assist companies every day to manage their time more efficiently. This is through the improvement of meetings and elimination of unnecessary meetings and we do it for a reason. In regard to a study by Bain & Company, the average executive spends two days a week in meetings. However, those assessed in the study also stated that only over half of these meetings lead to meaningful results if any. For companies, this means one thing above all: costs. Estimates put the costs for the German economy at not less than 700 to 800 billion euros annually.

As of now, the corona crisis has fundamentally changed the way most companies work. Employees work from home, communication takes place through telephone and meetings are held in online platforms. What does this mean in terms of time efficiency? Which tips help to make meetings more effective? Again, how do I ensure that motivation is kept high even without noticing the direct reaction of colleagues? We have solutions and answers to these questions. This article is designed to provide you with the necessary answers.

The biggest pitfalls of presence and remote meetings

I'm sure that you're familiar with the famous Pareto principle. It states that 80% of the result can be achieved with 20% of the total expenditure. We have found out that this concept is still applicable to the efficiency of meetings. This applies to both face-to-face meetings and remote meetings. More so, if you look at the most common problems with meetings, you'll effortlessly realize that they occur in a very similar way with remote meetings. They may have a different origin and the solutions will certainly be different, but the basic problems will remain the same. In this regard, let's take a look at the biggest pitfalls:

1. Lateness

This may sound trite and it happens from time to time. However, let's look at this subject from a different angle. Five minutes delay at the beginning of a one-hour meeting costs eight percent of the total time of the meeting. As mentioned earlier, the average executive spends two days or 40% of their time in meetings. Assuming a scenario of an eight-hour day, the average executive spends an hour and a half each week waiting for the meeting. In this case, we can safely dispense with the annual projection without a hustle. In other words, delays cost a lot of money, energy, time and other resources.

The problem still exists with attended meetings as much as with remote meetings. However, the possible reasons for delays are certainly more in the office compared to those at home. It is important not to simply accept this as a necessary evil. Basically, what is needed is a multivalent meeting culture that establishes its presence through focus, discipline, and commitment. Nevertheless, this cannot be created overnight or without a process. If such a culture does not prevail, simple but clear rules of conduct are the first steps towards changing behavior. In the event of repeated violations, a discussion should be held with the respective employee to see the way forward. This applies to meetings in the office as well as those that are virtually held.

2. None or inadequate preparation

Everyone has availed themselves here on time and is expectant of the announcements. Meanwhile, the work on the desk does not just happen on its own. Since the invitation did not include an agenda, but the topic of the meeting alone, everyone assumes that the meeting leader has thought of an agenda that they want to address. Instead, the question will be, "We have this problem, how would you handle it successfully?" Here, also, the same case applies for both presence and remote meeting: Simply send out an agenda at least one day before the meeting begins so that everyone can prepare themselves. The moment you have done this homework, you can also expect the meeting participants to attend it while optimally prepared. Elon Musk states that: "Be optimally prepared for your topic, or be properly dissected in the question and answer session. This might sound brute but it suggests the solution that applies to both classic and remote meetings: The meeting leader should invite all the participants to interact. Poor preparation is apparent quickly and if a participant stands out several times because of poor preparation and one should seek bilateral discussion with him.

3. Inattentiveness

There is a possibility that everyone also knows it. A quick tour into your smartphone or even email that needs to be answered instantly Doesn't that sound dramatic and an efficiency killer?. Dealing with this is naturally more difficult in remote meetings compared to face-to-face meetings. On one hand, there are more distractions possibilities at home and you don't necessarily immediately notice whether everyone is on the job or not on the other hand. Clear rules are the solution in this case. At Barack Obama's cabinet meetings the rule was: no use of phones, the ministers had to put their smartphones in a basket before the start of each meeting. However, you cannot take a basket with you into the virtual meeting. Maybe you can formulate clear rules and keep them in mind from time to time. The acceptance of such rules might even be higher in an exceptional situation like the current one than in everyday office life.

4. Duration

In this case, you realize that whether it's a presence meeting or a video call, the same problem prevails. The duration of meetings is often determined by a personal assessment of the meeting leader appointment calendar in question. This might be correct from time to time, but often wrong in just the same way. More so, it is ruled that can significantly increase the efficiency of meetings. There are two approaches in this regard; Larry Page, the founder of Google introduced a rule that no meeting should last longer than 50 minutes. If everything has not been discussed at that point, another meeting is called on to clarify the remaining agendas. Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) does it differently. She leads through meetings with a tally sheet. It is only when the last point has been checked off that the meeting is ended. In this way, she motivates the meeting participants to work together in a goal-oriented manner and as a team. After all, nobody wants to spend their valuable time in meetings. In the end, you have to find the right approach for yourself. It is important that everyone understands these rules.

5. Interruptions

This point possibly causes major problems in virtual meetings. Most interruptions occur as a result of technical problems. In this case, the participant's microphone fails to work or callers simply disappear from the call due to Internet fall-down. In case the problem is repeated, one should have a conversation with them after the call and try to find solutions. An external microphone and preferably a webcam can be bought quickly and the good thing is that it's not expensive. In the same way, an LTE card can be purchased for the laptop like in case the domestic W-Lan does not allow a stable connection. The situation is different if the problems affect everyone. In this case, the video call tool should be re-evaluated and replaced if necessary. It is in the best interest to ask the meeting participants for suggestions concerning other tools.

6. The wrong circle of participants

This is one of the biggest problems with meetings. It is also true for virtual meetings and this has been assessed in most cases. Basically, the meeting manager has to evaluate who will be invited to the respective meeting. He or she can possibly make several mistakes such as wrong participants, excess participants or very few participants. We can give two tips in this case. At first, rules can prevent the worst from happening. Jeff Bezos from Amazon, for instance, formulated the "two-pizza rule". This means that a meeting should not include more people if they can be served with more than two pizzas. Larry Page does not allow more than ten people to attend a meeting. In this regard, holding meetings with more than ten people always product quick and effective solutions The second tipis asking participants after the meeting whether the group of attendees was correct or not Colleagues who do not necessarily have to be there can, therefore, express whether important participants were missing without forgetting the employees present whose opinion is also important. If you do this several times in succession, the most perfect group of participants will automatically emerge.

7. Speaking order

Heckling on the video is a common thing for many people. I'm sure they don't mean to be rude and maybe just put more emphasis. Since you are not sitting directly opposite to the person you are talking to, you simply don't notice exactly when they have finished their conversation. In this case, you simply have to try out the best rules for each meeting. One approach could be to practice muting microphones always unless you are speaking. For larger groups of participants, a hand signal can make sense indicating that you want to speak next. We recently observed this with the Quarantine Heroes team - a platform that provides help for quarantine cases. The 15 team members raised their hands in a video call to signal that it was their turn to speak. If another participant wants to say something, they still raise their hands to indicate that they are number 2. Another participant raises as number 3, and so on. The participants then took their turn one by one. A fascinating discipline that went smoothly without interruptions and confusion If your software does not allow this procedure, you can work with the chat. Almost every tool has a chat function that can be used to signal that you want to talk next.

Solutions of our customers for Remote Meetings

Over the past few weeks, our customers have - via Time-Invest - collected the anonymous feedback of the meeting participants in regard to the virtual regular meetings and forwarded some of the suggestions to us for improvement. What stand out is the old problems. The reasons for these concepts are often different and you should, therefore, deal with them uniquely than you would deal with face-to-face meetings. Our table below shows the aforementioned problems in detail as well as possible causes for this and how our customers deal with it:

ProblemPossible reasonsPotential solutions for remote meetingsLateness

  • Technical difficulties

  • Environment

  • Clear rules of conduct

  • Bilateral discussion

  • Allow time between meetings so that everyone can dial in 2 minutes before the start and have some time to fix technical problems

  • Set up permanent virtual meeting rooms for teams and stay logged in - if necessary without a picture to avoid overloading the network

  • Medium-term: establish a meeting culture

No or inadequate preparation

  • No or inadequate agenda

  • No time to prepare

  • No meeting without an agenda

  • Agenda at least 1 day before

  • Encourage employees to participate

  • Bilateral talks in case of repeated poor preparation


  • Distraction by environment

  • Distraction by smartphone, etc.

  • Rules of conduct (e.g. show when a break is a necessary → chat)

  • Short breaks

  • Meeting time under 1h if possible


  • Incorrect estimation

  • Full diary of the meeting leader

  • Clear rules:

    • No meeting longer than …

    • The meeting lasts until everything has been processed

  • Let employees evaluate


  • Technical difficulties

  • Environment

  • Obtain reasons for interruptions

  • For technical problems that affect everyone: re-evaluate and, if necessary, change the meeting software

  • For technical problems that affect individuals: discuss bilaterally and find short-term solutions (LTE card, buy microphone/ camera)

  • With the environment: discuss bilaterally and find amicable solutions (postpone meeting time)

  • Consult employees

Wrong circle of participants

  • Misestimation by meeting leader

  • Definite rules

  • Let employees evaluate

Speaking order

  • No direct interaction

  • Show of hands

  • Use chat for intermediate messages or questions (if someone is presenting or speaking)

  • Microphone rules

TimeInvest can certainly help you with some of these problems. Just give it a try. Click here for a free test account!

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