Please: Not Another Online Meeting! – Forbes - Freelance Rack

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Please: Not Another Online Meeting! – Forbes

With the largest experiment in remote work in history temporarily interrupted (at least in some parts of the northern hemisphere) by the summer vacation, many people are already pondering what the return to work will mean.

Anybody who works in a company should understand that the first stage of teleworking, which we were forced into as a result of the pandemic, has ended. At the same time, employers should not see this as a carte blanche to ask people to return to their offices. In fact, everything suggest that we will never return to the previous normal. For the time being, employers should keep one thought in mind: asking workers to return to their regular jobs would be, in the vast majority of cases, irresponsible and dangerous.

On the other hand, employers should start considering another, much more interesting idea: the result of the weeks of distributed work during that first phase of the pandemic has been, in the vast majority of companies, increased productivity. Microsoft is a particularly striking example: its employees worked an average of four hours extra per week.

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The result of this kind of productive fever has much to do with the intensity of the moment and the poor choice of work methodologies. Driven by uncertainty and concern for results or the survival of their companies, many people decided to work longer hours, and tried, above all, to maintain the rituals they knew from their daily work, expressed via a particular mystique: the meeting. Basically, if I am in front of my computer working like a demon, my impression is that nobody sees it and nobody evaluates it, so what I have to do is “prove” that I am working by making others see it.

The result has been a pandemic… of meetings. Every hour of the day, one after the other, some departmental, some strategic, some informative… and all of them exhausting. Having more meetings while working from home has become a meaningless indicator of professional prestige. Never have so many people spent so much time together as during the months of lockdown. The meeting became, in the absence of other indicators, the only way for bosses to show their teams that they were there, leading the way, proving that they were working, that they were as committed as ever… a kind of absurd simulation that upheld the worst characteristics of presenteeism.

In the second phase of the experiment, once the summer break is over, we have to change. This meeting madness must end. Designating days off from meetings, for example, allows the workforce to get on with their work instead of being stuck in front of their screens all day listening or talking. In short, work isn’t about being on Zoom all the time.

For distributed work to be productive, meetings must be kept to a minimum. They are a legacy of old methodologies, and as such, must be reduced to when they are really necessary, or even recognized simply as a way of keeping in touch socially with colleagues. Which is fine. But for real work issues, asynchronous methodologies work best: instant messaging like Slack or Teams, documents, spreadsheets or shared presentations to work on together, email (without going overboard and copying the whole damn company), and above all, trust, trust, trust. Trust in the workforce is the only way to build professional distributed environments that work properly.

All this will undoubtedly require many changes and a new mindset. New indicators, new policies, new methodologies, and many changes in the way we approach work. For many people this will mean structural changes, moving to a bigger home and other arrangements. The workforce is going to change a lot, and it’s not going to go back to what it was before February: when the pandemic is finally under control, the world it will leave behind will be very different. But most of all, hopefully, it will be one with far fewer meetings.

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