Meetings suck.

By Frank Weishaupt

We’ve all wasted time in purposeless meetings, where half the room stares at their laptops to focus on other tasks. In fact, some estimates suggest that U.S. businesses waste $37 billion on ineffective meetings a year. With the rise of remote work and a spike in the need for virtual meetings (which are often hampered by technical issues, frustrating communication barriers and distractions), organizations’ struggles to have productive meetings are compounded.

Remote work isn’t going anywhere — and considering that the option to work from home increases flexibility and productivity for employees, remote work is only going to grow more popular. Leaders must find new ways to make virtual conferences more effective, collaborative and efficient–or, in other words, suck less. Here’s how:

  • Use video tools to prevent distractions: We’ve all been guilty of less-than perfect meeting etiquette. In fact, more than half of people (65 percent) admit to doing other work on conference calls, and nearly 40 percent say they’ve dropped off a call without saying anything to pretend they stayed on. More than a quarter of people (27 percent) even report they’ve fallen asleep in conference meetings!

Video technology ensures better engagement, whether employees are in the office or not. Video keeps participants present during meetings–partly because it’s much harder to file your nails or check your email if your face is on the big screen. But beyond that, video enables non-verbal communication and equalizes remote participants’ experiences and involvement. With video, employees outside of the office don’t just feel obligated to pay attention, but are empowered to speak up and share their perspectives.

  • Have a tech contingency plan: Virtual meetings are only as good as the tools you use to conduct them. With remote or hybrid teams (with some employees in the office and some away), traditional conference calls are not always effective. Video conferencing tools like 360-degree cameras, screen sharing and virtual meeting hosts help ensure all employees are engaged and present throughout the gathering.

But of course, employees must know how to operate technology accordingly — or else it all falls apart. Train all employees on how to use the tools provided to conduct virtual meetings. Also encourage employees to prepare for meetings ahead of time and make sure technologies function correctly, so that no one wastes valuable time troubleshooting. If technology presents issues, have a Plan B in place so meetings can continue smoothly and again don’t waste time.

  • Talk less, listen more: If your employees are literally falling asleep on calls, the problem might be them… or it might be the way you conduct meetings. Remember, meetings should never be lectures. Instead of just talking at your team like a captive audience, talk TO them. 

Although simple, businesses often overlook this cardinal principle of meetings — doing so is especially egregious in virtual meetings, since it’s easy to forget participants are even attending when they aren’t engaged. So pause for input, ask pointed questions and encourage active participation. Prepare ahead to acknowledge individual members of the team so they feel like valued contributors. That way, meetings serve as opportunities to learn and hear from your employees and solve real problems, rather than times for staffers to scroll through their Twitter feeds.

The virtual workplace presents new challenges, but it also provides endless benefits for companies that can effectively utilize the remote and hybrid workforce. That said, don’t expect your remote employees to figure out how to engage on their own. Make sure you’ve got the right tools and processes in place so virtual meetings really make a difference and aren’t just another time suck.

Frank Weishaupt is the CEO of Owl Labs.

Virtual stock photo by