If you’re looking to save some time in 2023, meeting alternatives could be just what you need.

Research from Harvard Business Review confirms we need to reconsider our use of meetings. They have been a go-to tool for governments and businesses for centuries. But it’s not a case of ‘the more the merrier’. Instead, all the data points to the fact we would benefit from having less meetings.

A tipping point has not only been reached but surpassed. Meetings have started to undermine the very reason we work. It was reported a staggering 70% of them keep employees from doing what they are paid to do. The way to fix this is to have less meetings.

Having fewer meetings won’t just increase your productivity. The research suggests fewer meetings increases autonomy, cooperation and satisfaction. At the same time, micromanaging and stress is reduced.

With this in mind, before you send out your next calendar invitation, ask yourself if you really need that meeting. Does it have a purpose? Are the right people there? Can an outcome be defined? If the answer is ‘no’ or even ‘not really’, cancel it. A meeting can only be productive if it’s needed. If, however, your answer was ‘yes’, a second question is needed. Ask if the goal of the meeting could be delivered another way. Could you, for example, use one of the following meeting alternatives instead?

1. Hold more asynchronous sessions and fewer meetings

The research stated an asynchronous session is a great meeting alternative. Not only that, online tools are the perfect way to deliver them. 

This isn’t surprising given online brainstorming templates tools and techniques are designed to overcome meeting-related issues. They solve a number of problems including those linked to time. Online brainstorming tools include features that help you include decision making in your asynchronous sessions. Grouping, rating and voting on ideas means solutions can be transparently shaped. Actions can be added to transition ideas into next steps. 

Meeting templates such as agile retrospective boards are built with a process in mind. This lets a facilitator step a group through a meeting process. Because it’s online, those steps can be delivered asynchronously. As a Scrum Master, you can then pre-build the process and collect ideas before the meeting, saving time, and avoiding recency bias.

Not only will asynchronous sessions help you have fewer meetings, they will deliver other benefits too. They are more inclusive than traditional meetings. They also easily fit with flexible working hours and different time zones. Best of all, they produce better results by reducing groupthink

Out top tips for running an asynchronous meeting include:

  • Document the meeting purpose, agenda and timeframe. This is even more important without having someone there.
  • Let people know where they can ask questions about the meeting.
  • Ideally, use a previous face to face meeting to set the context and process before the asynchronous meeting.
  • Try and encourage a mandatory meeting response, even if it is a simple “looks good” or “I don’t have anything else to add”.
  • Set a timeline and remind people of etiquette.

2. Digitize check-ins, stand-ups, updates and status meetings

When it comes to having less meetings, being able to reduce the ones we have most often makes a big difference. For us, these are daily stand ups and operational meetings. These are very similar because in both cases people come together to offer information to each other. Digitizing this sort of activity is quite simple.

We use Slack and a dedicated meetings channel, along with Geekbot allowing everyone to chime in quickly and offer insight as needed for our daily stand ups. We ask everyone to give a score out of 10 as to how they are feeling (and follow up if someone is low), ask what they are working on that is not BAU and an output they would like to share.

We also time box our status and operational meetings and then follow up with one on one meetings that are more task or area focussed as needed. This way, only the relevant people that are in the meeting.

Slack’s huddle option is another handy quick nudge option, as well as using Zoom for work meetings and Google Meets for more general meetings.

Holding our standup digitally comes with an added bonus. We can prioritize our time without missing the standup. So there is flexibility if we – 

  • have another meeting
  • don’t want to interrupt a productive streak
  • just want to start our day earlier or later.

To make sure you don’t undermine your good work creating less meetings with communication overload, try these easy tips – 

  • Target the right audience. Rather than sending information to the entire office, create sub groups and channels. This will help you connect the right people to the right information. It will also increase the likelihood your information will be read.
  • Flag and tag. Make sure you’ve labeled your messages clearly and concisely. It will help people prioritize what they’re reading.
  • Keep it searchable. Ensure people can search information for keywords so they can circle back to past communications.

3. Use agendas and formats that are fit for purpose

We use online templates and formats to help us focus. For example, we use the lean coffee format to allow open forum issues to be brought forward and progress to be seen with ease. We have items that end up on individual kanbans, and a team road map that essentially summarizes what we are doing now, next, later and never. This can then be used as a communication tool for the rest of the organization. 

This means that depending on what you need to do, there is quite likely a template that will support it. Tools like GroupMap offer a wide range of business templates, while more specialized tools like TeamRetro have a range of agile retrospective formats from which to select.

Start 2023 off on the right foot

If you’re keen to save yourself some time in 2023, give these meeting alternatives a go. 

Share this blog with someone you want to give the gift of time for 2023!

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