What you can learn by tracking 1-1 meetings

One of the metrics that MeetingInfo tracks for individual managers is the total amount of time spent in 1-1 meetings as well as all the people you’ve had and haven’t had 1-1 meetings with during a chosen time period.

In this article we want to refresh our collective consciousness regarding the Value and Ideal Frequency of 1-1 meetings.

Value for employees

As an employee, 1:1 meetings give you the safety of always knowing where you stand based on constant feedback from your manager. It also provide a safe space to share with your manager any concerns and doubts you have.

Especially in a time when people are forced to adjust to a new work circumstances.

Value for managers

As a manager, 1:1s help you guide your team members’ development, resolve issues early on, and improve employee retention.

Gallup has found that when managers provide weekly (vs. annual) feedback, their teams are more engaged and motivated to do outstanding work.

Frequency of 1:1 meetings

Google’s Project Oxygen research shows that managers who have frequent 1:1 meetings with their reports tend to score higher in performance than managers who don’t have these check-ins. So the more often 1:1s happen in an organization, the better the performance of the average manager.

A weekly one-on-one is a best practice at any time because it injects a frequent dose of care into your working relationships. In times of stress, we all need more frequent care, and a weekly 1:1 is a great start.

So having a quick snapshot of knowing how often you’ve had 1-1 meetings

  • let’s you calibrate your schedule (if you feel it is too much or little)
  • stay clear about people you have not met enough with
  • Also stay alert for signs of low engagement or isolation if people frequently cancel 1-1 meetings with you and generally are missing meetings.

Leading Remotely: What Managers Need to Keep Teams Engaged

Managing remotely can be complicated. Add a dash of national emergency, and it becomes even more challenging to engage employees. As organizations across the world transition to a partial or fully work-from-home environment in response to COVID-19, understanding what managers need to lead remotely is a must.PULSE SURVEYUse the COVID-19 Pulse Survey TodayConnect with a Gallup representative to gain access for using Gallup surveys today.

Of course, not all managers view remote work the same way, especially when it’s driven by circumstance rather than choice. Some managers will embrace a little separation from their teams — they may even see it as an opportunity to get some uninterrupted work in. Others get energy and focus from their people and will feel isolated and less in a position to help their teams and their organization when they aren’t in the office every day. So while some managers are busy decorating their home office and celebrating not having to commute, others will resent forced isolation and feeling disconnected from their people.

And because 70% of an individual’s engagement is driven by their manager, it’s crucial that leaders individualize to best support them.

Where Remote Managers May Struggle

There are three things that managers have to do perfectly to create the right level of engagement for their people. All managers are likely to struggle in some of these categories at one time or another, even without the added strain of managing through substantial distractions.

  1. Individualization. When people are in the office, it’s easier to have one set of rules for everyone. But when many employees are working from home without a dedicated office, when children are not in school or daycare, and when neighborhood broadband connections are stressed to capacity — individualization is king.

Managers have to figure out where structure is required (e.g., no crying children during client calls) and where it is flexible — like shortening meetings by five or 10 minutes to allow people to transition between calls and reset an activity for a child at home.

There may be a need to accommodate flexibility to hours worked (e.g., shortened schedules), available hours (e.g., schedule all meetings in the afternoon when a child is napping), or the meaning of “close of business” (COB) to mean midnight or even 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Managers need everyone to be able to give their best and they need to create a space so their employees can do so.

  1. Communication. While many managers are effective communicators, taking that show on the road — or more specifically, home — means that the only method of communication is what your managers are providing. If an email tone is too harsh, there is no facial expression to soften the sting. If your question during a phone conference feels abrupt, there might not be video that shows you literally leaning into the conversation in interest instead of a perceived attack. For this reason, videoconferencing may be ideal and should be encouraged.

Much of our language is nonverbal. When managers are forced to limit the nonverbal cues available to their direct reports, they increase the chance for miscommunication, defensiveness and conflict. Managers need to communicate with their teams in multiple ways and through multiple mediums to keep expectations clear, to reinforce priorities, and to help understand and address barriers to maximizing their team’s work while they are away from the office.

Managers need everyone to be able to give their best and positively impact the organization, and they need to create a space so their employees can do so.

Managers should ask how employees prefer to be contacted. Are text messages OK for urgent issues, or is that an invasion of privacy or stressful? Do they have everything they need to videoconference comfortably? Managers should also proactively schedule weekly check-ins with their teams, replacing the informal office conversations that relationships are made of.

  1. Accountability. When everyone is physically present, it tends to be easier to evaluate the level of effort people are putting in and the output your team is generating. The reason most remote employees can work remotely is that they’re doing the type of work that may be harder to count or measure productivity against. That is no reason to neglect accountability.

Managers must create or improve upon their systems for holding their teams accountable when everyone is working remotely. This is based in communication but includes tools for measuring timelines and deliverables, check-ins, and evaluation of submitted work.

It’s important that everyone understands the quality of work expected from them while working remotely — and that your managers are prepared to assess and hold team members accountable for their continued performance.

For example, managers can use online task or project management tools so that everyone has visibility on what’s important now. Managers can also proactively set check-in meetings for certain projects to encourage progress on specific pieces of work. It also doesn’t hurt to ask helpful coaching questions such as, “What challenges might you face in getting this done?” Get the invisible gorilla or elephant into the conversation.

Where Remote Managers Thrive

In times of crisis, it’s worth remembering the benefits of remote work. Managing remotely allows individuals to get creative, leverage their strengths, and engage with their teams in different and meaningful ways.

Your managers are in the best position to minimize any negative effects of working from home. They are also best positioned to create new methods and processes for getting things done. Here is how you can set your managers up for success:

  1. Trust them. Give them latitude to embrace acceptable risk in trying new things. Managers are going to have to get creative on everything, from creating an engaged work team to meeting clients’ needs in a very uncertain time. Managing remotely will include taking some risks. Whether it is taking a videoconference outside, creating new documentation procedures or sending care packages, let your managers innovate on the best ways to connect their teams and get work done.
  1. Be open to discovery. Be open to finding out things about your business that might surprise you. You may have a team or role that you didn’t think could be effective remotely — or inversely, a team that you were confident in that ends up struggling. Be open to learning lessons from this experience and even having some of your thinking about your work, your organization and your customers turned upside down as a massive field experiment in remote work is currently underway.

Managing remotely allows individuals to get creative, leverage their strengths, and engage with their teams in different and meaningful ways.

Ask your managers what they are finding and learning, and think about how that evidence supports or rejects your perceptions of remote work for your organization.

  1. Evolve your culture. As humans, we tend to empathize best with situations we have personally experienced. There is a huge opportunity for us to experience remote work firsthand that we would otherwise not encounter. This can make our overall work culture more inclusive and more friendly to a variety of workers, including those who will work from home long after COVID-19 subsides. This allows us to think more strategically about when, why and how remote work should be approached in the long run.

What Remote Managers Need

Once your managers are equipped with the tools they need to manage their teams and keep your organization moving forward, what they need next is your support to do all the right things — perfect communication, accountability and individualization — which you can provide in three specific ways:

  1. Listen. Ask your managers what they need, and listen to their answers. Each manager will have their own perspective on the situation — good, bad or otherwise. And depending on their approach, they may need different things from you. It’s best not to assume how the situation is affecting them; let them share their experience and needs so you can tailor your approach to supporting them.
  1. Communicate frequently. Strong leadership inspires everyone. Ask your managers to find out what people need to hear from their local managers and what they want to hear from the top. Position your support around areas like accountability and quality, and encourage efforts to keep everyone engaged and connected while remote.
  1. Expand technology support. Even your most tech-savvy manager will be dealing with a variety of technical difficulties if they are not used to working remotely. Ensure your technology team is ready to assist managers and their teams. Open all available resources to keep work occurring from anywhere and everywhere.

Although many managers are leading their teams from a distance for the first time, they can succeed if they keep the fundamentals of excellent management in mind — and if they have the support from you, their leader. A positive mindset, a listening ear and greater flexibility can make all the difference in a time of crisis.

This Article First appeared on Gallup

Meeting Info App: what is it? what does it do? where might it go?

In the past weeks we’ve been listening to out network about the impact of woking remotely.

An issue that kept coming up was that team managers and HR felt they had reduced visibility on how this Work from Home switch impacted employees.

While many used survey tools to get some kind of a pulse, from conversations another theme started to emerge:

The default action to combat reduced visibility, was to increase meeting frequency, which, they all agreed, was well intentioned but not healthy in the long run.

So that lead us to explore a question that piqued our interest: If online meetings are increasing, how can meeting (log) data help increase visibility re: team and individual wellbeing?

So we triaged three key issues to increase visibility for:

  • Are our remote teams collaborating enough (or too much)?
  • What is the level of connectedness within and between teams?
  • Who is showing possible signs of isolation or lower wellbeing in general?

And that is what the MVP of MyMeeting.info will do for both individual team manager and HR/C-Suite leaders.

To get started two steps are required:

  1. Sign up to receive your personalised dashboard.
  2. Ask your IT Admin (managing licences of video platforms used internally) to approve Meeting Info App.

Once that is done, you’ll get historic and new insights on how your team(s) deal with the current work-situation. Based on non-verbal meeting log data.

Want to see what the situation is like for your team? Sign up for a free trial.

Now, I’d like to share how we view the role of data.

Us humans hate uncertainty and helplessness, so it comes as no surprise that many analytics tools focus on two key features:

  • Having/creating huge data sets, to transfer onto users a sense of certainty, by (over)sharing fact after fact after fact.
  • Providing “actionable nudges or prompts” to help you do something with those massive data sets.

We see the value of data in clarification, not instruction.

However tempting it seems to look at data for answers, its superpower lies in being an aid, mirror or reality check to our thought process.

Most of us know what we need to do. Why we don’t do it, often has little to do with knowledge and more with not being able to see the issue for what it is.

And that is how Meeting Info helps.

Reflecting back what is actually happening.

Based on internal meeting behaviour.

Then we trust that you can figure out if and how to best approach the situation. Because you get the team dynamic & relationships. You know your organisation’s culture and guidelines. You don’t need outside handholding.

That is what the current version will do. Help clarify three issues:

  • Are our remote teams collaborating enough (or too much)?
  • What is the level of connectedness within and between teams?
  • Who is showing possible signs of isolation or lower wellbeing in general?

Do these issues concern you as well? See what your data reflects, by signing up for a free trial.

Look ahead: more internal meetings + adding external meetings.

Now, Meeting Info is focused on the clear and present urgency for more insight on how people are adjusting to working with their teammates remotely.

The next versions will deepen this issue and also explore new issues as companies move offline again and more business processes get re-activated.

For a sense of direction, Mary Meeker recently released a new trends report surrounding Covid-19. In it she highlights concerns that organisations have regarding large scale remote working and beyond:

  • Ensure creativity is captured and productivity is maintained (figuring out ways to better capture maker schedule vs manager schedule)
  • Determine which teams are optimized by working together in-person all the time / some of the time / rarely
  • Maintain engagement and culture(s), recruit / train / develop / retain people, and manage human resources
  • Think about recruiting if physical proximity to headquarters / office is less relevant

These are some of the themes that we aim to address in next, based on your priorities as organisations start to ramp up.

We are excited to be of service and look forward to you joining us on this journey as you use myMeeting.info

5 Ways to Run Better Virtual Meetings (and Transform Your Culture)

Meetings. Some are dreaded, others are valuable. Make sure your meetings are productive and a good use of time…your culture will thank you for it.

Virtual meetings are a necessary evil. How you manage your meetings says a lot about how you’re managing your organization; especially if your workforce is remote. If you start late, spend a lot of time chit-chatting, and wander around in your meetings with no specific outcomes, then your business likely runs the same way.

The strongest message about how you want your culture to perform is embedded in how you conduct your meetings.

Here are five ways you can develop more efficient and productive meetings that will, in turn, drive the right culture in your organization.

1. Start with a “culture moment”

Organizations that proactively manage their cultures do so in every meeting. Virtual meetings are no exception.

Use the start of your meeting to get your team aligned with your expectations for how people should be thinking and acting. You can’t be everywhere, but your expectations should be.

Here are some suggestions for how to start those meetings:

  • Tell a story: “Let me start this morning by telling you how I saw Finance and Operations working together to advance this project … “
  • Give recognition: “Before we start, I want to recognize Christy Jarvis for the extra effort she put in last weekend to make sure we got the numbers out on Monday … “
  • Ask for stories or recognition: “Does anyone have a good story or someone we should recognize this week?”

These stories are more important when managing a remote workforce. All online interactions must be purposeful because we aren’t gathering information while walking down a hallway. When we don’t have the formal office setting, virtual meetings become the main hub of connecting your team around company culture.

When you talk about what you expect people to be doing, you will see more of it. Your people are always looking for clues as to what will please you.

But remember, keep it positive, not what you don’t like seeing. There is already plenty of negative information floating around in most organizations.

2. Start on time

It sounds simple, and yet 95 percent of meetings don’t start on time. When you don’t start your meetings on time, you’re sending several messages as a leader:

  • My time is more valuable than yours.
  • I’m OK with you sitting around doing nothing.
  • Schedules and deadlines are flexible.
  • Wait for me and my direction before acting.
  • I’m OK with you being late and starting your meetings late.

Are those the messages you want your team to believe? Are you seeing those beliefs pop up in other areas of your business?

3. Have an agenda

Having an agenda doesn’t mean it needs to be drafted and distributed prior to the meeting. Having an agenda means you have a specific meeting agenda and outcome in mind.

If the meeting gets off track, you bring it back to your agenda. If it gets off track on something more important and necessary, then you know how to adjust the agenda.

Regardless, you should be operating as someone who has a specific plan for the time spent with your people.

The following are some of the questions you should ask yourself as you prepare your agenda:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What information do I need to make a decision?
  • Have I invited the right people to attend?
  • Is this meeting even necessary?
  • Am I trying to do too much?

As you get in the habit of asking yourself these questions, the answers will come more quickly and naturally.

4. Keep your team engaged

One of the biggest challenges teams face while conducting virtual meetings is the distraction of multitasking. When employees are behind their computers at home, there’s no way to tell if they are opening browsing tabs and working on a different project. This unfortunately leads to unengaged team members and an unproductive meeting.

When people multitask, they disconnect from the conversation. Our brains aren’t meant to focus on more than one task at a time. Developing ways to keep your team engaged will keep them focused on the meeting at hand and actively thinking about the outcome.

Try some of these suggestions for engaging your team:

  • Use the chat feature to ask your team specific questions. Their answers will be recorded in front of everyone on the call so you can refer to them when continuing the discussion.
  • Conduct polls with your meeting attendees to vote on any decisions or to gain their perspective on a question.
  • Utilize breakout rooms if your video conference platform has this feature. This activity is a great way to encourage your team to brainstorm in small groups and then bring their ideas to the whole group.
  • Ask for and offer feedback. Keeping a steady flow of positive and constructive feedback between yourself and your team will keep them engaged and increase collaboration during the meeting.

Higher levels of employee engagement mean higher levels of focus. When employees focus on the results the organization is trying to achieve, the company continues to move forward.

Developing a strong company culture can only be done when every employee is actively engaged. Practicing this skill during meetings will increase your team’s engagement levels and ability to innovate.  

5. End with a “who’s-going-to-do-what-by-when” list

If you’ve spent your time well in the meeting, you have some outcomes and next steps. Don’t lose that productivity by assuming people know who is going to take the next action and by when. Be purposeful about it.

As you come up with next steps, ask “Who’s going to take this action and when should you report back?” If no one steps up or it’s not obvious, then you make the assignment. Here’s some guidance on those to-do lists:

  • Assign tasks to individuals, not teams or functions.
  • Have a realistic deadline.
  • Hold your people accountable for their assignments.
  • Check-in along the way with those who have assignments.
  • Use the next meeting to get updates.
  • Meetings are only productive if they lead to timely actions that achieve results.

Everything you do drives your culture. Virtual meetings are no exception. Make sure your meetings reflect the culture you want in your organization.

This post was originally published on Inc.

5 Things Leaders Never Do In A Zoom Meeting

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many professionals to work from home and utilize online conferencing technology like Zoom. Zoom’s daily active users increased from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months. Digital tools like Zoom are a great way to maintain communication when you cannot have a physical meeting, but there are certain issues to consider when using this technology. Here are five things leaders avoid doing in Zoom meetings.

1.     Looking unkept.

Get dressed; don’t wear your pajamas. If you are participating in a Zoom meeting for professional reasons, wear what you would wear if you were physically at the meeting with other people. If there is any chance you might stand up, whether that is to grab something at the far end of your desk or to stretch, make sure to wear the type of pants or shoes you would wear at work. Leaders always look the part, so show the people on the video conference that you respect them to take the time to look nice for them.

2.     Talking too much.

Just as if you were in the same physical space as the other meeting participants, don’t hog the meeting. Leaders speak when they have something to say and can communicate their idea in a relatively concise way. Be mindful how much you speak so that others on the conference call can add value. 

When using digital communication platforms like Zoom, you may not recognize the subtle, physical cues that help people to know when they can begin talking without talking over someone. Pause for a couple of seconds to let participants know that you have finished your thought or your slide. Leaders are aware of some of the limitations of digital communications and ensure others are heard. 

3.     Keeping their microphone on.

No one needs to hear you clear your throat, gulp a drink or release any other bodily noises. No one needs to hear your dog barking. Unlike with physical meetings, this is your opportunity to mute these sounds and spare others the distraction and you the embarrassment. 

Leaders minimize distractions. When you are listening to others speak, put yourself on mute. Still stay actively engaged by looking at your screen, but there is no need to keep your sound on, particularly if there are many people participating. If a colleague is presenting, consider turning off your video so the focus is on the presenter.

4.     Having a busy background.

Another distraction to others can be what they see behind you when you are on a Zoom call. Are you taking the meeting with a provocative painting behind you? Are you in the kitchen with other family members walking around?

Take the Zoom meeting in a quiet room. Set yourself up in front of a calming backdrop. While Zoom allows you to choose certain “wallpapers” as a backdrop, make sure they don’t detract from your presence. Leaders put themselves in a position in which people will focus on them and what they have to say.

5.     Inviting too many people to the meeting. 

Leaders value their time and your time. They call purposeful meetings, with the goal of inviting only those individuals they believe will add value to the discussion and be able to move the agenda forward. Because it may be easier for more people to participate in a Zoom meeting than attend an in-person meeting, it may be tempting to invite a lot of people. But too many people can render the discussion ineffective. Leaders know that successful and productive calls require every individual to be engaged, and having too many people on a video call can make this challenging.

Be smart about how you engage in Zoom meetings. To demonstrate your leadership remotely, look professional, don’t ramble, be cognizant of the noises and images that might distract other participants and invite only the people that need to participate in the conversation.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

How too many virtual meetings can cause employee productivity to plummet

New research reveals 42% of remote workers surveyed say they’re “more productive” when working for an extended period of uninterrupted time.

Remember the days in the office when you sat around a conference table with colleagues for a dreaded and always-too-long meeting? With most businesses shifting to working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those in-person meetings have now been replaced with virtual conferencing, and platforms like Zoom are soaring in popularity. 

But a report from Wundamail research reveals video conferencing is so “excessive,” that those meetings cost more than $1,250 per employee, per month in wasted time.

The findings were the result of surveying 20,000 remote workers across the US and UK from April 6-7, and represent a wide swath of ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, gender and region, and worked for teams of three or more in a range of small to SME companies.

Apparently, we are “overindulging in pointless chit-chat,” reports Wundamail, which stated—rather dramatically—in a press release: “Leaders must rethink their remote strategy fast, or we are heading for a global productivity dive and total economic ruin.”
The report further revealed that teams benefit from limited virtual meetings and “time away from their colleagues” in a remote setup to maintain work productivity.

When virtual conferencing becomes a distraction

Of those surveyed, 42% of remote workers found the continuous stream of virtual distractions on various apps “deeply distracting” and felt most productive when working for a long period of uninterrupted time. 
Another 42% participating in video calls say they dial in and contribute nothing. Video conference fosters a false sense of completion, as 27% of employees found the virtual meetings to be “the biggest communication barrier” in their work.

Employees were three times more likely to deliver on actions agreed in writing, rather than video, because many could not remember key information, meaning 30% do not complete actions agreed over video calls.

“Verbal communication evaporates the moment the call is over,” said Caroline Welsh, creative lead, Diskette, “Back-to-back virtual meetings rarely accomplish or produce anything solid.”
More than half of staffers working from home (56%) wish they spent less time on video calls, according to the report.
More alarming, noted the report, is that 73% of respondents considered video calls as “work done,” and Wundamail said it “suggests that video calls give a dangerous illusion of productivity, when in reality, very little work is completed or produced.”

Video meetings often plagued with technical troubles

The popular platform Zoom may exemplifies a business growing too quickly; numerous cybersecurity issues have been sighted (no password is required and the 10-digit entrance code has proven easy to hack). TechRepublic reported on how 12% of Zoom users stopped using it because of the well-publicized security issues. 

Welsh pointed out that Zoom is also experiencing perception problems—while it seems to want to promote itself as a professional business tool, schools have quickly rushed into using it for online schools. Other platforms are ready to pick up what may be perceived as slack from Zoom. 

Microsoft Teams now has customized backgrounds for video calls. Wundamail’s daily check-in software’s video conferencing feature had a 600% increase in sign-ups this week, said Welsh. “It’s good for reinforcing that accountability that is missing in Zoom.”

The most prevalent problem with video meetings, said 73% of respondents, are technical issues. Frequent interruptions and colleagues talking over each other is another significant (59%) problem. Additionally, one in three people suffer a lack of focus in video meetings.

Amplifying the worst of in-person meetings

The most inefficient elements of a traditional office are transferred, and often amplified, when applied to virtual meetings. Wundamail’s report said if a remote setup fails to adapt to a company’s needs, there could potentially be “a dip in global productivity.”

Following up on those virtual meetings

But there are “fixes,” especially when the only options are virtual meetings (at least until the coronavirus pandemic slows/curve flattens), and the report suggested, “Teams now need to introduce daily updates via written communication means, and automatic check-ins are the proven methodology to kickstart productivity.”

Communication is ineffectual, the report stressed, especially verbal communications. The multitude of technical issues, including every video buffer that adds static chips away at productivity. Listening to each team member on a video-conference call deliver a report is time-consuming. 

Making meetings more productive

The solution: Written communication (i.e. email) encourages team members to think independently by:

  • Asking questions on a regular schedule
  • Practice writing
  • Communicate essential updates

Sharing written notes before a virtual meeting, and follow ups afterwards “is more direct and efficient.”
Wundamail’s report concludes: “Businesses need to reduce video-chatting and introduce automatic, written updates and daily check-ins into their remote setups to keep productivity levels consistent.”

This post was originally published on TechRepublic.

Productivity Is Not Working

SOME QUESTIONS ARE infinitely more interesting than their answers. One such question started to echo around the internet in the early days of the Covid-19 lockdowns and has become increasingly frantic in the febrile weeks that have followed. The question was this: How shall we stay productive when the world is going to hell?

Productivity, or the lack of it, has become the individual metric of choice for coping with the international econo-pathological clusterfuck of the Corona Crisis. How should we self-optimize when we’re suddenly having to meet our deadlines with our roommates, kids, and inner critics screaming in the background?

If we’re lucky enough to be able to shelter in place and we’re not using that time to launch podcasts and personal projects and life-hack our way to some cargo-cult pastiche of normality, are we somehow letting the side down?

These are not practical questions. They are moral and philosophical questions. Yes, there are plenty of practical reasons why so many people are panicking about work. If we’ve been furloughed or lost our jobs, we’re scrambling to make up the shortfall. If we’re still employed, we’re worried about the long term, and if we’re relatively secure, we’re wrestling with survivor’s guilt.

But the drive to stay productive is about so much more than making rent. It is a moral discipline. When I check in with friends and family far away, I usually get an update on how productive they have or have not managed to be since we last spoke.

“Productivity” is not a synonym for health, or for safety, or for sanity. But as a precarious millennial who for the past 10 years has answered every cautious inquiry about my well-being with a rundown of how much work I got done that day, I do understand the confusion.

It’s hardly surprising that so many of us are processing this immense, unknowable collective catastrophe by escaping into smaller, everyday emergencies. A crisis you create for yourself, after all, is a crisis you might be able to control.

Frantic productivity is a fear response.

It’s a fear response for 21st-century humans in general and millennial humans in particular, as we’ve collectively awoken from the American dream with a strange headache and stacks of bills to pay. My whole generation learned relentless work was the way to cope with the rolling crisis, with the mood of imminent collapse and economic insecurity that was the elevator music of our entire youth—the relentless tension between trying to save yourself and trying to save the world, between desperate aspiration and actual hope.

Right through the white-knuckle ride of my twenties and beyond, I clung to work as a way of protecting myself when I was scared, when I was hurt, when the future seemed to collapse on itself like a stack of marked cards.

No matter how many marches I go to, there is some part of me that believes that if I can only self-optimize a bit harder then the world will right itself, no one I love will suffer, and death will have no dominion. So when the coronavirus crisis began, I started writing myself ambitious to-do lists on giant sticky notes—because when every cultural certainty starts collapsing in my hands like wet cake, writing ambitious to-do lists is how I calm down.

I would exercise in the mornings and write in the evenings. I would cook. I would sort out my finances. By week three, I would finally finish my book. I would organize my time so I had no time to feel any emotion other than manageable, everyday anxiety about my workload, with occasional breaks for feeling appropriately grateful that I still have a job I can do from home.

Unfortunately, somewhere between writing those to-do lists and watching over-promoted incompetents invite their voters to kindly die to keep the economy going in the manner to which it has become accustomed, the entire concept of linear time seemed to disintegrate, which really played havoc with my calendar.

These days, I have a new, surprisingly packed schedule of cooking, washing up, video-conferencing with everyone I’ve ever met, and hiding in bed hoping that history can’t hear me breathing.

The giant sticky notes are proliferating around the house, and my roommates tolerate them so long as I don’t start linking them together with red thread and pictures of my enemies.

Despite being various flavors of neurotic workaholic, my roommates and I have discovered that right now, while our personal productivity matters, what matters more immediately is that we all manage to live in the same house without killing each other. The human race as a whole seems to be coming to a similar realization.

There has always been something a little obscene about the cult of the hustle, the treadmill of alienated insecurity that tells you that if you stop running for even an instant, you’ll be flung flat on your face—but the treadmill is familiar.

The treadmill feels normal. And right now, when the world economy has jerked to a sudden, shuddering stop, most of us are desperate to feel normal.

This column is happening because I lost one of my three jobs to the Covid-19 crisis right around the time when I realized I had no idea when I was going to see my mum again, and after a few hours of crying and tidying, I emailed my kind editor in a panic and told him to please give me deadlines, I don’t know who I am without them. Why don’t I know?

The way most of us have been conditioned to think about work in the modern economy has all the hallmarks of hypervigilance. It’s what happens to people when they are trapped in abusive circumstances they cannot escape.

Psychologist Judith Herman observed that “the ultimate effect of [psychological domination] is to convince the victim that the perpetrator is omnipotent, that resistance is futile, and that her life depends upon winning his indulgence through absolute compliance.”

The body responds to relentless insecurity and threat with agitated alertness, looking for ways to protect itself from harm. This is how most of my peers have experienced the modern economy. We were told that if we worked hard, we would be safe, and well, and looked after, and the less this was true, the harder we worked.

The idea that hustling can save you from calamity is an article of faith, not fact—and the Covid-19 pandemic is starting to shake the collective faith in individual striving. The doctrine of “workism” places the blame for global catastrophe squarely on the individual: If you can’t get a job because jobs aren’t there, you must be lazy, or not hustling hard enough.

That’s the story that young and young-ish people tell themselves, even as we’ve spent the whole of our brief, broke working lives paying for the mistakes of the old, rich, and stupid. We internalized the collective failures of the ruling class as personal failings that could be fixed by working smarter, or harder, or both—because that, at least, meant that we might be able to fix them ourselves.

The cult of productivity doesn’t have an answer for this crisis. Self-optimizing will not save us this time, although saying so feels surprisingly blasphemous.

This isn’t happening because you didn’t work hard enough, and it won’t be fixed by optimizing your morning routines and adopting a can-do attitude. After the quarantine, after we count the lives lost or ruined, recession is coming.

A big one. For millennials, it’s the second devastating economic calamity in our short working lives, and we’re still carrying the trauma of the first. This time, though, we know it’s not our fault. This time it’s abundantly clear that we didn’t deserve it. And this is exactly the sort of crisis that gives people ideas about overturning the social order.

The Great Plagues of the 14th century famously shattered the feudal system by wiping out half of Europe and giving the few remaining workers a lot more bargaining power—but the Black Death also undermined the power of religion.

As broken communities surveyed the mounds of corpses, wondering what sins could possibly be proportional to this sort of punishment, they started to lose faith in God—and the Medieval Church began to lose power as an organizing force in everyday life. If the economic dogma of work under modern capitalism fulfills the same functions as the church of the 1400s—defining human value and justifying our place in society—the emotions of watching that dogma fail are akin to a loss of faith.

If frantic productivity is a fear response, the opposite urge—to tear it all up and declare deadline bankruptcy—feels like blasphemy. Laziness is the only sin out of the seven big ones that seems to count in the moral metric of the modern economy, and what other word is there for that edge-panic impulse to simply delete your email address and spend time doing small, gentle things that make being alive hurt a little less?

“When we have no memory or little imagination of an alternative to a life centered on work,” writes theorist Kathi Weeks, “there are few incentives to reflect on why we work as we do and what we might wish to do instead.” In fact, as Europe and America remain in enforced lockdown, many people are working harder than ever—but the work they’re doing more of is not “productive” in the traditional sense.

That does not mean it isn’t work. Childcare is work, as anyone who is suddenly having to do twice as much of it on top of their normal job can tell you. Cooking, cleaning, emotional and community management, all of which most of us are doing more intensely as we’re living together in lockdown, are work—they just don’t count on the ledger of human worth because the economy refuses to value them in its reckoning of what does, because most of it has been done in private, by women, for free.

Making breakfast, making the beds, making sure your friends and family aren’t losing their absolute minds is work that matters more than ever and will continue to matter in the coming decades as crisis follows crisis. It is not “productive,” in the way that most of us have learned to understand what that word means, but it is work, and it is worthwhile.

There is nothing counterrevolutionary about keeping busy. But right now, we have a finite opportunity to rethink how we value ourselves, to re-examine our metric for measuring the worth of human lives. Right now, the entire species is trying to work out how to live in the same house without killing each other—and that may well turn out to be the work that matters most.

This article first appeared on Wired

Anatomy of a bad meeting

A horse suddenly came galloping quickly down the road. It seemed as though the man had somewhere important to go.

Another man, who was standing alongside the road, shouted, “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse replied,

“I don’t know! Ask the horse!

As we’ve previously discovered, poor meetings -if not not tamed- can run away with our productivity, focus and engagement for the rest of the day.

So now the question is: how do we know we have a bad meeting on our hands?

Luckily for us, academics have been asking that same question. And found some answers.

Below is a list of behavioural markers that make up a bad meeting (please notice that these behaviours are not just confined to the actual meeting, but start before and continue after the meeting)

  • Functionally homogenous groups can generate poorer solutions during problem solving because of their ability to consider a smaller range of possible solutions.
  • Attendees that come to the meeting unprepared without having read the agenda add to the low quality of meeting and discussion.
  • Arriving late to a meeting spurs negative social reactions and behavioral intentions and reduces objective meeting quality.
  • Low-performing employees participate less than high-performers in meetings.
  • Lack of humor and laughter patterns stimulate negative behaviors and group performance.
  • Complaining is contagious, and group meeting with complainers perform poorly.
  • Managers can hurt employee engagement by making meetings irrelevant, long, and non-participatory.
  • Interactional unfairness (one sided talking) in meetings can make attendees’ participation in meetings more likely.
  • Failing to debrief meetings can hinder creating a climate of psychological safety.
  • Negative team interactions in meetings predict organizational failure.
  • (Dis)satisfaction with meetings is related to overall job satisfaction

Interested in learning how to track some or all of the above markers?

Sign up here to trial myMeeting.info within your team or organization.

The shadow side of remote work: blurring of boundaries

At GapJumpers we’ve worked remotely for five years. Our employees live all over the world and are scattered across timezones, so remote working was always the most practical options for us.

Working remotely has much upside: flexibility, more hours in your day (since you don’t commute) and being able to manage your workflow according to your preferences and personal situation, especially when it comes to things like caring for family partners, or kids.

But there is a shadow side to remote working, that many organisations and teams might run up against as they moved to 100% remote in the last few weeks.

The physical office, in ways we often take for granted, acts like a big boundary between work and life.

While we have email to bother us at all times of the day and week, for a large part, when we get out of the office, start our commute home, we create space between work and ourselves.

“I’d love to, but lets reschedule this meeting for tomorrow, because I’m heading out the door” is something we lose when we move to remote.

We might find ourselves taking calls at times outside of the normal work hours (both before or after).

Or we might sneak in that one meeting on our day off, because we subconsciously feel like that day off (in the crisis that we find ourselves) does not count, and we like being a team player more than being seen as selfish.

Without some serious boundaries, working from home means the office will seep into your life and make you feel like work is 24/7, while also making you doubt whether you are actually getting any work done.

As team leaders it is important to agree and set boundaries for your team so that you ensure they stay engaged, productive and retain a sense of work life balance.

The first and most important one is to make it ok for people to say no, without it being held against them (because we don’t always know what the home situation is like).

If you’d like to know whether your teams work life balance is getting skewed, tracking meeting markers can be a good start.

7 Ways to Recover From Too Many Online Meetings During the Day

How to bounce back quickly when virtual meetings are sapping your mental energy.

As most startup founders and entrepreneurs can tell you these days, meeting hangovers are real. Right now people are meeting online for everything from work, to happy hours with friends, to therapy sessions or even working out. A large number of these meetings can seriously deplete your precious resources.

One of the primary obstacles to recovering from meetings is the time it takes to switch from one point of focus (the meeting) to another (deeper work). After a fruitless or stressful meeting, your productivity is drained as your resources are reallocated to deal with the resulting mental stress. 

The end result is that it often takes longer to fully engage in the next piece of work — I’ve noticed it takes me half an hour or 45 minutes. Add in multiple meetings per week (sometimes per day), and you might lose hours of productivity in a week, forcing you into overtime just to get your actual work done.

Here are seven tactics you can use to conquer meeting recovery syndrome and bounce back quickly when meetings sap your mental and physical resources. 

1. Reduce the time you spend in meetings.

The most obvious place to start is with the meetings themselves. You can reduce the time you and your team spend in pointless meetings by following a few strategic guidelines: 

  • Only hold essential meetings. If the issue can be handled by chat or email, do it that way and then disseminate the results to the wider team. 
  • Format your meetings to be short and succinct, with an agenda consisting of only two or three salient action items. 
  • Include only the people necessary to the planned discussion. Again, use email to disseminate short conclusions and summarize decisions made to others. 
  • Provide a way to record the minutes for the meeting, either through technology or a separate individual. 
  • Finally, set hard-and-fast rules about meeting length. If a meeting is to last 30 minutes, it is over by 30 minutes and one second. No exceptions. 

2. Get in the habit of self-debriefing after a meeting.

A little objective debrief after meetings helps you to pinpoint both what’s going right and what can be improved. After each meeting, ask some probing questions, such as: 

  • Who participated? Who was relatively silent? 
  • Was there a significant degree of distraction, perhaps accompanied by side discussions?
  • Did the main discussion get sidetracked significantly? 

Also consider what went well. At what point were participants most engaged? What were you discussing and what exactly was going on then? Through these questions, figure out what worked and what didn’t, then use that information to tweak how you run future meetings to be shorter and more efficient.

3. Schedule strictly meeting-free time periods.

Reserve certain time periods (your most productive ones, preferably) for deep work, and resolve to schedule no meetings during these time periods. 

The simple act of scheduling meeting-free times in your calendar that are dedicated solely to this type of work activity helps you relax, knowing you won’t be diverted into other activities that cause distractions and impede focus.

4.  Meditate every day.

A regular and consistent meditation practice can help you maintain focus and mindful attention throughout the day. In particular, many studies show that mindfulness meditation improves your cognitive abilities. A consistent meditative practice may even help slow and stave off age-related mental decline

5. Start each day with exercise.

Research proves that regularly scheduled workouts help build mental acuity and focus all day long.

Regular exercise and movement help improve cognitive skills and focus in a number of both direct and indirect ways, including reducing inflammation, improving sleep and increasing the supply of oxygen to your brain by forming new blood vessels.

Any simple, low-impact aerobic activity will help build focus. Try walking or cycling, as well as mind-body movement disciplines such as yoga and Pilates. 

6. Try out intermittent fasting.

The underlying premise of intermittent fasting (or IF) is that you refrain from eating anything at all for a certain number of hours in each 24-hour day — anywhere from 14 to 18 — and confining all calorie intake to the remaining hours of the day. 

While this may seem counterintuitive, IF may actually aid daytime focus. Because your body is no longer allocating significant physical resources to the digestive process, you have more resources available for attentive focus and deeper levels of work.

There are a lot of variations on this method, and some may not necessarily be the most healthful approaches for everybody. So it’s important to do your research and discuss this approach with your doctor if you’re concerned about how IF might impact existing conditions. 

7. Take regular breaks throughout the day. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but making a habit of taking a few minutes each hour to stand up, walk away from your computer, stretch and get water helps you maintain a deeper level of focus throughout the day.

At a minimum, get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour to change your physical and mental state. Disengaging for brief periods helps you maintain focus throughout your workday. 

Don’t let meetings ruin your workday.

Meetings are essential for the success of your company, but as with everything, too much of a good thing can wreak havoc over time. Learn to manage your focus and attention as the mental resources they actually are, and you’ll find it’s easier to switch directions and dive back into more meaningful work tasks. 

This post was originally published on Entrepreneur.