Future of Work

Here’s how to bolster your productivity with shorter, sharper meetings

Meetings – done well – can be a conduit for change, according to Harvard Business Review.

Meetings – done well – can be a conduit for change, according to Harvard Business Review. Image: Unsplash/Maranda Vandergriff

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Work

  • What’s the primary disruptor for people at work? Inefficient meetings, according to a Microsoft survey that advocates for shorter meetings optimized by technology.
  • AI, for example, can alleviate the weight of work by helping manage the data, emails, meetings and notifications that hold back innovation.
  • Training workers to utilize AI and big data ranks third among company skills-training priorities in the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report.

Ever sat in a meeting ruminating over the pointlessness of it all or the amount of actual work you’ve got to get on with?

Having inefficient meetings is the number one productivity disruptor for people at work, according to a Microsoft survey of employees. And having too many meetings was the third biggest blocker, after a lack of focus.

Meetings that don’t go anywhere can be a major obstacle to productivity.
Meetings that don’t go anywhere can be a major obstacle to productivity. Image: Microsoft

So what’s the answer?

Some chief executives told CNBC they are limiting meeting times to 15 minutes to reduce burnout and help keep engagement levels high.

The 15-minute slot only works if participants send and read more information in advance and focus on the outcomes of the meeting. It also allows for fewer people to attend each session.

Graphic illustrating the weight of the workday.
Work out of balance? Image: Microsoft

The rise of the meeting is set against a backdrop where people are just starting to embrace AI in the workplace, and discover how technology can change their ways of working.

AI can alleviate the weight of work, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Annual Report, by helping manage what it calls the “digital debt” of data, emails, meetings and notifications that hold back innovation.

“This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,” said Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft. “There's an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to help alleviate digital debt, build AI aptitude and empower employees.”

Training workers to utilize AI and big data ranks third among company skills-training priorities in the next five years and will be prioritized by 42% of surveyed companies, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report.

That report also gives an insight into the shifting landscape of skills and emphasizes the growing importance of cognitive and socio-emotional skills AI can’t replicate. Skills that can be honed outside of meeting time, like cognitive skills, complex problem-solving, creative and analytical thinking are the fastest growing in importance.

Figure illustrating the share of companies which consider skills to be of importance, ordered by the net difference.
Creativity to the fore. Image: World Economic Forum

Technology can free people from digital debt and free up time for this kind of thinking, according to Microsoft. Struggling to manage workload affects a person’s ability to innovate, it says.

Discover

What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

Improving meetings to allow more time to focus, has also been examined by the Harvard Business Review. It concluded that meetings – done well – can be a conduit for change. Knowing the desired outcomes and shutting down tangential discussions are two key ways to keep meetings short.

Other tips for running successful 15-minute meetings include having clear objectives and keeping conversations brief but meaningful. The goal of the short meeting is to streamline collaborations, define project goals and maximize productivity during the workday.

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