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How to Have Better Meetings

Millennials Killed the… Corporate Meeting?

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They’ve already killed off beer, vacations, marriage, and handshakes and now millennials are coming for something else: the meeting. 

Well, kinda.

Since 2016, millennials—roughly anyone born between 1981 and 1996—have been the largest single generation in the American workforce, beating out both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

By 2025, the generational gap will have widened, with millennials composing 75% of the global labor market. When Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—took the reins of the economy, they pushed globalization and growth. When Gen Xers—born 1965 to 1980—took over in the Eighties and Nineties, they transformed businesses once more, focusing on the advancement of new technologies.

With millennials poised to take control, businesses everywhere are teetering on the edge of fundamental change. Some companies may already be experiencing it. Both Ernst & Young and Accenture say millennials already account for two-thirds of their entire workforce, many of whom are already in senior positions.

With new leaders and new values, everything from the work we do to how we do it is up for debate. In fact, millennials are already changing our corporate culture by tweaking, testing, and refining decades-old business tools to match their preferred way of working. And one of the most widespread changes has been the much-derided (and often-mocked) meeting.

Meetings are out of control

Meetings have been a staple of business and office culture since time immemorial. But it’s only recently that we’ve begun to recognize them as the organizational black hole that they are. Meetings, we discovered, devour resources, sap enthusiasm, and cripple productivity. When you add up all the losses, bad meetings cost the U.S. economy around $400 billion a year. It’s a huge amount of money—the whole economic output of Norway or Austria—just gone.

But some organizations, often led by millennials, are fighting back. They’re tackling meetings head-on and transforming the meeting into an effective business tool for the modern workplace.

To see what the meeting of the future looks like, we’ve tracked down three companies with innovative meetings and profiled their strategy. Here’s what we found.

How PCMA personalizes the meeting

Baby Boomers grew up in a world of one-size-fits-all services. Think about the television shows they watched. In the 1960s, there were just three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Cable television and movie rental services like Blockbuster were still a couple of decades away, and streaming was still a twinkle in the eye of a communications engineer. In other words, Baby Boomers watched whatever the networks decided to broadcast.

Millennials, on the other hand, grew up in a world of personalization. If they want to watch vlogs and skits, they head to YouTube. If they want to binge television shows, they go to Netflix. And if they want to rent a movie, they jump to Amazon Prime.

While Baby Boomers shared the same homogenous world, millennials enjoyed one that was bespoke to them—and now, they expect the same from their workplace. “[T]heir expectations are not the norm that we have seen over the last 20 years in this industry,” explained Kelly Peacy, senior VP of education and events at PCMA, a worldwide network of business events strategists, in an interview for Skift.

“They don’t like to be treated as a number. They want to be seen as a unique person, and their expectation is that their experience should be just as unique. From what I’ve learned, millennials don’t necessarily think in a linear fashion the way that other generations do.”

At PCMA, Peacy has had to adapt how she runs meetings for millennials. At conventions, for example, she no longer runs meetings and seminars as closed events. Instead, she keeps the door open, allowing attendees to come and go as they please. 

Instead of sitting through one hour-long talk, attendees can attend 10 minutes of one meeting and 10 minutes of another, piecing together multiple sections to construct their own personalized experience. “With the open format, people can take a few minutes of content in, they’ll take what they need, and if they don’t like it, they’ll walk away from that space and go someplace else,” said Peacy. “That’s the beauty of open-space learning, you can come and go as you please without offending a speaker or other people.”

How Facebook harnesses instant gratification

Think about how quickly you can pull up most of your tools, information, and services. If you want a cab, you open Uber, hit request, and a car will arrive outside your door in a couple of minutes. If you’re bored, you log onto Netflix and stream your shows in seconds. The modern world is immediate—and it’s all millennials have ever known.

Because millennials grew up in the era of instant messaging, free overnight shipping, and split-second streaming, they expect instant gratification. So when they’re presented with a meandering two-hour meeting without a clear purpose or objective, it’s understandable that they drift away.

“[Millennials] value engaging, structured, yet casual, intimate meeting environments,” wrote researchers in a recent generational behavioral study. “They are very impatient. Hence, they prefer meetings…that are kept short with the integration of computer technology.”

It’s a problem Mark Zuckerberg experienced first-hand as he scaled Facebook from a scrappy startup into a bona fide technology juggernaut. When the social network was small, meetings were unnecessary, as its handful of early employees were already aligned on purpose and execution. 

But as Facebook began hiring hundreds and then thousands of employees, coordinating everyone became more and more difficult. As Facebook’s work about work grew, so did its need for meetings.

But for a company whose motto is, “Move fast and break things,” bloated meetings threatened to crush its productivity. So in 2015, Zuckerberg rolled out two simple but effective rules for meetings. 

First, when anyone calls a meeting, they have to send an agenda, meeting notes, and resources in advance to everyone that’s invited. When people sit down around a meeting table, they should be prepped and ready to start their discussion immediately. At a fast-moving business like Facebook, there simply isn’t time to spend the first 10 minutes of a meeting sharing information and getting everyone up to speed.

Second, before arranging a meeting, Zuckerberg requires his employees to ask themselves why the meeting is needed. Is it to debate a new product feature? Or are you deciding whether or not to hire a new developer? 

“[W]e try to be clear about our goal when we sit down for a meeting—are we in the room to make a decision or to have a discussion?” wrote Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, reflecting on the improvements to Facebook’s meeting culture.

These two simple rules revolutionized meetings at Facebook, eliminating the meandering discussions and decision-less debates that haunted the company as it grew out of its startup phase.

There are tons of ways to use video meetings.

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How GitLab maintains a remote workforce

As technology has empowered us to work remotely, the office has become less and less important. After all, if we can work from anywhere, why shouldn’t we? It’s something millennials care about quite a bit—in fact, three-quarters say they would like to work remotely.

Sid Sijbrandij, founder of dev-ops tool GitLab, was one of those people. He’d spent his early career at large businesses and government agencies and had grown frustrated by their traditional workplace cultures. So when he founded his own startup, GitLab, he decided to do things differently.

When he was starting out, Sijbrandij invited his first few employees to work in his house—but that didn’t last for long. “I hired a few people in the Netherlands, and they came to my house,” he told Inc. “But then they stopped, because why do the commute?” 

Shortly after, Sijbrandij ditched his makeshift office and went all-in on remote work. GitLab’s policy is simple: work where you want, when you want to, as long as you get the work done. 

While freeing people from the office may create happier and more productive employees, it does create some problems. For example, how do you arrange meetings when one team member is in San Francisco and another is in Singapore?

To keep GitLab running smoothly, the company uses asynchronous communication, that’s a fancy way to describe ways of communicating that don’t require everyone to be present. Let’s take a look at GitLab’s meetings to see how it works.

First, all of the company’s meetings are optional. With employees in Chile, Canada, Spain, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, and New Zealand, live meetings are “impractical, burdensome, and inefficient,” says Darren Murph, GitLab’s head of remote. By making meeting attendance voluntary, GitLab reduces the instances of “I Survived Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email” emails without hindering communication.

Second, every single meeting has an agenda. “Link the Google Doc from the meeting invite,” reads GitLab’s company handbook. “Take notes of the points and to-dos during the meeting. Nobody wants to write up a meeting after the fact, and this helps to structure the thought process and everyone can contribute.”

Third, GitLab employees document everything. (Seriously, they document everything.) From the meeting agendas and discussion points through to action items and feedback, employees record every last iota of communication and make the documents accessible throughout the organization. 

With the meeting’s contents online, asynchronous communication is possible as employees can experience the meeting without actually attending.

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