Steve’s Work From Home Findings: Please Rethink Meetings

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

So if we all work from home more, we still have to talk to people. That means meetings, and not just the usual ones. This is something that the Pandemic is teaching us, and reality is a harsh teacher and a harsher grader.

If you’re working from home, you’ve probably encountered this: you start holding more meetings! You can’t find people because you can’t walk to their desk and everyone’s schedule is now different! So what do you do? You schedule a meeting.

So if you’re anything like me, suddenly all your day is meetings. Sure, they’re meetings to do things you’d usually do anyway, but they’re still meetings with all that entails. Me, after having a day with six and a half hours of meetings, I realized we’ve got to rethink meetings for Work From Home.

Which leads to this blog post, because again, I had six and a half hours of meetings

We have to acknowledge that meetings are not always the best tool for people to connect. Meetings are good to brainstorm, to sign off on consensus, to train, and for Q&A. Many times we use them just because we can’t get someone, or to ensure everyone talks to everyone, and so on. We use meetings as a patch because we’re not doing better.

This isn’t just draining, as meetings can be, having too many meetings ruins the joy of human contact. That’s bad as it is, but during a Pandemic, when we’re alone, having so many meetings you’re glad to be isolated isn’t healthy.

Now, once we admit that, what can we do? What can we do to communicate and not schedule a ton of meetings? I’m glad I asked for you!

First, we have to ask why we hold the meetings we do and what the goal is. We should ask why we have to do it and then what we really need to happen and why. Then we can move on to better methods – or just not doing things.

Secondly, we need to find ways to make our tools and processes work so we don’t need elaborate meetings. Good project planning tools like Rally, Jira, and Service now can save time. We need automated forms and orders, and so on that we can fill out. Literally, we should minimize unneeded human contact to focus on the needed.

Third, we need to consider ways to leverage existing communications tools like Slack, Zoom, etc. better in ways that don’t necessarily involve meetings. Channels for specific check-ins, open offices, and the like. We need to decide how to use tools better because we’re doing things by habit not a strategy.

Fourth, we need to consider meeting alternatives – the “meeting-like” if you will. This could be some people having Open Offices where anyone can “drop into” the meeting. This could be timed check-ins to determine if a meeting is necessary to save time. Just shoving everyone into a virtual room isn’t the way; we need alternatives.

Fifth, we need to improve our business processes constantly to minimize unneeded meetings and anything else unneeded. Our goal should be to get better, period.

Work From Home is something we need more of; meetings are not something we necessarily to increase. We need to rethink them in the hopefully better world to come out of this mess.

Though I don’t mind holding a few meetings to figure how to get rid of them.

Steven Savage

My Agile Life: More Talking Less Meeting

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

More on my use of “Agile” and Scrum in my life!

As I’ve noted, doing personal Agile (in my case Scrum) makes you more aware of ways Agile goes wrong on the job or in your friend’s jobs. It’s contrast, because you can get your life running smoothly with Agile, so breakdowns elsewhere become more apparent.

An important part of Agile is that people communicate, often several times a day, perhaps even unscheduled. This asynchronous communication lets them meet and talk as needed, making the team open and adaptable. It turns development into a dialogue and is about meeting as needed, not meetings.  Communication is meaningful.

Sure there’s the classic Scrum standup (often done in non-scrum processes) but that’s the bare minimum. Good Agile is about good communications, and that doesn’t mean endlessly sitting in conference rooms. That means dialogue when you need it.

Even solo Agile requires communications that can be spontaneous – maybe even moreso when, say, you need to ask someone if they know what it is you found while cleaning the garage.

I’m guessing that if you’re doing Agile at work – and perhaps at home – you’ve got a lot of items blocked because you can’t get ahold of people. Hell, even if you’re not doing Agile I’m going to guess that you need a lot of signoffs to get things moving.  Those signoffs are probably not happening.

My guess is things aren’t moving. You can’t get people to respond. No one is talking but everyone is busy.

What do we do when we need people? We schedule a meeting. Then we have more meetings . . . and it’s harder to reach people.

Remember my theory that we can’t reduce meetings due to meetings? Yeah, this sounds familiar. We also have so many meetings we can’t talk to people.

We’re now so busy talking, because we didn’t talk, that we can’t talk.

So let me make a further radical proposal in Agile – if you have to schedule meetings to take care of five or ten minute touchbases, maybe you’ve got too damn many meetings as it is. OK, my guess is you always think you have too many meetings, but if you’re endlessly blocked because you can’t talk to someone, then it’s out of hand. I’ll also bet most people are blocked because of . . . meetings.

Let’s fix this.

Imagine if you worked on decreasing meetings, but increased the ability for communicating. Dream a dream like this:

  1. Start cutting out meetings, period. Encourage people to read reports, signoff, and look at information radiators. Verify don’t brief, use tacit signoff.
  2. Encourage spontaneous communication when possible. Sure, you’d have to set up some rules so people weren’t bombarded, but it’d help. Besides, when people practice open communication they also learn when not to interrupt others.
  3. Encourage people to block time on calendars where they cant’t be bothered. I do this at home and at work – when I have to focus, I get me some me time. A big calendar block of “DON’T BUG ME” does wonders.
  4. If you have problems, schedule Open Hours for important folks, where people know they’re available. Think of it as a middle ground between spontaneous communication and regular meetings.

There’s my radical thought of the day. If you start reducing meetings, maybe people will actually communicate.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve


My Agile Life: Meetings

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

More on my use of “Agile” and Scrum in my life!  This is another one inspired by my personal agile, but a bit more focused on business.

Meetings are why we can’t reduce meetings.

I find my personal practice of Agile – with a one-man team – informing me about my work in the business world. Since I do all roles, since all information flows to and through me, I actually have a decent feel of what productivity is like because of personal Agile. Thanks to this experience, I can better see when things are messed up in the business world.

Lately, this reasonably decent personal workflow has made me see just how crazy meetings can make us. Trying to schedule them in my own life is tough enough; and then when you look at the job world . . .

We’re drowning in meetings. Sure we complain, but we keep doing them over and over again. We know they waste time. We know people don’t want to be there. We know the people on either side of us are checking Facebook.


Meetings are terribly inefficient, at least in the way they’re run. If you invite 20 people to a meeting that’s an hour long and each person gets 10 minutes of benefit out of it, then you spend 1200 minutes so people get 200 minutes of benefit. Sure, they may multitask and do other things, but they won’t do it well as if they were focused.


I could list any number of reasons why pointless meetings are held, but I want to share a realization of why we don’t stop this insanity.

There are clear solutions to reducing, avoiding, or improving meetings. I’m sure three or four spring to mind as you read this, such as information radiators and quick check-ins. Despite having these clear solutions, we do not use them, and we’re back to 20 people in a room hating it.

Frustrating, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve tried.

Having worked to transform teams, improve process, and so on, I’m painfully aware that any attempts to change how people work takes time and effort. It also takes meetings, because you have to coordinate, plan, normalize, and so on. Getting rid of meetings . . . may take meetings.

That’s the bogeyman under the bed of meeting-reduction. If we want to get rid of meetings, we have to make an up-front effort to do so, and that effort may require meetings. People don’t want to do these meetings, and might not even have time for them.

We can’t reduce meetings because of all the meetings we have.

Really, it’s enough to drive one to drink. I recommend Licor 43.

What’s the way forward here? In the past, I resorted to either incremental changes or just barreling ahead. My personal Agile work helps as it provides me a lot of gut-level explanations and insights (like this) to share with people, which helps the situation. I’m hoping this personal insight helps people get around meeting-phobia.

But at some point, you’re gonna have to have that meeting. To stop meetings.

Yeah, I know.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve