Cancel That Regularly Scheduled Meeting

The combination of a global pandemic and Zoom has totally screwed up higher ed meeting culture. We now meet more than ever. And when we meet, it is usually virtually.

Why do people who work in higher ed have so many meetings nowadays? Why are our calendars so full of meetings that we find it difficult to get any real work done? How is it that the job of scheduling has become the most difficult of all jobs in academia?

Virtual meetings carry less friction than face-to-face gatherings. There is no travel time. Zoom rooms can expand to accommodate everyone. No need to schedule a physical room that others are trying to schedule as well.

This lack of barriers to virtual meetings means that we have more meetings. We should have seen this coming.

One treatment for the disease of Zoom metastasis is to change our behavioral norms around scheduled meetings. Every academic department, unit, center, institute, and team has its share of scheduled meetings.

Scheduled meetings appear on the calendar on the same day and time, either weekly or bi-weekly, or monthly. The number of scheduled meetings that appear on our calendars has dramatically increased since March of 2020. Most of these meetings are on Zoom.

Unscheduling a scheduled meeting is almost always difficult. Due to the quirk of our brains that over-values what we already have, losing a meeting feels worse than not scheduling one. We all suffer from Zoom meeting loss aversion.

To cancel a scheduled meeting, someone has to take charge. In hierarchies, including academic hierarchies, it is usually the most senior person in the meeting that must agree to cancel.

All of us in higher ed have an interest in having fewer meetings. To accomplish this goal, we will need to change some norms.

The modest proposal that I’d like to put forward to all of you is that the default for scheduled meetings should be to cancel.

Scheduled meetings should proceed only if the following conditions are met:

A.    There is an agenda for the meeting that is shared 24 hours in advance.

B.    The goals of the meeting can only be accomplished synchronously — not by e-mail or Slack etc.

C.    There will be clear action items that result from holding the meeting.

If all of these conditions are not met, then the meeting should not take place.

Everyone will appreciate having the time back in their schedule to get some real work done.

How might we go about changing academic meeting norms in the age of Zoom?

How many scheduled meetings are on your calendar for this week?

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