Most meetings are a waste of time. Conducting them virtually nowadays does not make them less so.
In the private sector at least, there is commercial basis to why a meeting must be conducted and why one does not need to take place altogether. This is done by calculating how much a meeting costs, taking into account the hourly rate of every person present and the operational costs of running the meeting, versus the expected returns from it.
In other words, a meeting should only take place if benefits outweigh costs. Saying this does not mean that it is common practice in the private sector in the UAE, neither in its public sector. While the private sector is supposed to increase profitability and to maximise value for shareholders, the same is not expected from the public sector.
A drain on time
That being said, conducting inefficient and ineffective meetings is probably among the largest drains on resources in the UAE’s public sector. For one, there is no benefits versus costs mindset when scheduling a meeting. There are meetings that involve too many employees with varying seniority levels. What is lacking here is an understanding that the higher number of invitees to a meeting, the higher the costs.
The same logic applies in respect to seniority of the invitees as it racks up the hourly rate of conducting the meeting. Added to that is the use of a meeting room and its facilities, which increases the overall costs of conducing the meeting.
Two, not all meetings have clearly identified agenda items with adequate time slots. Thus, meetings could run overtime, increasing both types of costs mentioned in the first point. Not only that, but a simple meeting agenda, due to lack of purpose rather than sheer simplification, would encourage that other unaddressed items get bundled and discussed under the infamous ‘AOB’ – Any Other Business – agenda item.
It gets worse
In such a case, even an effective meeting, one with clear outcomes and follow-up items, would have been run in the most inefficient manner possible. Three, most meetings do not start on time, nor end on time. While this is partly interrelated with the second point, messing up start and finish timings could be linked to poor planning and scheduling.
For example, scheduling back-to-back meetings that may result in later than scheduled start and finish times. This would produce a chain effect of late meetings, thereby increasing the types of costs listed above.
It must be noted here that all three points apply to virtual meetings as well, where technical difficulties, or a technical difficulty excuse, may be another reason for meetings to start late depending on the importance of that one special invitee, or the host. Furthermore, the ease at which virtual meetings could be scheduled and organised may increase their frequency, adding to the total costs of meetings even if the cost of each virtual meeting is lower on average than a non-virtual meeting.
As a result, conducting virtual meetings should not be as taken-for-granted panacea to inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of conducting non-virtual meetings. Meetings, whether conducted virtually or non-virtually, must start on time and finish on time to not complicate and inflate costs from entangling and messing up everyone’s schedule.
Meetings must also have clearly set agenda items and the right time slots to be discussed and concluded. This means that unscheduled agenda items must not be discussed unless there is a sense of urgency and importance as to why they should be. Having a fair estimate of the total costs incurred when conducting a meeting, inclusive of invitees’ hourly rates and the cost of operating the meeting facilities, could reduce meeting inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
The last thought that I want to leave you with: Would meetings be run more efficiently and effectively if organisers were charged the extra costs if they run over the allotted time?
Abdulnasser Alshaali, Special to Gulf News
The writer is a UAE based economist.