How to Make Meetings More Productive

How to Make Meetings More Productive

With the right collaboration tools and an open-minded management team, the phrase 'productive meeting' doesn't have to be an oxymoron.

Meetings can actually be productive, if you have the right collaboration tools and, more importantly, the right mindset.

One of the major stumbling blocks to effective collaboration is that the geography of today's workforce has changed drastically, says Rob Bellmar, executive vice president at InterCall, and that shift has impacted workers' capability to collaborate as well as improved their productivity.

"The workforce has changed; has become more mobile, more global, more remote," Bellmar says. "It's rare anymore to have the 'luxury' of on-site conferences, or even meetings where whole teams are together in the same room," he says.

[Related: 56 Top Picks for Small Business Collaboration Software]

Even as the workforce has evolved, management has struggled to keep up, he says, with a continued focus on process instead of results. Effective teamwork is crucial to better productivity, even more so than streamlining processes, and that's where outdated management styles get stuck.

"Good processes only go so far; you need teams. A good process can certainly facilitate team building and team building facilitates productivity. But management has to get on board with new methods, new tools and new ways to collaborate using technology in order for collaboration to be effective," Bellmar says.

[Related: 3 Tips to Get a Payoff From Collaboration Tools]

Addressing collaboration roadblocks and productivity concerns is further complicated by BYOD and mobile device management (MDM) and the associated security and compatibility concerns. If employees aren't using the same devices, platforms, applications and software suites, it makes working together effectively that much harder.

"Collaboration is very personal skill, and each person works differently," Bellmar says. "You like some tools and not others, you prefer video conferencing over audio, or maybe you work best sharing files and communicating via chat and instant messaging. While it's great for the employee that there are so many choices -- that they can 'BYO Application,' it's not easy for enterprises. But the bottom line is if the tools and applications don't fit their needs and makes their job harder, users are going to find a way around it," he says.

IT Must Pick the Right Collaboration Tools

Enterprises need to take a hard look at the ways employees actually work and which technology can help by working with tools and services to foster collaboration instead of working against them, says David Lee, vice president of product management at cloud business communication provider RingCentral.

[Slideshow: 7 Mobile Apps That Jump-Start Team Collaboration]

"Connecting the modern workforce and modern knowledge workers to increase productivity is all about understanding how users actually work in this new, distributed, globalized enterprise economy," Lee says.

"One of the major shifts for workers has been the explosion of mobility and increased reliance on mobile devices and BYOD. So, you have to find ways to help employees use the devices and the tools they want to get the productivity results you desire," he says.

Embrace Technology to Enhance Productivity

This means embracing, rather than rejecting, tools like video conferencing, webcasting, live chat, mobile meeting technology as well as traditional conference calling and even SMS and text messaging, Lee says.

"One of our clients looked at how their younger generation of workers was communicating and realized that sending text messages was a standard part of those workers' communications tool set," Lee says. "So, they introduced SMS as a way to appeal to candidates they were looking to bring into the company; so many of these technologies are no longer unacceptable in corporate practices because increasing productivity means you have to map the technology to the habits of the modern workforce," he says.

While cost is a concern for many organizations, the fact is it's not a very sound argument; in fact, adoption of collaboration tools can actually cut costs in the long term and increase productivity..

"Take your average meeting with four people in attendance; once you've accounted for personnel costs, time costs, our technology costs just three percent of what you'd spend on hosting a meeting," says InterCall's Bellmar.

"Yes, there are initial investment costs, but so many businesses have already tried to save money by outsourcing, allowing employees to work remotely, cutting staff - but what have they really saved if they can't get all these folks to work together and collaborate?" he says.

"Making the most of time spent meeting and collaborating can save money and headaches and spur growth, and that's where the focus should be," he says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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