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The Workplace Survival Guide: Meetings, Meetings, Meetings...

Mark Marianelli

Kick-off meetings, working sessions, sponsor reviews, team meetings, one-on-ones, off-site meetings, all hands meetings, lunch & learns, join-ups, readouts, stand-ups, check-ins and a billion other gatherings specifically designed to waste your time under the guise of efficiency. The office world LOVES to have meetings in the same way that some people LOVE to make grocery lists and then order a pizza. Why do we have so many?? When somebody is booked solid with meetings, when do they have time to get any real work done? The answer is, of course, during the meetings. But if you're working during your meetings, then you're not really paying attention, which means you probably didn't need to go the meeting in the first place. However, meeting attendance is no different than saying "God Bless You" or "Gesundheit" when somebody sneezes; It serves zero purpose and the only reason anybody really does it is because people get offended if you don't. So where does this leave us?

Sadly, it leaves us nowhere. Meetings are unavoidable, like death... No, death is too metal. Meetings are unavoidable like taxes. So let me be your accountant as I take you through the wonderful world of meetings!

Scheduling

I'm 99.9% sure that meetings exist to inconvenience people. From the moment they're scheduled, they begin to intrude. Nobody gets an email with a meeting invite and goes "Oh, how convenient!", the response is usually something more like this, "Oh no, what time is this scheduled for?" - This is because nobody cares what a meeting is about, they want to know which hour of their day is about to die slowly in a sea of boredom and tears. I use the term "hour" loosely - You know the expression "Give them an inch, they'll take a mile"? Well if you give a meeting an hour, it'll take a day. No meeting ends on time. But let's face it, there will never be a day when we as white-collar Americans are free of this mundane ritual. With that, most of us have learned to cope with the fact that over 22,000 hours of our lives will be spent in meetings, but there are ways to make those 22,000 hours a little less intrusive. Let's start by avoiding these highly inconvenient hours when scheduling meetings:

12pm - 1pm - I shouldn't even have to explain why this is the absolute worst hour to schedule ANYTHING other than lunch plans. However, there's a reason this sacred hour of the day is so commonly interrupted by meeting makers - A lack of common sense. The hardest part about scheduling a meeting with a large group of people is that they are rarely available at the same time, but because the work world has this nifty little thing called a lunch break, meeting makers see this glorious available hour as a wonderful coincidence. And just like that, coincidence becomes inconvenience. I should also point out that most people who schedule lunch-time meetings don't have the decency to break out the corporate card and provide a sympathy meal. Horrible. Just horrible. Shame on all of you.

9am - 9:30am - To assume that anybody is getting to work at exactly 9am is silly. The only people that show up on time are newbies, contractors and brown-nosers. Any REAL cube-dweller knows that the work day officially starts at 9:30am. But let's just pretend that people do show up at 9. This would mean that they are walking into the building at 9 o'clock. They're not set up yet; their computer isn't out, their headset isn't on and they probably have to use the bathroom after sitting in traffic for the past hour with a large coffee. So when you schedule that 9am meeting, you're effectively adding 15 minutes to somebody's day because now they have to be at work early enough to be situated in their cube and ready to conference. At least be reasonable and schedule for 9:15.

4pm - 5pm - The last hour of the day. Home stretch (sports analogy!)... and you're going to schedule a meeting now. The problem isn't that you're interrupting something important, it's that nobody is checked-in enough at this point to be effective. There's only two things running through people's brains between 4pm and 5pm - 1.) "What do I need to get done so I can leave?", and 2.) "What's for dinner?". That's it. So unless you need a decision made that involves food, I suggest you do yourself a favor and just wait until tomorrow... Unless you're the devil, in which case you'll probably use this next time slot...

Anytime between 5pm & 9am - Hey, what a shocker, everybody's calendar is open here too! Do I really need to spell it out why I'm NEVER going to accept a meeting request at 8:30am or 5pm? Look, I get that some groups out there work from 8 - 4 or 10 - 6, but that's not how the majority of us common cube-dwellers function. Don't expect me to be anything but a big fat TENTATIVE on your meeting-maker if you attempt this time-slot with me. I might even just accept and not show up to spite you. Hissss.

Corporate Hot Potato

Why do we have meetings in the first place? In their purist form, meetings are used to discuss project goals, deadlines, next steps and make important decisions. Nowadays they're just an excuse to make your team look more efficient than it really is. Personally, I think meetings are a relic of that primitive era known as Pre-Internet. We all know the majority of topics brought up in most meetings can be resolved with a simple email thread, the rest require a quick phone call. But I won't pretend that the people we work with, above or under are non-confrontational enough to do things the easy way. Which is why meetings don't exist in their purist, logical form. They exist for people to flex their corporate muscles, be political, get face time with higher ups and cover their own butts with this very common phrase when something goes wrong - "Well, we met with (insert scapegoat here) to discuss this over a month ago and they said (insert blame here)."

I call this scenario Corporate Hot Potato. You have a constant flow of meetings to toss that hot potato around until something goes wrong, whoever had the potato last is responsible.

Fun, right? Of course not! There's just as much politics in the workplace as there are in… well, actual politics. It's better if you don't get involved. Though, if you're like me, you're probably too tuned out to get involved even if you wanted to. 

Passing the Time

Meetings are monotonous, and if you're not interested in playing Hot Potato, there are a few other ways to pass the time that are much less confrontational and a lot more fun...

Games - If you've read my schpeal on Buzzwords, Acronyms & Nonsense, then you've got the makings of the perfect in-meeting drinking game, sans the drinks of course… Unless you're sneaky. Get on whatever instant messaging service you've got (Lync, Sametime, gChat, etc…) and place bets with a coworker on who's going to use which buzzwords and how frequently. Or even better, try to string together a sentence using X amount of buzzwords. For instance, "To your point, I tend to agree that we should be cognizant of the SEO value of our CTA's, as from a content perspective, amping up the design itself is tertiary compared to the affordance our copy provides - and by this logic, I'd say we have a home run on our hands." - 10 points, you owe me lunch! … Wait never mind, we have a lunch meeting.

In the same vein, another fun game to play is guessing how late the higher-ups are going to be to your meeting… Or if they'll even show up at all. It's like the showcase on The Price is Right. Whoever can get the closest without going over wins. And just like The Price is Right, I like to guess a minute later than everybody else.

Fantasy Island - If you don't want to involve other coworkers in your shenanigans, the best escape from a meeting is your mind. I personally like to sit and imagine that I'm stranded on an island with the people in attendance and we're discussing who gets eaten first. Because I'm not actually paying attention to the REAL words coming out of anyone's mouth, I apply my own dialogue based on their body language and tone. As it turns out, I have some seriously cannibalistic people on my team. When my boss doesn't show up, I'm usually picturing him fighting his way through hoards of wild animals to make it to the meeting and cast his vote so as not to be cannibalized by default for not being present at the council. He fought bravely, and he was delicious I imagine.

Debate - Not that confrontation is the best course of action, but if you're going to have your time wasted, why not waste everyone else's time as well? What better way to accomplish this than by challenging EVERYTHING. Play devil's advocate, take the meeting so far off track that they'll be forced to schedule another meeting. Then go to that meeting and do it again. With enough rationale, anything can be proven wrong. Think of it like a rap battle, only incredibly passive-aggressive and politically correct. I'd even suggest bringing a microphone with you just so that you can drop it every time you give a retort.

Rather than give my final thoughts, I'll end this section with a conference call challenge. If you're calling into a meeting from your desk or from home, have an air horn ready and blast it every time you take yourself off mute and announce yourself like a DJ. Then proceed to to chime in as normally as possible.

You're thinking about it aren't you…
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.