Breaks Between Meetings
More than 18 months ago I wrote a post One Hour Meetings Are Ineffective. The focus of the post was mainly on physically present meetings. As coronavirus pandemic moved all meeting to a virtual place, I think it's a good idea to reflect the thought and its benefits.
The original post proposed to have 45 minute meetings with 15 minute breaks instead of one hour meeting blocks. It emphasized importance of timeliness of a meeting, so no time is wasted. The focus was on allowing people to refresh in breaks, have a follow up chat and to sum up the meeting.
The move to virtual meetings brought in new challenges such as audio delay, smaller amount of non-verbal communication, computer distractions which all require a better concentration. There are multiple studies and articles, such as ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain (National Geographic), that provide a scientific background into these challenges. There are also physical aspects of virtual meetings like long screen time, prolonged sitting periods, or lack of walking in between meeting rooms. In my opinion, all of these changes just emphasize the need of breaks in between meetings in order to stay productive.
As the human attention span (Wikipedia) is around 20 minutes, I would propose to use 30 minute meeting blocks in the following way:
- 5 minutes - social chat (and time to sort out technical problems)
- 20 minutes - moderated discussion / meeting
- 5 minutes - break (= no screen time)
Longer meetings should be divided accordingly, so you maintain 5 minute breaks after 20 minutes of attention. It is a good idea to resume a meeting with a summary of the previous block.
It is worth to emphasize virtual meetings should be moderated by one person. A moderator should help to maintain agenda and give floor to all participants. It is good to leverage virtual meeting tools such as raising a hand or use a chat to make the discussion smoother and more organized.
We should also think if organizing a meeting is a necessity in the first place. Cannot we use asynchronous communication channels such as a shared document with request for comments? Next time, we should think about virtual meetings differently and not clone the physical world into the digital environment. We should rather re-invent our approach with limitations of a human brain and technology in mind.