Accept or Decline: are those the right questions?
We accept calendar invites like we accept terms of service: without thinking.
We have developed some bad habits in our use of software. As software has become more and more invisible (many probably don’t even remember the days when it came in fancy boxes, on floppy disks and then CD-ROMs), our acceptance of Terms of Service or EULAs has become increasingly unconscious.
It is now a commonplace that when we download an app or join a new software service we are asked to accept an agreement that we do not, and likely never will, read. What do they say? Who knows? They are written (designed) to virtually guarantee we don not read them. We likely would not understand them if we did.
Accept or Decline.
We assume that whatever these agreements bind us too is less onerous than our inability to do whatever it is that software will make possible, from Tik Tokking to Tweeting.
This habit of passive acceptance has now become equally ubiquitous in our workplaces. We accept meeting invitations with the same degree of or lack of consciousness that we exhibit in accepting software terms of service. When we make agreements about how to spend our time without thinking we are committing to a kind of mindlessness at work with potentially disastrous consequences.
Are we idiots? Of course not. For too long we have acted as if the cost of our decisions is low. At the same time, we have created a culture of work in which the incentives to appear busy are high. A calendar full of meetings is a sign of industrious engagement. No? On the other hand, if people are in meetings all day, then when and how are they meant to get work done that cannot be accomplished merely by attending meetings?
Imagine what might change if we imported some behavioral norms from other contexts to the situation of creating a meeting invitation. For instance, in services like OpenTable and Resy many high end restaurants require a deposit to secure a reservation and the possibility that you might forfeit the deposit if you are a no show.
Imagine that as you started creating a meeting invitation, the interface started tallying itemized costs. 15 min meetings have a minimum cost of $100, 30 min $250, 60 min for $500. Each attendee adds a cost, calculated as a factor of salary, time away from other work, demand for that person’s time. A hour for Sam is $75, for George $125, Allison at $180, Hiro $250 and Ovetta at $500 (she’s a VP!). Now this meeting cost is up to $500 base fare + $1130 in people time. We are up to $1630. for this one hour gathering. You get the idea.
If we had this kind of feedback in our meeting planning, we might start to be far more judicious about what kind of meetings we scheduled, whom we included, with what goals, and what expectations.
As we live more and more in a world in which our work lives are spent in hybrid and remote “workplaces,” our meeting experience is becoming the de facto employee experience. That’s not good news.
There is reason for optimism, however, because many thoughtful and creative people have been doing a lot valuable thinking, work, experimenting, testing and validating myriad ways to make meetings better.
Meeting design has become something that is studied, theorized, practiced and offered as a service. That’s great news, because we need better choices than whether to Accept or Decline. More thoughtful choices.
We need to have better information about what our choices are and how to make them. We need to be clearer and more precise in what we are asking people to spend their time doing. We need to be better prepared to ensure that we spend our time together well.
We need to change meetings. Together.