How To Reduce Meetings Using Online Surveys

March 25, 2014

What’s so significant about calling regular meetings?

Communication is good, isn’t it?

Staying abreast with regular project updates and providing detailed feedback is a key part of supervision, right?

According to the folks over at 37 Signals (the creators of Basecamp), meetings aren’t crucial at all.

In fact, they’re downright harmful to an organization’s productivity. Here’s what they have to say about meetings, and how surveys can help solve the problem of mindless meeting mania. 

With well-written questions and a well-designed survey, you can find ways to retain clarity when group opinion may seem unclear and less than constructive. Below are some of the best examples of meetings that can be removed entirely using internal surveys.

 [The following is an excerpt from chapter seven of 37 Signals’, Getting Real.]

Meetings are Toxic

Do you really need a meeting? Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im or Campfire. The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.

-There’s nothing more toxic to productivity than a meeting. Here’s a few reasons why:

-They break your workday into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow.

-They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things (like a piece of code or some interface design).

-They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.

-They often contain at least one moron that inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense.

-They drift off subject easier than a Chicago cab in heavy snow.

-They frequently have agendas so vague nobody is really sure what they are about.

-They require thorough preparation that people rarely do anyway.

For those times when you absolutely must have a meeting (this should be a rare event), stick to these simple rules:

-Set a 30-minute timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.

-Invite as few people as possible.

-Never have a meeting without a clear agenda.

Okay, so some valid points were made here. And while there are meetings that really do help more than hurt, it’s all too easy to get caught up in a tizzy of conference-room back patting.

Surveys can help.

Most online survey tools aren’t nearly as rigidly purposed as many think. Anytime you need to collect and then disseminate group opinion, you can use a survey to help automate that process, removing the time strain from the respondents as well as the bias from the data collector.

Project Updates

Clearly there are many different scenarios in which status meetings can be helpful to productivity. There are just as many that can add to inefficiency.

If your team isn’t centrally located (perhaps remote workers distributed around the country), stopping by their office isn’t practical. If all you need are individual updates, consider a 3-4 question survey to quickly gather all of those timelines while also documenting for any future project analysis or performance reviews.

You can achieve the same kind of feedback without a time-consuming face-to-face interaction, regarding confidence in meeting significant deadlines, or identifying any hurdles to immediate progress that need to be addressed on your end.

The questions below are simple, yet powerful in showing how a team lead can quickly identify who needs assistance and how best to follow up. Show/hide logic for Yes/No questions like these can also reduce survey fatigue when a follow up question is not needed. However, if someone were to answer “No” to the question “Do you feel confident you are on schedule?” a text box (hidden by default) can automatically follow-up to allow the respondent space to specify what the issues are.

Employee Happiness Surveys

When it comes to HR, employee happiness is a key metric. But even at a small or mid-size organization, gathering everyone in a room to openly share their opinions on workplace satisfaction is in a dozen ways, less than ideal. It lacks anonymity and confidentiality, and you may miss out on significant ideas to improve your workspace.

By sending a short, 3-minute survey, you can provide your employees a platform to share their thoughts on satisfaction within their position, team, and organization, all confidentially. Collect ideas to improve the work place, from team-building activities to non-financial benefits.

Do away with the company wide, semi-annual one-on-one’s that consume your HR department’s time, and achieve the same results (possibly with more accurate and actionable data) in a single afternoon.

Take it a step further. Commit to a regularly scheduled, company-wide happiness survey that will help you track a quantitative barometer over time, while comparing that to different changes in policy, growth, and departmental differences.

Surveys About Facilities

In the same vein, whenever you have an issue regarding facilities, and you need feedback from a significant sample (or all) of your employees, providing them with a very short survey will allow you to collect immediate, documentable, and bias-free opinions.

Have a few individuals said it’s too cold in the office?

Is there an issue with a lack of parking in the morning?

Are there complaints about the quality or lack of coffee provided?

Requiring only a minute or two of your employee’s time, you can gather holistic opinions in order to drive decisions that affect everyone.

Quick Event Polls

Scheduling an event outside of normal office hours can often require several back and forth emails. 

There are better ways.

I recently participated in a survey to determine the best night for those interested in playing on the company kickball team. Does that seem trivial? Maybe to you, but not to those of us who look forward to kickball season for eight months each year.

More importantly, the survey was efficient and effectual.

The data showed 76% of respondents preferred the Thursday night league over the Monday night league.

It took each respondent about 40 seconds to open the link and take the survey. It didn’t have to interrupt their workflow, thought process, or phone call. And best of all, it provided a quantifiable group opinion, devoid of any misinterpretation.

Make Necessary Meetings More Efficient

I’ve conceded multiple times that there certainly are instances where face-to-face meetings are not only necessary, but extremely helpful in providing feedback, especially if a creative brainstorm is taking place.

I am not advocating a cessation of meetings altogether. In those times when meetings must take place, you can still leverage the tools within survey software to improve the planning and execution of those meetings.

Crowd-sourced Agendas

One of the points made in Getting Real is, “Never have a meeting without a clear agenda.” This is one we’re all guilty of.

Meetings are frequently called with only a topic in mind, or a project title along with a time and place. Now maybe that’s because the meeting stakeholder doesn’t want to take the time to create an outline or consider the perspective of every single attendee.

Why not let the attendees speak for themselves? If you distribute a survey the day before a meeting asking for input on the topics that need to be visited, it’s a bit like crowdsourcing. You’ll hear from the people who want to be heard, the people who also have skin in the game.

Not only does the feedback help create an agenda where you’ll avoid hearing conference-room crickets, but you’ll also have a better idea of who will want to speak and who’s just there because they got a Google calendar invite.

How Do You Use Surveys in the Office?

These are just a few examples of possible ways to reduce meetings and meeting time using very simple, short surveys. I have no doubts that there are companies using surveys in creative ways to reduce work interruptions, improve productivity, and democratize the office.

So please, contribute to the conversation and share how your organization is using surveys, or could benefit from using surveys, to improve efficiency within your office.

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