Meetings are a part of life no matter whether we are at our actual or virtual offices. In many cases it may feel like the number of meetings increases when working virtually. This may be due to the fact that meetings are easier to hold when everyone attends virtually or it may be that having virtual meetings makes it seem like there are more meetings (and that each meeting are longer). Zoom fatigue is a symptom that we have all undoubtedly had over the last year, and it is easy to try to avoid meetings, especially at the end of a long week. It is therefore important to schedule breaks and to “decompress” from the long and wearying virtual meetings that we all must attend.
So it may come as a surprise that I think you should have more meetings. All the negative elements of meetings are all true, but too often the major benefit is overlooked: it is the only chance that many of us (including me) actually get to see and interact with our colleagues! This does not mean you should relish meetings or seek them out with verve, but it is important to recognize that many of us are seeking interactions with other adults (especially if we have young children…) and it is far more satisfying to do so face-to-face than via email. At NIU we have a week (or multiple times a month) meeting where we check in on the library operations, but just as importantly interact with each other.
Beyond the conversations with colleagues, those of us with student should also reach out to them to ensure they are not just names on a page or faces in a box. I have required my students to meet with me three times during the semester to ensure that (1) we have actual conversations rather than email exchanges and (2) it serves no one’s interests for courses to be remote in proximity and remote in interaction. Too often it is easy for students to blend into the background of a course and feel ignored. Requiring conversations allows for all students to be brought forward and recognized. Just as it is true with meetings, this may be uncomfortable for some, but it is necessary for all.
So how can the gap between the need to disconnect and the need to interact be bridged? Several articles identify several helpful tools including shortening meeting length, focusing the meeting agenda, and reducing stress in-meeting. One of the most obvious adjustments is to simply change the focus of a meeting; for instance the one-on-one meetings I schedule with my students is not focused on anything related to the course (unless they would like to discuss something) but rather centered around “checking in”. The plethora of tools to get the information to students is profound, and setting up another meeting to relay that information can be daunting. It is therefore helpful to set up meetings just to catch up or have a short conversation. The students have told me they appreciate these meetings, even when they can be inconveniencing to schedule and attend. Ultimately the biggest problem with meetings is the intellectual drain; it is therefore important to add some emotional intelligence to meeting planning to ensure we are getting more than we are giving.