How to make the most of in-person meetings

If you’re asking remote employees to come in for a meeting, make it worth the commute.

By Pamela DeLoatch — August 30, 2022

Remember office meetings? Sitting in stuffy conference rooms, stressing over the work left sitting at your desk, leaving without more clarity than you started with. From all-hands to one-on-ones, kickoffs to debriefs, and stand-ups to status updates — meetings have long been the drumbeat of office culture. But that doesn’t mean anyone likes them. In one study, more than 35% of respondents said they waste two to five hours every day in meetings, with nothing to show for it. In another, 92% of employees said they find meetings costly and unproductive.

That nearly universal dissatisfaction with meetings is a stumbling block for companies trying to woo employees back to the office with hybrid schedules. A recent Gallup poll shows that more than half of employees in the US will work hybrid schedules in 2022 and beyond. Maintaining the flexibility remote employees gained during the pandemic is an obvious plus, but showing the benefits of commuting a few times a week is more of a challenge.

“My personal belief is that there are things that can only happen when you are face to face, when you need this creative energy,” says Carles Farre, global head of print services and solutions at HP. “If you are able to be at the same table for a few hours, then that time should be spent discussing, whiteboarding, and collaborating. That’s why the office is still super relevant [for meeting in person].” 

Here are some questions and considerations to keep in mind in designing meetings that give employees a valuable experience that makes the commute feel worthwhile.

Could this meeting be an email?

According to a study by calendar software company, the average employee spent about 14 hours in meetings every week before the pandemic. Now, that’s increased to 21.5 hours a week, as managers try to stay connected with employees working remotely. Another study by Microsoft found that since February 2020, weekly meetings have increased by a whopping 252%.


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The initial decision isn’t whether to have the meeting in person or remotely, but whether to have the meeting at all. If the objective is to share information — could an email or quick Slack chat do the job? 

If the information is sensitive or complicated because it may require real-time conversation, an in-person meeting may be the way to go. Similarly, if you’re seeking to get everyone’s input, make a decision, or encourage collaboration, a meeting encourages conversation more than an email thread. 

Emily Parks, productivity consultant, author and founder of Organize for Success, says in-person meetings feel most valuable when interacting, problem-solving, or training are the focus. “I find that most people will tune out or be less engaged when they realize the leaders are giving updates,” she says. “If you focus on brainstorming or decision making, it garners greater anticipation, participation, and engagement.”

If it can’t be an email, does it need to be in-person? 

A few years ago, attending a meeting just meant walking down the hall to the conference room for most people. But now, for remote or hybrid employees, attending an onsite meeting means factoring in a commute, time away from project tasks, and scrambling to arrange care for family members.  

Margeaux Walter

In time, effort, and money, it costs remote and hybrid employees more to come into the office than to log into a video call, so the meeting itself should offer more — or different — value than they get by joining from home. 

Sandra Moran, chief innovation officer at Workforce Software, notes that a clear benefit of in-person meetings is that people tend to feed off each other’s energy and feel more comfortable participating — all of which can make in-person meetings feel more exciting and satisfying for employees. 

“The opportunity for including more ideas from more individuals is often enabled by in-person interaction, side-bar conversations, and casual exchanges on the way to and from the meeting,” she says. “That’s difficult to recreate in an online-only meeting situation.”

Who needs to be there?

While leaders want to be inclusive, inviting too many people makes meetings inefficient. Park advises to remember The Rule of 7 — the idea that once you get past seven attendees, the quality goes down by 10 percent for every additional invitee. When more people attend, “it’s really easy to go down a rabbit hole and get distracted,” she says. 

Parks suggests revisiting the meeting’s purpose when deciding who to invite. “If you’re solving a problem or making a decision, do you have people in the meeting who can do that? If you’re brainstorming, do you have people with the right knowledge and experience? If you’re training, who can benefit from this information to put it into play?”

Remember that even though the meeting is in-office, some team members may still need to attend remotely because of where they’re located or other commitments. Be sure to set up and test in-room meeting technology like webcams, microphones, and monitors so all participants can see, hear, and participate, whether they’re in the room or remote. Throughout the meeting, be sure to include remote attendees in the discussions and activities.

Margeaux Walter

When should the meeting begin and end? 

In a hybrid environment, the meeting start and end times take on new meaning, especially for employees coming in just for the event. Consider issues like rush hour, school and daycare drop-off and pick-up times, and commuting distance when picking the time. Meetings traditionally start on the hour, but it may make sense to schedule the meeting to begin 10 or 15 minutes later to accommodate employees’ schedules.

In addition, set the meeting end time so employees understand the time commitment — and stick to it to show you value their time. Set a timer if necessary to avoid running over. Schedule a follow-up meeting or email if more discussion is required.

What will be covered in the meeting?

With increased competition for team members’ time, having a clear agenda that explains the meeting’s purpose is paramount, Parks says. Be transparent about the meeting’s purpose, explain how people should prepare and what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are, and make sure everyone understands the desired outcome. 

Craig Coffey, executive coach and founder of Way Maker Leadership, says establishing conventions for clear meeting titles can help attendees understand what to expect. “‘Brainstorming’ signals active participation — all ideas are welcomed,” he explains. “‘Debrief’ connotes information sharing. “Workshop connotes learning and development.”

How will people participate in the meeting?

Design in-person meetings around activities that require participation, so they feel fundamentally different from an open discussion that could happen online. Use physical elements, such as whiteboards, sticky notes, or printouts on walls and tables. Offer snacks or bring in lunch, and begin with icebreaker activities to encourage social connections and camaraderie. Whenever possible, give people a chance to move around and interact with their colleagues by breaking into smaller groups for collaboration and coming back together to share their work. 

Peter Robert, CEO of Expert Computer Solutions, says it’s important to keep in mind why people prefer remote meetings as you’re designing in-person experiences. 

“Aside from the fact that they can be attended from your own dining room table, they’re casual,” he says. “Keep your in-person meetings casual and dispense with as much pomp and circumstance as possible to keep the meeting on track. When a meeting gets into the weeds, it’s a lot easier to forgive when you’re remote and can switch to another tab and work on something more pressing. When you’re stuck in a room, it can feel like an eternity.”

What happens when everyone goes back to their desks?

After any meeting, but particularly after a hybrid meeting where some people may have been in-person and others remote — be sure to email everyone who attended with clear outcomes and next steps, so everyone agrees on how to proceed. Ask attendees for feedback and then apply that feedback to improve the next meeting.

That kind of clear communication can not only prevent confusion, it can help remind people of what they were able to accomplish in-person and leave them looking forward to their next in-person opportunity.


READ MORE: 4 ways to make your hybrid meetings more effective