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How to manage meetings when you’re a working parent during COVID

How to manage meetings when you’re a working parent during COVID

by Jennifer Palumbo
October 29, 2020

How to manage meetings when you’re a working parent during COVID

How to manage meetings when you’re a working parent during COVID

by Jennifer Palumbo
October 29, 2020

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“Can we jump on a call?” Six words I have grown to hate.

At my last full-time job, we had so many back to back meetings that I began blocking off time in my calendar just to work. I labeled it, “Non-Meeting Time”. When my then boss, who had access to my calendar, asked me what that daily recurring meeting was on my schedule, I explained the purpose. Instead of being applauded for my effort to be productive and carve out dedicated time to execute on the various tasks I was assigned, I got a lecture about how I need to keep my schedule free for… guess what? More meetings.

When I left that job, I not only had the opportunity to start my own business (which I did) but as the months passed, I realized something: I had “Meeting PTSD”.

Are meetings actually productive?

When I look back at most meetings in my corporate days, the attendees weren’t talking and listening. They were talking… and waiting for their turn to talk again. There were even times when we’d be walking through a PowerPoint presentation, some would make suggestions and yes, even provide constructive and helpful criticism. However, those meetings were always an hour too long and in the end, I would often walk out thinking, “This could have been an email or Google Document where people marked what we thought they should change.”

Now that I have my own business, I find that when I dig deeper as to why we are setting up a meeting or what’s the objective, more often than not, a meeting sincerely isn’t needed or absolutely vital. So, I was happily chugging along, doing my work and having maybe only one or two meetings (if that) a week.

Then...the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

Calls during COVID as a working parent

My resistance to meetings and my “Meeting PTSD” remained in full effect but now, I had two toddlers at home (and their teachers) who could care less about my career or who wanted to talk to me when.

My oldest is on the autistic spectrum and is speech delayed. He thrives when there are set routines and as we all know, pretty much every routine we had got thrown out the window when schools and offices closed. My oldest did not respond to this well and due to his limitations, he cannot express it as typical children might. Instead, he has been having meltdowns several times a day. Meltdowns that entail screaming at the top of his lungs or pushing his younger brother. Imagine trying to have a call/meeting to “explore what the word ‘wheelhouse’ means to us” with that happening in the background?

My husband and I learned quickly that we can never schedule a call at the same time. We tried that once and there were almost no survivors. I’m sure working parents will relate. We had to apologize to our clients and get the hell off the phone to play referee and debate whether drinking on the job was allowed.

Now, anytime anyone asks, “Can we jump on a call?” or “I’ll send a meeting request.”, my blood pressure rockets. It’s become a logistical nightmare to pull off and when I do and find out the call could have been a well-worded email, it’s immensely frustrating.

New set of meeting rules

I’d like to propose we all universally revisit the, “How much do we truly and honestly need this many people on a call/meeting” thing. In fact, here are my personal suggestions on how to approach meetings in general but especially now that many are being asked to work like we don’t have kids at home and home-school like we don’t have work.

  • Think critically about whether a call or meeting needs to happen. What’s the goal? Does it need to a conversation or can it be accomplished another way that’s mindful of everyone’s time?
  • If you decide it is imperative to have a meeting, invite-only who is absolutely necessary.
  • Schedule meetings to be either a half hour or an hour at the most.
  • Prepare a strict and concise agenda in advance of meetings so everyone knows the goal and is aware what needs to be achieved. Have a timer if need be and if you want to even try the approach they have at the Oscars, have music ready to go to play off anyone pontificating for too long. (A slight joke but you have to admit, it could work).
  • I also strongly suggest that when you’re in a meeting, you continually ask yourself, “Why am I talking?” (I strongly suggest you don’t ask that out loud but quietly to yourself). I can be as verbose as anyone but I’m finding lately when I ask myself two questions: ‘Why am I thinking of talking or adding something here?’, and ‘Is it really imperative or helpful that I say what I’m thinking?’ Sometimes it is as it relates but many times, it’s not going to push the conversation forward.
  • Minimize (or frankly, eliminate) meetings on any weekday after 6pm or on Friday’s after 3pm. Just because you don’t have any plans in the evening doesn’t mean everyone else is the same.
  • Send a recap after the meeting is done not only to ensure that everyone is on the same page but to quite possibly avoid needing any additional meetings in the future.

Lastly, and most importantly, please show empathy. As we navigate the current world during quarantine and even as we slowly begin to ramp back up and see what the future holds for us in terms of health, safety, work, finances, technology and more, you need to remember that everyone is doing their best to balance it all. If someone can’t find child coverage or is spread thin or simply needs a mental health moment and can’t make a two-hour Zoom meeting, show compassion and be understanding. I know your co-workers and employees will appreciate more than ever!

This article was written by Jennifer Palumbo from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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