The rise of the curated meeting

June 27, 2023 08:50
Photo: Reuters

Covid-19 was the catalyst for a seismic shift in the way people work. The pandemic turbo-charged a revolution that was already underway, proving that technology can support productivity anywhere. At the same time, it highlighted the financial, environmental and human cost of traditional commuting; the waste of time and energy associated with sitting on trains or in traffic for many hours each week, and the positive impact of reducing this on individuals’ mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Yet, quality in-person collaboration still has a vital role to play in the new world of work. Companies can reap the hybrid model’s countless benefits by empowering employees to split their time between locations: the head office, local co-working centres and home.

Local co-working centres offer the best of both worlds for most workers, featuring calm, well-equipped, professional environments devoid of domestic distractions, but within an easy distance of home, school or childcare facilities.

Bringing people together is critical for generating ideas, encouraging team bonding and creating a strong company culture in the hybrid model. There are personal and practical benefits to face-to-face contact, too. IWG research shows that 97% of HR experts in the USA report there’s a direct correlation between employees’ wellness and productivity, and the number of days they spend at the office with teammates.

Simply demanding that your people spend a certain amount of time in the office - or meet an arbitrary monthly target for clocking in - won’t cut it in the new world of work. Business leaders need to be aware that people’s mindsets have altered irrevocably.

Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index referred to the “worth it equation”, and pointed out that “leaders must establish the why, when and how of the office”. In other words, it’s now incumbent on the C-suite to ensure that visits to the company HQ have a clear purpose and tangible benefits.

What is a curated meeting?

Curated meeting is not a new phenomenon - or at least, it shouldn’t be. However, for anyone who’s ever attended a session that felt unnecessary, unproductive or as though it could easily have been replaced by an email, the concept is certainly appealing.

The word ‘curated’ implies careful, deep-level planning. It suggests that thoughtful choices have been made about who to invite to the meeting, what to discuss and how to present any relevant materials. A curated meeting is the antithesis of things happening by accident - and worlds apart from the sort of ‘quick catch up’ that, in many pre-pandemic workplaces, could easily turn into meandering, time-wasting conversations with no discernible outcome.

Whether they are designed to solve a problem, make a decision or generate creative ideas, curated meetings always have a clear purpose and offer demonstrable value. In short? They convincingly address the ‘why’ in Microsoft’s earlier question, giving employees a good reason for coming together in person.

Tips for running high quality curated meetings

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to run a curated meeting, but the below tips should help you to ensure yours are productive, engaging and even enjoyable.

1. Consider your ‘why’

First and foremost, make sure you know why the meeting is necessary and what it needs to achieve. If you aren’t clear about this, your attendees won’t be either.

Above all, remember that curated meetings aren’t for distributing information. They should involve real participation, and achieve something in person that is qualitatively different to what you could achieve without bringing people together.

2. Make it collaborative

Set goals for the meeting as a group, and involve everyone in deciding what the outcomes should be. This might mean creating an agenda for the meeting at the outset, or augmenting one that’s been pre-prepared.

3. Promote participation

A curated meeting should carry no passengers: there should be no-one in the room who sits silently, bringing nothing to the table.

However, encouraging participation can be difficult. After all, not everyone finds it easy to make their voice heard among more confident colleagues.

The key to redressing this balance lies in preparation. For example, you could have people come to the meeting with some work they need to share in order for its goals to be met.

Ask questions that provoke debate and discussion throughout the session, and - especially if the meeting is long - blend a variety of activities with regular movement to help keep everyone alert.

4. Act as a facilitator

Instead of driving your meeting from the front, allow colleagues to lead it, directing the session towards the right outcome.

Manage conflict or disagreement should they arise, and task yourself with ensuring that everyone in attendance has their say.

Guide the group towards the goals you set together at the beginning of the meeting, but be flexible about the route you take to get there.

5. Ensure it’s enjoyable

In a hybrid world, getting together should be something that colleagues enjoy. It should bolster relationships, encourage the sharing of good practice and remind everyone why it’s great to work where they do.

There’s no reason why a curated meeting can’t have sociable, fun moments at the same time as achieving its objectives!

6. Follow up effectively

Finally, you can make the most of your curated meeting by ensuring you finish it, and follow up on it, effectively.

Before saying goodbye on the day, assess as a group whether the meeting goals have been achieved. Was the outcome what you expected, or needed, it to be?

You can be sure your curated meeting went well if everyone leaves with a clear idea of the decision it has made, the problem it has solved or the solution it has generated.

It’s also important to be clear about next steps. Who is taking which task away to work on? Who needs more information, and who else in the team can provide it?

Test and learn

Like any company’s hybrid working policy, curated meetings require regular review and evaluation. Business leaders need to assess what’s working and what could be improved, as well as consider how and why.

Getting the best out of people, as well as the time they spend at the office together, requires a ‘test and learn’ approach that offers the opportunity for continuous improvement.

As the leader of teams in over 120 countries globally, organising in-person events can be a challenge - but I ensure that when people do come together, it counts. We hold curated meetings and workshops, meet up at local flexspaces and hold regional and global sales conferences.

Our team is happier and healthier working in the hybrid model, and so are those in many other companies. What’s more, research from Accenture shows 63% of high growth firms have embraced ‘productivity anywhere’ models of working, underlining the relationship between employees’ wellbeing and commercial success.

Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams look set to be permanent fixtures of our working lives - but I still believe there’s no substitute for a well-planned, well-executed session where people can collaborate face-to-face. While preparing for curated meetings might cost leaders a little extra in terms of their time and effort, the payoff is always worth it.

Far from encouraging isolation or allowing divisions to develop within teams, the hybrid model offers a new, more productive, more meaningful kind of collaboration at the same time as giving people the flexibility and autonomy they want. It’s an approach that has immense benefits for firms, for individuals and for the planet - which is why business leaders around the world are adopting it with ever-increasing enthusiasm.

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Chief Commercial Officer at IWG