I don’t make it a secret that meetings are not my favourite way of spending my work day. I can’t tell how often I sit in one and reconsider my life choices. I can’t tell you in how many I almost fell asleep, dreaming of a world where I’d get to do the work that I’m actually paid for; dreaming of a workplace where I could design, not sit around a table to make others feel important.
But the title of this article is a bit misleading, since I do believe designers don’t really hate meetings; no creative individual does. What they hate is what meetings represent in the office world: interruptions and inefficiencies.
You can’t turn creativity on and off like a tap. It doesn’t work like that. Creativity is a state of mind – one difficult to achieve in a noisy environment filled with interruptions. Designers and developers turn creativity into outcomes that help businesses move forward, butnd when the environment doesn’t allow them to do that, they tend to be less efficient and productive.
Maybe the issue is the lack of understanding of the manager vs. maker schedules (seriously, go read that). This behaviour is mostly evident in the tech world, where the combination of business prowess and creativity is what drives companies forward.
When meetings happen in the middle of the day, even if they are well managed, they are still an interruption. They take creatives out of their flow. Maybe they were on the brink of solving a coding challenge. Maybe they were in the middle of summarising last week’s workshop into something the whole company can relate to. Maybe they were deep in the rabbit hole of writing a blog post and then ding – a new Slack notification.
“Hey, we’re sitting in the conference room talking about so-and-so project. Can you drop in for a sec, we’ve got a marketing question to ask”
Flow gone. Creativity out of the window. Frustration level through the roof.
There’s nothing wrong with meetings, but with the lack of empathy towards creatives and what makes them good at their job. The solution is not to abolish meetings altogether. The solution is to be smart about scheduling them – in the beginning and towards the end of the day.
Catch-ups should happen in the morning, before creatives can get 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time to work. As the end of the day approaches and the creativity naturally fades away under fatigue, there’s space for a couple more meetings. Again, it’s not about sitting together in a room; designers hate meetings because they get interrupted by catch-ups that are not well managed.
When was the last time you left a conference room thinking “that was a useful way of spending an hour of my life”? If you’re anything like me, you can’t remember. That’s because people use meetings to solve problems. But you can’t solve problems in meetings. Getting a team into a room should be about alignment. Where are we right now? What are the next steps? Are there any blockers we could help each other with? Any other updates everyone needs to know about? Any messages I need to give our VP at the leadership meeting next week? Any questions you want me to ask?
Meetings also need to be managed well. Is everyone invited really needed in the room? Has all the prep work needed for decision-making been completed? Does everyone know what the meeting is about? Do we have a clear agenda and goals for what we want to get out of this hour? Do we need the meeting to be an hour long, or can we shorten it?
These are questions few of us ask when we take time in other people’s calendars, which is another behaviour we’re all guilty of. If there’s space in the calendar, surely we can book that person in for a chat? Wrong! Space in the calendar means they’re working, not that they’ve got nothing to do and are waiting for someone to fill it up.
Moving towards meetings we don’t hate
Designers hate meetings mainly for these two reasons, but some companies have figured ways out, so there’s no reason to think yours can’t. These problems don’t happen because people are inconsiderate, they happen because the consequences are not clear.
Letting creative people do creative work pays off. They design better products. They write cleaner code. They come up with brilliant blog posts. They do what you’ve hired them to do. There’s no other way to put it – forcing creatives to sit in poorly-managed meetings in environments where flow is unattainable will make them worse at their jobs.
Companies need to consider what the cost of that is. How much is clean code worth to you? How much is your company banking on the next iteration of your product being the one? How important is that the next blog post goes viral? The answers can vary, but my guess is that if you’ve hired creatives (and paying them good money), their work is crucial to your success. If I’m right, it’s time for a change. As someone in a position of power, you are the one who can drive that change. So what’s stopping you?