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Zombie meetings are an epidemic infecting companies everywhere. Specifically, these are meetings that have become stale and suck up company resources while going unnoticed. Perhaps these sorts of meetings come from an employee who is no longer with the company — mysteriously rising from the dead in the form of a recurring conference room time booked on the shared company calendar. And because killing the zombie occurrence can be difficult, the recurring meeting time stays on the calendar, and the conference room remains unused, indefinitely.
Zombie meetings, however, aren’t always the result of a former employee. Active, well-intentioned current employees can be culprits as well. What once may have started as a productive daily, stand-up meeting has turned stale, reeking of rotting flesh. Employees may still be attending these particular meetings, but the effectiveness of them has gone out the window. In some cases employees may have even simply stopped attending altogether or worse, had a useless meeting transform into 1-on-1 session now held at an employee’s desk while still taking up valuable conference room time.
A booked, but empty, conference room may seem like no big deal, but it can have a big impact on the overall operations of a successful company. Since most employees are conditioned to move on when seeing a blocked out conference room on a shared calendar, detection can often take weeks, if not months.
A big factor contributing to the presence of zombie meetings is the increased demand on conference room space. For an employee with pressure to accomplish tasks with a team, it is easier (and safer) to book a room with the “just in case” mentality. When there are no penalties for booking a room without using it, employees have little incentive to risk not booking a room. It’s not that employees are intentionally stealing conference rooms to create headaches for others; their actions are simply a result of playing it safe (or maybe a little laziness).
If an employee is going to set a recurring meeting, it’s smart to set an end date — whether it’s a few weeks or even a few months out. The key to quarantining a zombie meeting is to never set a recurring meeting indefinitely. That way, when the end date is reached, the meeting organizer will be more likely to evaluate its value and whether to continue holding them. It’s also valuable because it makes employees reconsider whether they need to set a recurring meeting at all. When it is deemed necessary, employees should try to set aside an efficient amount of time, which for many is only 15 minutes.
This is even more important as the trend toward open workspaces continues to grow, because conference rooms the primary location for teams to meet. Eliminating zombie meetings is just the first step to regaining access to conference rooms and establishing more internal control. Policies can, and should, be taken to ensure that booking a room is fair, and ensuring that most employees don’t feel pressured or bullied. Fortunately, new technology — including digital displays for booking rooms, requiring a time-limited meeting check-in, and systems to more closely track room utilization — is making it easier to regulate conference rooms than ever before.
Conference room resources may continue to be constrained, but with zombie meetings and their contagious bite being eradicated from office buildings, companies should see positive results for employee morale and financial vitality. And once “The Meeting Dead” have been removed, you’ll be quite surprised at how alive things start to look.
Shaun Ritchie is CEO and cofounder of EventBoard.io, a cloud-based meeting room management and analytics service with over 500 paying customers. Before starting EventBoard, Shaun cofounded Neutron Interactive, an Internet marketing and lead generation startup.
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