How long does it take to get things done in a virtual meeting?

One of the most common mistakes people make when planning virtual meetings is allocating time incorrectly. Hint: the problem is not usually that meetings end early.

Time by Alex Tian (cc by-nd)

Time by Alex Tian (cc by-nd)

To help you avoid this error, here is a handy formula you can use to calculate how long something will take in a virtual meeting.

  1. How long would this conversation with this group of people take in a face-to-face meeting? Write it down. We’ll call that number n.
  1. Add modifiers to n as follows:
  • If there is no facilitator, double n before continuing. Then hire or assign a facilitator.
  • If there are more than 10 people involved (not counting the facilitator):
    • For 11-15 people, add 5 minutes to n.
    • For 15-20 people, add 10 minutes to n.
    • For 21-30 people, add 15 minutes to n.
    • For more than 30 people, design pre-work to take care of as much as you can before the meeting, then add 20 minutes to n.
  • Will you be switching tools during the meeting? For instance, going from screen-sharing to a collaborative sticky note board, Google doc, or similar?
    • If so, add 5 minutes for every time you switch to a new tool.
    • If the additional tool is new to at least half the group, add another 5 minutes.
    • If the additional tool requires participants to log in, add another 2 minutes.
    • If the additional tool requires a download or plug-in, add another 5 minutes.
    • If you don’t display clear written instructions about how to access and use the tool, add 5 minutes.
  • Will you be using breakout rooms in this meeting? Add 5 minutes for each time you go into breakouts.
  • Will the group need to make a major decision during this conversation?
    • For groups up to 15, add 10 minutes to propose the decision and check for agreement.
    • For groups of 16-20, add 15 minutes to propose the decision and check for agreement.
    • For groups over 20, add 15 minutes to propose the decision and check for agreement, and expect a lot of follow-up questions after the meeting.
  • If the group is very divided about the content of the decision, add another 5-10 minutes to the decision time.
  • Will you be keeping a Parking Lot, and do you expect more than two Parking Lot issues to come up? If so, add 5-10 minutes to resolve the Parking Lot issues.
  • Look at the total you have so far. For every 60 minutes, add 5 minutes for stretch breaks. If you’re over two hours total, add another 10 minutes for a sanity break in the middle.
  • Remember to add 10 minutes up front for people to connect to the meeting and get their audio and video sorted out.
  • Remember to add 5 minutes at the end of the meeting to review decisions and action steps.

As an example, let’s look at a group of 14 people who need to brainstorm ideas about their next product launch, select two, and assign research leads to each idea. It would take them 45 minutes to get this done in one focused face-to-face meeting with a facilitator, so n is 45.

  • Add 5 minutes for the number of people (14): 50 minutes
  • We’ll use screen sharing and Boardthing (a sticky note tool), so we add 5 minutes: 55 minutes
  • Boardthing doesn’t require an account or a download, so we don’t need to add any time for that.
  • Naturally we will create clear, visual instructions for Boardthing and show them before we switch as well as in Boardthing itself, so we don’t have to add 5 minutes for not doing that.
  • We will be using breakout groups once, so we add 5 minutes: 60 minutes
  • The group will need to make a major decision, so we add 10 minutes: 70 minutes
  • The group isn’t particularly deeply divided, so we don’t need to add time for that.
  • We don’t expect a long Parking Lot, so we don’t need to add time for that.
  • We add a 5-minute stretch break: 75 minutes
  • We add 10 minutes at the start for getting settled: 85 minutes
  • We add 5 minutes at the end to review decisions and actions: 90 minutes

In order to accomplish our objectives in a virtual meeting, we need to set aside 90 minutes, including a 5-minute stretch break.

By now you’re probably wondering whether this is meant to be satire. Nope. I’m serious. This is how long it takes to do real work when you’re not face-to-face. If you plan for it and people are prepared in advance, the meeting will run much smoother. People will feel great about achieving their objectives in the time they set aside. And hey, if you’re wrong, you can always end the meeting early.

 

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