One thing that hasn’t changed about today’s office environment is that meetings are still very much in force. Certainly there are ways to make their end product – such as linked spreadsheets (poked fun of by this Xkcd comic) — more productive, such as how Proctor & Gamble eliminated 18-24 days of meetings per person per year after implementing QuickBase. This was very effective because many of the meetings consisted of identifying the most current version of a given source within a huge master spreadsheet. What used to take days now takes minutes or hours, since this single, and unworkable spreadsheet was divvied up into linked QuickBase files that were more manageable.
But there are other productivity gains to be had with meeting scheduling and tracking and online calendar technologies that can be had as well. Before you dive into any of these, realize that you will probably need more than one tool to help, depending on your needs.
Most of us arrange meeting times via email, or worse yet, through a series of phone calls. This makes everyone miserable because finding a common free time among your participants can be maddening, what with a series of seemingly never-ending emails or voice messages. There are two online services (SetMeeting.com and Doodle.com) that can do this for free. Both work by having each intended participant set up feasible free times and letting everyone converge quickly on a common slot. Yes, notifications are still sent via email that you have a pending meeting, but there is no back-and-forth negotiation over whether this Tuesday at 10 am is better than next Friday at 11:30. Doodle also has paid plans that start at $39/user/year that add features such as encryption, reports on who is missing from the common agreed time, and more.
Once you actually hold your meeting, you would like to keep track of what your agenda is, and how you intend to follow up. There are many tools that can help here, including Opp.io (free to $29/user/month), Glip.com (free to $10/user/month) and Getflow.com ($19/user/month and up). Each tool offers an online SaaS portal where you can share documents and show tasks and workflow. Prices vary depending on the number of team participants and other usage factors.
But what if you are a consultant or have a retail business and want your customers to book your time electronically, rather than call to schedule an appointment? Then you’ll need another series of digital tools such as Timetrade.com or Calendly.com. Both allow you to set up permissible time periods that you are available, and like the common time schedulers, will send you an initial email notification but otherwise leave the back-and-forth messages out of your inbox. Calendly has a free basic account, with premium accounts at $10/user/month that add custom branding and URL links and reporting options. TimeTrade has various subscription options.
What about if you are traveling and want to broadcast your itinerary? You might want to inform your customers when you are traveling so you can arrange meetings and use your time more effectively. The free service TripIt.com can do this, but you probably want to use the paid version ($50/user/year) to make use of features such as tracking when your favorite airline seat becomes available on your flight and some other features that frequent flyers will appreciate.
While there isn’t a single digital tool that can satisfy everyone’s meeting needs, there are some very attractive ways that you can become just as productive as P&G did without spending a lot of money. And you could always take a few tips from our infographic that we posted a few years ago: comments such as staying on topic, arrive a few minutes early and end on time are always useful too.