This is the first in a series of of tips for people in the workplace. I’m writing it mostly because these are things I’ve learned and have to teach people over and over. So really I’m just getting these things out of my head. These tips apply in most tech companies I’ve been around, but the culture in your company or with your boss may vary so your milage may vary. Some of these will probably seem basic to you, but they are things I’ve run up against myself or correct things that bug me.
Companies often live and die by calendars. Proper use of calendaring etiquette can both be powerful for your own success and help the company run more smoothly. At the same time we all hate meetings, feel like they take away from “real” work. These are a few tips to make things go a little more smoothly. And FYI, this is mostly for internal meetings within a company or organization.
Schedule meetings, don’t ask if you can
When meeting with a co-worker, most tech companies now have some sort of shared calendar system. Google calendar, for instance, usually lets you see the calendars of other people in your org, depending on settings. That means there’s usually a function for you to figure out when someone is free, and book that time which adds to their calendar. People can then respond no if they can’t come.
If you ask if you can set a meeting, it often results in a back and forth conversation about the best time. Or you don’t receive an answer. Many people are on email overload, and don’t respond quickly. This can delay your conversation by quite a bit, potentially past the time it is useful to you.
The worst for me is when people ask “Are you free at such and such time?” We have a joint calendar, you can figure that out yourself. If I don’t keep up my calendar, that’s my fault.
Keep your calendar up to date
More than just make sure all your meetings are up to date, make sure you block off when you’re not available. Google Calendar lets you set usual work times, and I’m sure Outlook and other calendars do too. People are then alerted when you aren’t available. This is particularly useful when you’re traveling and in different time zones than you usually are.
I always block off time that I’m not in the office. Google Calendar is actually bad at this. If I set an all-day event, when others are looking at my calendar they don’t see that I’m out. So I block off my usual work time with an event titled “Mano Out of Office” or something so people know I’m not there.
Respond to calendar invites
One of the worst offenses in my opinion is not responding to a calendar invite. It takes seconds. I usually do it when I get an email notification, but you can also do it the day of, just look at all your meetings and see if you have responded. In my experience there are three types of people who don’t respond to calendar invites.
- Those who don’t intend to attend the meeting. “I didn’t respond because I wasn’t going.”
- Those who do intend to attend the meeting “I didn’t respond because I was going. I would have responded no if I wasn’t able to.”
- Those who aren’t sure yet.
The problem is, there’s no way to know which one you are. The second category is the most common in my experience, but I don’t know if you’re going to or won’t if you don’t respond. For a large meeting, this is often not a problem. But for small meetings where someone is vital to the conversation, not showing up is a real problem. And it wastes everyone else’s time.
In most calendaring systems, you can attach a file to an invite. This way everyone has the relevant discussion topics before hand. So if there’s existing notes, docs you’ll be discussing, etc., make sure everyone has them ahead of time. Unless you’re planning a surprise or something, but how often does that come up?
If you call a meeting, show up with an agenda. If possible, circulate the agenda before hand so people know what to expect. Even better, if a decision needs to be made, show up with a proposal. I’ve seen a lot of meetings go south because everyone expects to figure out what to talk about in the meeting itself. If you have a proposal, it gives attendees something to react to, positively or negatively, and more effeciently moves the conversation along. Even if you are doing a brainstorming session, make sure you know what you’re brainstorming about and have information going in. Not “What do we do with bananas” but “What should we make to eat with 5 bananas we have.”
Always put in a video conference
Video conferencing is super easy now, with Google Hangouts, Skype, Bluejeans, Zoom, and all the other ones. At the same time, companies are often really spread out. Or people choose to take meetings from home. Whenever possible, add a video conference before the meeting. That way if someone isn’t present, you don’t have to fumble around for it.
Often you meet with different teams on different floors. If you can check people’s calendar, find out where they are going to be right before your meeting and schedule it for somewhere near them. Or if they’re not scheduled right before, meet near their desk. It just shows courtesy. And, if you’re meeting with someone who is in another office, schedule a room for them too if you can. That way they don’t have to fumble for one right before your meeting. This is particularly important in large companies that often have competition for conference rooms.
OK, enough complaining, back to work Mano