Meeting Etiquette in the Online Era: A Program Manager’s Plea!

board room
Photo by Benjamin Child.

I caught up recently with a tech industry Program Manager, Jennifer Westberg, who spends an awful lot of her time setting up and facilitating meetings at her company in suburban Boston.  I was hoping to get a handle on meeting etiquette, particularly for people using Outlook or other online group calendaring solutions, and she walked me through the basics. So, listen up because as she said,

“Here are the basic rules of being a meeting invitee, people:
1. You have just a few options when a meeting request comes in electronically: accept, accept tentatively, or decline. Don’t have your calendar set up so that it just appears and you are not making a decision at all: it’s a) lazy and b) inconsiderate of the meeting organizer. I will add in the “why” behind this:  The organizer can’t set an agenda if they have no idea who’s attending. That means they also can’t get a room booked – they don’t know what size; they can’t order the right number of snacks, drinks or a meal – and we all love meetings with snacks/a meal; they can’t properly invite others-and when we say others, remember these others might be people who can fast-track your project or take work off your hands – the guest list can be very important to your success.  Help your meeting organizer maximize efficiency and effectiveness, it will help you in your job.

2. Send your acceptance / declination within a reasonable period of receiving the invitation (say, a day or so). Don’t wait until just before the meeting. If you do, the implication is that you’re waiting to see if something better comes along.  Or I as a head hunter will add that you just appear sloppy – and no one likes a sloppy co-worker. Trust me on this one.  “Sloppy” is never an adjective I wanted to hear in a reference check!

3. If you would like a meeting to be rescheduled – maybe because you’ll be busy for the next week or so – don’t wait until *the morning of* the meeting to request it. Request the change as soon as you know you’ll be busy. Your schedule is not the only one affected and it’s a major hassle for the organizer. Note:  also check your personal calendar.  I just did this very thing and missed a meeting because I forgot that it would be school vacation week when I booked the appointment:  My bad!  and many mea culpas and a hassle for my colleague.  So, we all do it, but try not to inconvenience others.

4. If you *do* request a change, don’t complain when the meeting is rescheduled to lunch (or early in the morning or late in the day); it’s often the only time left.

5. If you’re going out on vacation a) block off your calendar (if you don’t know how to do this, get someone to show you) and b) decline any meetings to which you’ve been invited. Again, it’s a courtesy. Jennifer says she can’t tell you how many meetings she has organized where a person key to the agenda didn’t decline the meeting but was out on vacation – Again, as a headhunter, I have been there and it is a waste…of…time… very frustrating for those in the room when the news comes in that the knowledge-holder won’t be in attendance.

6. Be on time. Being late sends the message that you think your time is more valuable than everyone else’s in the meeting. There are valid reasons to be late but ‘I’m just always late’ isn’t one of them. And, with 20-years as a consultant working regularly offsite in conference rooms and corporate lobbies, I’ll piggy back on this to say that with tablets, laptops, cell phones etc. getting to a meeting early isn’t a waste of your time anymore as you can be working up until the moment that meeting commences.  Or, even better you can be chatting with the other attendees and forming personal connections – something that is sorely lacking in many offices these days.

 

Thanks again to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts on Meeting Etiquette.

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