Dear Employers, What Can a Meeting Do that an Email Can’t?


Dear Employers, What Can a Meeting Do that an Email Can’t?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

People who are social pariahs might consider meetings as an excuse to talk to others. People with severe complexes might see them as an opportunity to assert ranks that in perpetuity, mean nothing, if actual contribution to work is taken into consideration. I have been in meetings that a middle-aged single woman wouldn’t allow to end. I have been in meetings that have been organised for men who waltz in and out of rooms, only to have to be reminded the next day what they were about. Not to mention the many miles and hours of time it has taken for these formal, reluctant get-togethers to be put together.

Few sights are more horrible than the three letter identifier “MON” reminding you that it’s the beginning of another arduous work week. Among those select sights, one of the more painful is the appearance in your inbox of a meeting invite. The most painful, is an inbox full of them. These invites are by design over-optimistic, and in terms of particulars — as to when the meeting will actually begin, end, etc — ludicrously flattering. At least in India they are. 

In my near decade-long journey of hopping across three different industries, only four things I have observed remain constant — the constipated Monday look, the escapist Friday look, the inevitability of feeling underpaid, and the pointlessness of most office meetings. It is quite incredible that certain people hold jobs, in fact, to just hold these meetings that more often than not end with someone claiming to either “get back to you on that” or “send you an email.” Makes you wonder what the purpose of these meetings is to begin with.

Not all meetings are useless, obviously, but most of them are. Don’t get me wrong, a few clueless blokes do step into conference rooms all pepped and zealous, hoping to invent the time machine or be told they’ve won a lottery they didn’t have tickets to. Reality, though, is a little more obvious. Most meetings end in the setting up of further meetings. It is like playing darts without points to aim for — the game is about being able to just throw. But the problem isn’t that most meetings in corporate India are a bore or plain purposeless, but the fact that most participants prefer it that way. This category loves the idea of “blocking calendars” as a way to communicate the seriousness of everything on their plate. Others probably like an excuse for the company to dish out its best cookies and coffee, regard them as special, as opposed to the ideas being considered. 

More ideas and motivation have died in conference rooms amid juvenile questions and useless presentations than in the traffic jams on the way home.

There is of course, no dearth of people who’d think there are merits to repeatedly meeting people you spontaneously judge, subsequently bitch about, and in some cases hate. Most managers, team leaders, and other obnoxiously titled bigwigs will tell you meetings improve communication because they are direct. In fact, they do the exact opposite, because people are worse when it comes to communicating orally than they are in the written format. I mean, sure, a succinct well-written email is almost as rare as a boss who thinks you having a life may be good for work, but when it comes to chatting out your ideas, Indians are abysmally inarticulate. As someone who strictly looks at communication and messaging for a living, the level of meandering or beating around the bush that takes place in Indian conference rooms is no less than an election rally. Not to mention the wide, almost criminal misconception that “speaking English” or a broken form of it is valuable, self-serious work.

People, especially the high ranking ones, take hours to say things that require minutes. It’s like needlessly watering dough that is well and good to go.

Then there is the jargon. Oh my word, the words. “Synergy”, “Commitment”, “Teamwork”, “Responsibility”, “Initiative”, and so on, these words, like acne, are plastered to the image corporate India has come to develop. Unfortunately, most of these painful lumps are growing on the buttocks of industrial development, the most crucial and tender part — time. It may sound a bit crass on my part to generalise but that has been the experience of sitting through hundreds, perhaps thousands of meetings that go nowhere. To the extent that at times I have tried to analyse the vacuum some people try and fill through them.

Since wild theories about the economic slowdown have been a sort of trend of late, might I also suggest that countless hours spent moping and whining about minor details that a rather prideful species like ours should be capable of communicating over emails may also be a contributing reason. More ideas and motivation have died in conference rooms amid juvenile questions and useless presentations than in the traffic jams on the way home. A handful of lousy loners or power-hungry wannabes might need the cheap thrills of the meeting room, but in all honesty, the calendars are best left clean and unblocked. Rather, meetings need to be disqualified as work all together, which I am certain, will cut down on slack and wastefulness at alarmingly effective rates. You could instead give the loners a bit of company and the slackers a cookie at their desk. At least it will save everyone’s time, even if it can’t save the people who depend on them.