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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Take Any Meeting Out of the Office

Meetings get a bad rap—and unfortunately, for good reason. Every month, the average employee spends 31 hours sitting in unproductive meetings (not a joke), and let’s face it—there’s something about sitting around a table in a beige-walled, fluorescent-lit room that doesn’t exactly inspire creativity.

The good news? Assuming you have at least a little flexibility in how and where you do your work, there are so many different options. Here at The Muse, we’ve been known to take meetings at coffee shops, on park benches, at other offices, or on a stroll around the block. And we’ve found that just a little change of scenery can have a big boost on our creativity and productivity.

Want to give it a try? Here’s a quick checklist to ensure that your out-of-office meetings are even more effective than those in the conference room.

Consider Your Surroundings

While, yes, an off-campus meeting can work in almost any situation, not all venues are created equal. For example, a busy coffee shop is probably not the best place to have a serious conversation with your boss, while a big group may have a hard time communicating while on a walking meeting.

So, carefully consider the tone, size, and technological requirements of the meeting you’re planning. Will the group need to sit down? Is having Wi-Fi or outlets important, or can you use notebooks? Do you need privacy, or is it okay if people are milling around? How professional does the location need to be (i.e., does it need to be a proper restaurant, or is a casual coffee shop okay)?

If you’re considering going to a restaurant or café and have never been there during the time of day your meeting is scheduled, consider scoping out the scene a few days beforehand. You don’t want to arrive day of and find there are no tables or that it’s too loud to hear other people talk!

Prep Your Tech

This may sound counterintuitive, but first decide whether you even need any devices for your meeting. Depending on the setting, it might make the most sense to have everyone bring notepads and pens versus their laptops. Restaurants with limited table space are better suited for good old-fashioned writing tools, whereas hands-free tools like cell phones are great for walking meetings in the park.

If you do choose to bring a device, make sure you have enough battery power to last the whole time—there’s nothing worse than running out of juice at the most inopportune moment. Set a reminder on your phone to plug in your devices at least an hour before you head out, or, if you find yourself consistently forgetting to plug in, invest in a portable charger.

Finally, consider the Wi-Fi situation. If you’re going to a café, double check on Yelp that it provides free internet (and scan the reviews to see if anyone has complaints about it not working). If you’re heading to a different office, call the office manager ahead of time to find out the Wi-Fi password—you’ll be able to skip the awkward interaction of having to ask someone who forgot the password a long time ago to run and grab it. And if you’re going outdoors and absolutely need to connect to the internet, consider getting a portable Mi-Fi or tethering your computer to your phone for access.

Look at Your Agenda

Finally, run through your meeting objectives ahead of time, and make sure you have the documents or information you need to make the meeting successful handy. If you have a laptop or tablet, save important documents in an easy-to-find folder that doesn’t require internet to access (just in case!). If you’re meeting outside at a park or on a walk, email notes to yourself for easy phone access (you won’t need to scroll through an entire document on your tiny screen while still trying to run a meeting), or jot down a few notes ahead of time to help jolt your memory.

You should also think about if you’ll need to take notes during the meeting, and how you’ll do it. Obviously, if you have your laptop or a notebook, you can jot things down just like if you were in the office, but if you’re walking around, consider taking scrappy notes in a small notebook or using talk-to-text to annotate the meeting on your phone. And if you don’t get to write anything down because of the location? Make it a priority to sit down for five minutes as soon as you get back to the office to write out anything important.

Now that you’ve come up with a plan, take a minute to visualize your meeting. Walk yourself though and make sure you haven’t overlooked anything that you need to have a successful out-of-office meeting. Then? Get out of here! You’ll be enjoying meetings more before you know it.

Photo of people meeting outdoors courtesy of Shutterstock.