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The stats on meetings are consistently dire: Microsoft data published last year found that workers were spending 252% more time in meetings than before the pandemic, and yet research suggests that only around half the time spent in meetings is actually useful (in part because attendees commonly multitask rather than focusing on the discussion at hand).

Today, we’re highlighting the ways in which our Work Tech picks can help you make your meetings more efficient, generative, actionable, and inclusive. Here are five use cases:

Outsource your meeting agenda to generative AI.

Distributing an agenda ahead of time ensures that attendees are clear on the reason for the meeting, minimizes the risk that it runs long, and gives people a chance to prepare their thoughts and ideas before convening. AI text generators can kickstart the process for you with prompts that specify the length and purpose of the meeting, type of team, what you want the agenda to look like (e.g., “Make it 150 words and put it in bullet points”), and activities or topics the meeting should include.

Our picks for the best AI text generators of the nine we tested:

  • ChatGPT Plus (GPT-4 model) is the strongest of the tools we tested, with the highest level of creativity, high overall writing quality, and an ability to take feedback well.
  • Bing’s outputs, while solid, were less interesting and creative, but its access to the internet and free price point make it our second-choice pick.
  • Notion AI is easy to adopt for those who already use Notion in their daily work, and among the fastest of the text generators we tested.

Read our full review here.

Further reading on time-saving uses of generative AI:

  • Charter Pro’s research spotlight on what studies say about using AI to boost productivity and creativity.

Generate ideas more effectively with a digital brainstorming tool.

To get the highest number of creative ideas, research has shown that brainstorming in silence is better than doing so out loud, for both quality and quantity. “The ideas tend to be more innovative and more disruptive,” organizational psychologist Steven Rogelberg, a professor at UNC Charlotte and the author of The Surprising Science of Meetings, told us in 2020. “There’s just not this editing that appears to occur and everyone can speak at once. You don’t have the air-time jockeying that can happen when people are brainstorming with their mouths.”

Capturing group ideas during a silent brainstorming session can be as simple as having everyone type into a Google Doc, but dedicated brainstorming platforms make for easier organization and discussion of ideas once everyone’s contributed. Our top picks, FigJam and Mural, also help participants focus their idea generation with templates for different contexts and keep meetings on track with built-in timers.

Our picks for the best digital brainstorming tools out of the five we tested:

  • FigJam, the online whiteboard tool from cloud-based design platform Figma, offers an intuitive digital whiteboard on a dynamic, customizable, and fun interface, with plenty of user-generated and native templates.
  • Mural boasts an impressive set of integrations, an organized template library, and an extensive menu of built-in features.

Read our full review here.

Further reading on brainstorming:

Encourage cross-team collaboration with a structured retrospective.

Research suggests that distributed teams may have a harder time collaborating across functions: In a study conducted over the first half of 2020 and published last year, researchers from Microsoft and the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business examined the emails, messages, calls, calendars, and work schedules of more than 60,000 Microsoft employees. They found that the shift to remote work made collaboration networks more siloed, with less communication between departments.

Retrospectives, otherwise known as postmortems, are a valuable tool for breaking down those silos. These meetings, which bring together cross-functional groups to discuss shared projects and goals, provide a streamlined structure for looking back on past work, providing feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and aligning on ways to improve products and processes going forward. Retros can also be a way to facilitate learning and development for individual team members, giving them a place to share knowledge with one another and forge relationships across the organization.

As hybrid and remote work gained popularity, in-person retrospectives—traditionally involving team members writing ideas on sticky notes, adding them to a wall or whiteboard, and voting on them with dot stickers—have largely moved online, giving rise to a new set of tools developed to make facilitation easy. Several of these tools—including our top picks, Parabol and EasyRetro—also offer anonymous voting capabilities to make the process more equitable for those who don’t speak up as much in meetings, or who feel pressured to agree with their manager’s views on issues.

Our picks for the best retro-facilitation tools out of the six we tested:

  • Parabol has a lively, interactive interface that’s easy and appealing to use by people with various technical skills.
  • EasyRetro has a simple interface that would fit more straight-laced business environments, and wins high points on accessibility for having boards in different languages.

Read our full review here.

Further reading on retros:

  • Parts one, two, three, and four of our month-long challenge on bringing retrospectives to your team.

Use transcripts to eliminate FOMOOM (fear of missing out on meetings).

The smaller you can make your meetings, the better. “Dysfunction increases with size,” Rogelberg told us. For decision-making meetings in particular, research has found that it’s optimal to keep the attendance list below eight—any larger, and the quality of the discussion starts to go downhill.

One way to help yourself resist the urge to over-invite: Use an automatic AI transcription service to capture what was discussed during the meeting, helping those not in attendance feel comfortable that they didn’t miss any vital information. Unlike a video or audio recording, a transcript is searchable, allowing those who didn’t attend to skip to the most relevant parts; it also makes meetings more accessible for hearing-impaired or neurodivergent workers.

Our picks for the best audio transcription tools out of the six we tested:

  • Sonix, tied for best in class with Fireflies on pure transcription, has extremely high accuracy, almost perfect recognition of distinct speakers, and correct spelling of many proper names without a dictionary.
  • Fireflies is near the top the list for quality, with extremely high accuracy, superb differentiation of speakers, and an AI meeting summary, and a comparatively low price point for significant monthly usage.
  • Rev’s automated service is only a degree or two below its peers, with excellent transcription and speaker recognition—and for those spending endless hours on Zoom, the unlimited transcription can be a substantial price advantage.

Read our full review here.

Further reading on shrinking your invite lists:

Create actionable next steps with AI text summarizers.

A meeting is only as productive as the action plan that results. Running a transcript of your meeting through an AI summarizer tool can quickly generate a readout of the most important points, condensing unwieldy documents into streamlined bullet lists with little extra lift. For those who want to manually check that key points are represented accurately—say, for an especially sensitive or high-stakes discussion—our top summarizer pick, Genei, allows users to click on a point in the summary and see where in the source material it came from.

Our picks for the best AI text summarizers out of the nine we tested:

  • Genei is the strongest summarizer of the ones we tested as well as the easiest to use, allowing users to upload pdfs or paste URLs for articles to summarize.
  • ChatGPT Plus, tied for second place, is highly versatile, adjusting outputs based on feedback and letting users ask it anything about a document in question.
  • Jasper, our other second-place pick, summarizes text accurately and quickly as one of several functions, contributing to the tool’s higher price point.

Note: Since we released our review, AI company Anthropic released its new version of Claude. It’s currently free for users, and it does a great job summarizing content, even lengthier documents.

Read our full review here.

Further reading on making meetings more actionable:

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