Before the pandemic, 99.9% of all-day meetings and training sessions I facilitated were in person. When it came to lunchtime, I found the sweet spot to be somewhere between 40-60 minutes. There were several factors that I considered:
Prior to the pandemic, when most of my all day sessions took place in person, I blocked an hour on the agenda and someone would ask, “If we take a shorter lunch can we end earlier?” If there was a vote, people usually loved to get out earlier, especially if driving home in traffic is an issue. Personally, I was always happy to beat the traffic too.
My experience is that 30 minutes is not quite long enough for most people to do what they need to do, but 40 minutes is, so that was the minimum length of lunch I am willing to negotiate. I found, if we agreed to 30 minutes, I ended up rushing to eat and get prepped, and usually, a few people were late. The extra 10 minutes made all the difference, and we were all ready to start on time.
When the pandemic began, suddenly every meeting and training that I facilitated was done virtually. I found being more structured with breaks and lunch to be effective especially with parents managing their children’s online schooling. Also, I found giving longer breaks to be beneficial for energy. One of the things my facilitator colleagues and I realized, was how exhausting an all-day virtual meeting was for most participants (not to mention the facilitators). We began experimenting and decided that 90 minutes was ideal for an all-day online meeting.
We all had time to eat, check on emails, and even do something relaxing. Instead of a lunch break filled with more time at the computer, 90 minutes seemed to give the participants – and the facilitators – time to rejuvenate. I’ve had people tell me they ran 5 miles at lunch, helped their children with school, worked in their yard, and even took a nap. From my perspective, having 90 minutes was a lot of time – and I felt like I got a true break in the middle of the day.
A 90-minute lunch became my recommendation for an all-day online meeting until I recently noticed a new pattern. Participants were starting to negotiate for shorter lunches to get out early again. On a recent class evaluation, when asked what would make this class better – the most common response was “shorter breaks,” “shorter lunch”, and “end earlier.” So, I took a pause to rethink this approach.
I was curious, so I posted a poll on LinkedIn and asked, “In an all-day online meeting, what is the ideal length for lunch?” I gave four options: 45 minutes, 60 minutes, 75 minutes, and 90 minutes.
30% – 45 minutes
42% – 60 minutes
12% – 75 minutes
17% – 90 minutes
From this poll, it appears 72% of the people preferred a “shorter” lunch – 45-60 minutes. I will make an educated guess, that some of the people who selected 45 minutes, would have chosen 30 minutes if that were an option. So, only 18% of people in this poll wanted a “longer” lunch for an all-day online meeting/training. In hindsight, I wonder how many people would have chosen 30 minutes if I gave that as an option.
The comments were also remarkably interesting to me with a wide range of viewpoints, my favorite being “It depends” – because of course, it does always depend. 😂
Often, lunchtime can be flexed and adjusted. Still other times, it is important to establish the lunchtime and stick with it. When I’m with people in person, I tend to flex the lunch and break times more than I do in an online session. My reason to stick with a firmly scheduled lunch for virtual meetings is that it allows people to plan how they might use that time. One drawback to polling and adjusting the lunch break on the fly is someone inevitably has scheduled something during the scheduled lunchtime.
In a recent all-day online meeting, where lunch was scheduled for 90 minutes, the participants asked to negotiate a shorter lunch. We polled the group, and everyone agreed to a 60 minute lunch. Then, one person spoke up and said, “I will be about 10 minutes late after lunch because I scheduled a 60-minute run with someone.” Since we had announced the lunchtimes ahead of time, it felt unfair to ask her to change her lunch plans, so we renegotiated a 75-minute lunch. Then, for the second day of that training, we established a 60-minute lunch ahead of time, so everyone could plan accordingly.
Now that people have acclimated to working online most (if not all the time), an extra-long lunch break is not always needed or preferred. Going forward, I would recommend a 45–60-minute lunch during an all-day online meeting. There may be times when 90 minutes makes more sense. Prior to establishing the schedule, consult with the sponsor and when appropriate ask the group and let them decide. Consider an anonymous poll that empowers the participants to decide on the length of the lunch, so no one feels the group pressure to agree to a shorter time if they prefer a longer time.
About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and the Forward, community, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.
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