Being on time is important to being professional, the meaning of which includes being respectful of others.
In most professional work, there's occasion to call collaborators together. We set up a calendar invite with a start and stop time. That collaboration should start at the latest by the start time and end at the latest by the end time. To stay within those bounds is to be professional, courteousness and show respect for others.
When we respect others, we treat them as we would like to be treated. Their time is as important as our time. When we call a meeting, we stack all the combined time of the attendees so that it's focused on one purpose: the goal of the meeting. We asked for and got the focus of attendees. We're paying a big price for the combined attention all these paid professionals for this period of time toward this one purpose. There is weight here, in the request and the payment of individual and group time. Let's treat this with respect.
What does a calendar invite represent? It's an agreement. I ask for attendance. I ask for an RSVP. I ask others to clear out this time. I ask for full attention and effort toward the goal within the time slot. When I click "Yes" on my calendar invite, I agree to those terms. I show up willing to respond the request.
What is the start time? It is the point that I expect to engage in the purpose of the meeting. People are there, in seats and on cameras, ready to roll. They've brought adequate preparation. They're focused. They've context-switched already. We don't need ramp-up time. We are effective from the first moment.
And what is the end time? It is when we will be complete, at least for now. People can leave. People can pre-plan to make appointments directly afterward. People can loose their focus from the meeting. People can context switch back to other, pre-existing, important tasks. There will be a resolution of the meeting by this time, and the value of our meeting will be made clear. No one will regret coming.
Sometimes, a meeting will not start immediately. May this never be for the reason of our own lack of preparation as the meeting leader. Maybe this is a courtesy to someone who is late. We'll wait some moments for him to show up. Maybe we'll remind hiim that the meeting is happening, and he'll quickly show up. This is a courtesy to the one who is missing and is late.
Maybe this person is essential to the meeting. But maybe not. If really essential, realize that the meeting goal cannot be reached without this attendee, and cancel and reschedule the meeting. If it would be nice but is not essential that the person be there, conclude that fact without much delay and respect those who have come prepared, and start the meeting.
If you realize you're late, and you didn't mean to be, wrap up the meeting with great efficiency, and end it.
Sometimes you're close to attaining the goal of your meeting, however, and you can taste it. It may be appropriate to extend the meeting. Use this authority sparingly. Do this explicitly. Time box it, giving a new end time. Ask the attendees to agree to this new end time, as they agreed to the original. Give permission to go, as needed. Don't make it a moral judgement, choosing between you and something pre-planned (eg, not this: "if you really need to..." or "if it's so important that..."). Realize that if the original end time has passed, focus will already be sharded and attendee effectiveness lessened during this extension.
If you make multiple extensions, you probably need to stop the meeting, realizing your goal is unattained and schedule a new, separate meeting to finish it. If you're often ending meetings late, perhaps you need to increase the planned length of scheduled meetings.
We're not robots that never tire or who work always according to strict rules. We need to graciously give forgiveness and humbly receive correction when we're not on time. Maybe we're heads down on a task and didn't notice the time. Maybe we just missed this calendar invite. But how often does this happen? Is it a pattern? Apoligize when we're late, and be believable in our contrition. Adjust our personal systems of working to improve our promptness. We need to look honestly at our own professional punctuality.
The Culture is Ours
Lateness begets lateness. Promptness begets promptness. If we want more meetings that start and end on time in our group, let it start with me. We want others to look forward to and not dread our meetings. We want others to be able to expect us to be on time and get that result. We want to be respectful and courteous, true professionals. Others will thank us. We will have self respect. We will build our culture one person, one meeting at a time.