For most people, a cancelled work meeting might be cause for celebration. In fact, the pointlessness of meetings has become a cultural phenomenon at this point, one that’s been highlighted in social media, television shows, and cartoons for years.
But despite our collective disdain for unnecessary meetings, the recent shift to remote working has led to — you guessed it — even more meetings. One study found that there were 60% more remote meetings per employee in 2022 as compared to 2020. What’s interesting is that this growth was almost solely due to an increase in unscheduled, spontaneous meetings, and nearly 42% of meetings in 2022 were one-on-one (up from just 17% in 2020).
Now, I know that there’s a valid argument for remote workers needing to meet with each more often in order to stay connected. And meetings provide important opportunities for all employees to develop meaningful relationships with each other, which bolsters team cohesion and supports innovation. However, study after study is finding that it’s all just a bit too much for most workers, and even prior to the pandemic, a lot of meetings were unnecessary.
But is the situation really all that bad, or is it more of a nuisance than anything else? Well, according to many sources, there’s actually a clear correlation between an excess of pointless meetings and people’s satisfaction at work, not to mention the amount of burnout they’re experiencing and their ability to be productive.
For example, a study from last year found that 65% of people who dislike their jobs say they’re frequently stuck in unproductive meetings, versus just 24% of people who love their jobs. Other research shows that around 70% of all meetings keep employees from working and completing all their tasks. And in research from the University of North Carolina, 64% of respondents said that meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
Beyond just dealing with frustrated and overworked employees, companies are paying a hefty price tag for all of these useless meetings. In fact, new research finds that one-third of meetings are unnecessary, wasting $25,000 annually per employee. That means that a company with 1,000 employees is losing a whopping $25M per year. For companies with more than 4,000 employees, that number climbs to over $100M.
While this problem has been around for decades, some companies are finally taking steps to address it — perhaps due to the dramatic recent increase in remote meetings. Earlier this month, Shopify announced that it’s canceling all recurring meetings with more than two people and encouraging staffers to decline invitations and detach from large internal chat groups. The company is also reinstituting a rule that no meetings can be held on Wednesdays, and meetings with 50+ people will be limited to one a week.
And Shopify certainly isn’t the first company to take this kind of initiative. Consider Dropbox’s “Armeetingeddon,” Asana’s “Meeting Doomsday” pilot study, and Zapier’s no-meeting “get stuff done” week. Of course, not every employer will need to go to extreme measures, and having a clever name for your program isn’t mandatory. But chances are, your business could benefit from taking a closer look at how much time people are spending in meetings and whether all of these meetings are truly necessary.
In today’s article, I’ll describe how to revamp your company’s meeting culture and ensure that the meetings people do have are productive. Let’s take a look.
Get a clear picture of your company’s current meeting practices
First things first — you’ll need to take a hard look at the practices and expectations that got your company’s meeting culture to where it is now. Here a few things you’ll want to investigate:
- How much time are employees spending in meetings?
- Does this vary by department, manager, team, role, or other factors like age or gender?
- What types of meetings are employees attending — one-on-ones, small team meetings, or large group meetings?
- What days and times are meetings being held?
- What is the average meeting length?
- Are meetings being scheduled in advance, or are they spontaneous?
- And perhaps the most important question — do employees characterize their meetings as productive and useful, or unnecessary?
With this information in-hand, you’ll have a better idea of the magnitude of the problem at your organization and where to devote your efforts going forward.
Create policies to support a better meeting culture, and get managers on-board
Once you have a good understanding of the current state of things, you’ll need to develop policies and recommendations to enable a better meeting culture for your people. Taking a cue from Shopify, this might include asking your team members to cancel certain meetings, detach from group chats, limit the length of meetings and the number of attendees, and only hold meetings on specific days and/or within certain time blocks.
But putting policies in place is one thing — you’ll also need to ensure that managers are aligned with the new approach, since they’ll need to lead by example. This could be easier said than done, especially among newly promoted managers who hold 29% more meetings than their senior counterparts. So it’s absolutely crucial that you convey the importance of being mindful of employees’ time, and provide concrete tools and suggestions to support managers.
Empower your employees to skip (or cancel) meetings
A key factor driving the success of your new plan will be enabling your staff to skip or cancel meetings without feeling like they’ll miss out on anything. Here’s one idea: 71% of employees say they’d be empowered to skip unnecessary meetings if high quality meeting notes were shared in a timely manner. There are numerous meeting transcription tools that can facilitate this, or you could tag someone to take notes and disseminate them.
Another idea is to replace status meetings with Slack or Teams channels designed specifically for this purpose. Managers can ask their team members to provide their updates by a certain time, and then any necessary follow-ups can happen via a quick series of chats instead of a call. Research finds that 83% of employees prefer using chat touch points over traditional one-to-one meetings because it saves them time.
Make sure that the meetings people do have are valuable
At the end of the day, your team members will still need to have some meetings in order to be productive — but there are steps you can take to ensure that these meetings are effective. For one, it’s important to have a clear meeting purpose and agenda defined well in advance. It’s also a good idea to identify someone to lead the meeting, to help things run smoothly and ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.
To avoid the infamous “Zoom fatigue,” consider using AI tools that can make virtual meetings smoother via the multitude of adjustments they make to people’s audio and video feeds. Lastly, be sure to leave time at the end of each meeting to outline next steps and assign follow-up tasks. All too often, meetings conclude with lots of good ideas and intentions but no clear path forward.
A better meeting culture is good for your workforce and your bottom line
There’s no question that meetings play an essential role in the world of work as we know it. But far too many of them are unnecessary and they’re often poorly run. While it might take some time and effort to move the needle on your company’s meeting culture, doing so could save your company millions of dollars each year in lost time alone. And your workforce will also benefit from having more time in their day to focus on what matters, whether that’s their work or their personal lives.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!