Let’s face it. Meetings are necessary evils.
In addition, you might be required to take a Zoom call, attend another meeting, check Slack, and answer emails. Do you think that’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed at work and unable to complete any actual work? As it turns out, you’re right. The workplace has a serious productivity problem, according to a new Microsoft report.
There have been 192% more Microsoft Teams meetings and calls per week since February 2020. Every week, Teams users spend nearly 8 hours in online meetings alone, which is equivalent to an entire workday.
Three years later, companies are trying to correct meeting creep that resulted from remote work during the pandemic, taking away opportunities for spontaneous in-office encounters.
Meetings themselves, though, aren’t the problem. Employee engagement can be improved by getting them involved in decision-making, brainstorming new ideas, and communicating important company news.
For employees and managers, long, poorly run meetings with no clear purpose result in stress. More importantly, Microsoft’s survey of 31,000 workers worldwide between February and March 2023 shows that inefficient meetings are the biggest workplace distraction, followed closely by having too many meetings.
Thankfully, you can use these ten strategies to reduce the number of meetings you have.
1. Prepare an agenda beforehand and share it with everyone.
Meandering meetings without a clear purpose drain your energy and waste your time. In fact, meetings are only productive in 11% of cases. In spite of the fact that meetings occupy roughly 15% of the time of organizations, only a small portion of meetings are productive. The majority of them, 71%, are unproductive.
As such, you should always create an agenda for every meeting that outlines the important topics you want to cover and the meeting’s overall goal. Your meetings will be more purposeful, on target, and won’t take up too much of your time if you prepare an agenda ahead of time.
You should also send this agenda to every participant in advance. Why? Their questions, ideas, and concerns can be prepared in advance.
2. Use async channels to eliminate excess.
Meetings are not always necessary for status updates, for example. You’re better off using Slack, Asana, or even email for asynchronous status updates.
When you’re next providing an update, think about using an asynchronous channel.
Additionally, consider asynchronous meetings if they make sense for your team. For most people, it will be perfectly fine, and they prefer receiving the update in writing for future reference. What’s more, this allows everyone to work at their pace.
3. The meeting duration should be limited.
A 75-minute meeting, for instance, will tire anyone out. However, according to Doodle, meetings last about an hour on average.
Does a meeting have a “perfect” duration? It depends.
According to Microsoft research, fatigue creeps in approximately 30 to 40 minutes into a video conferencing meeting. For this reason, Microsoft researchers recommend setting a time limit of 30 minutes for meetings. This may be why Zoom automatically ends meetings at 40 minutes in its free version.
Furthermore, DeskTime analyzed its data from 5.5 million logged records and found that the top 10% of most productive workers worked straight for 52 minutes, then paused for 17 minutes.
In other words, you shouldn’t schedule a one-hour meeting unless you plan to take at least one break during it.
4. Make meeting-free times a priority.
There’s nothing complicated about a meeting-free day. Many companies nominate the same day every week as a meeting-free day. Shopify, for instance, will reinstate “meeting-free” Wednesdays and make large meetings six hours on Thursdays.
In short, employees devote their full attention to the task or project at hand during the designated time. The result is a boost in morale, productivity, and fewer unnecessary meetings.
Before you shake things up, conduct a calendar audit to determine which meetings are really needed.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- For each meeting, what is the overarching goal?
- How does each meeting benefit you?
- Does each meeting require all attendees?
- Do regular meetings often get canceled?
After deciding which meetings are most valuable, schedule the rest outside of the designated meeting-free day and shelve the rest.
5. Declare ‘Calendar Bankruptcy.’
When your inbox overflows, all you can do is delete everything and wait for issues to arise and who will contact you next. By getting rid of a large number of unread messages, it offers a fresh start.
Cal Newport also uses this concept to describe a ‘digital detox’ using his blog. He suggests quitting all social media platforms for a month to see how you feel and miss.
In their new book, How the Future Works, three Slack executives propose an analogous idea. Could you declare meeting bankruptcy, just as you would with emails and social media?
What is “calendar bankruptcy?”
Executives at Slack set an example by declaring a “calendar bankruptcy.” They removed all recurring meetings and one-on-ones from their calendars, according to Brian Elliott, Sheela Subramanian, and Helen Kupp, to carefully consider each meeting and add back only what is truly necessary.
Meetings won’t be completely eliminated. Instead of putting meetings on autopilot, declaring bankruptcy forces you to justify each meeting on your calendar actively.
A properly executed email bankruptcy, however, may allow you to focus more effectively.
“We found that so many meetings could be eliminated or broken up into parts. For example, your monthly sales meeting might start with a status update. Why not send that out beforehand? Presentations can be shared as decks or asynchronous videos so people can review them in their own time. Tactics like these can lessen your meeting time considerably, and then time together can be more meaningfully spent on meaty discussions or team building,” they report.
“It’s basically a ‘kill all the recurring meetings’” exercise for a week before adding back the essential meetings, says Elliott.
6. You can record virtual meetings for those who couldn’t attend.
Is it possible to record virtual meetings with your video conferencing software? Be sure to press Record before diving into important topics if this is the case.
The meeting recording can be shared with anyone unable to attend once it has been finished. This keeps everyone informed without overwhelming them. Plus, it prevents you or any other stakeholder from having to repeat yourselves.
7. AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning can make meetings leaner and more productive.
With a tool like Calendar, you can see how much time you spend on each type of meeting. As a result, you can eliminate unnecessary and recurring meetings from your schedule. Additionally, the Calendar can suggest when, where, and who to invite when scheduling meetings.
Another example is conversation intelligence which analyzes conversations using artificial intelligence. In some video conferencing platforms, this technology provides all kinds of useful insights. With RingCentral Meeting Insights, you can skim meeting “cliff notes” or watch a video “highlight reel” of a missed meeting.
Additionally, thanks to AI-powered agenda updates and action items, you don’t have to worry about recalling specific details after a meeting.
In AI, rules-based decisions are made, so you can teach it to recognize specific keywords. The organizer can input important words, and the AI will recognize those words and take action – a more complex task than simply providing a transcript.
Aside from action items, AI can record deadlines and, if programmed to do so, will send reminders as the deadline approaches. A meeting’s most important parts can be recorded and shared with attendees after the event, ensuring that no action, intention, or follow-up is overlooked.
8. Gather feedback about the culture of your meetings.
In order to keep everyone engaged and motivated, seek feedback from participants about how their meetings are going. This will help you identify areas that can be improved or areas that could be invested in, such as meeting management tools.
Feedback offers valuable insight into which topics your team or organization prioritizes during future meetings so that you can address them more directly. You can improve the effectiveness of your virtual meetings over time by collecting participant feedback on their experiences.
9. Get comfortable declining invitations.
There is nothing wrong with declining a meeting invitation from time to time. However, use this power wisely. When you know you won’t be needed, say no to meetings.
It’s crucial to take responsibility for your time at work. As such, the best way to take full responsibility for your work is to politely skip meetings that are a waste of time.
Alternatively, if you aren’t quite ready to say “no,” suggest an alternative method for collaboration. This method lets you share information without getting sucked into endless meetings.
10. Socialize outside of meetings with teammates.
Now that we’re doing hybrid and remote work, we tend to drag out video meetings because it’s the only way we feel we can interact. Try to create social activities outside of work meetings to make your colleagues feel closer.
Do you remember what we discussed earlier about satiation? As a result, try switching communication apps so you have one for work meetings and the other for social gatherings. Suppose that your team uses GoToMeeting for video conferencing but Zoom for virtual team building. Meeting fatigue is reduced because work and play are separated.
The best way to bond with your friends is face-to-face, if possible.
How many meetings are held each day?
Approximately 55 million meetings are held each week in the United States, according to Zippia. Each day, that’s at least 11 million; every year, that’s over 1 billion people.
What’s the downside of having too many meetings?
Teams and organizations can suffer real consequences from too many meetings. The result is drained morale and motivation. People cannot complete other, more productive tasks due to these meetings. Because of this, they can waste company time and cause financial losses.
What is meeting overload?
When you schedule too many meetings, you get meeting overload. In addition to causing employee morale to suffer, excessive meetings or unnecessarily long meetings can also negatively influence work-life balance.
Having too many meetings on your calendar can decrease your productivity and cause you to work overtime because you don’t have time to complete your duties.
In addition, meeting fatigue refers to the physical and mental exhaustion that follows video conferencing calls. As remote work has changed meeting culture, many employees find themselves on video calls multiple times a day. Video calls back-to-back can drain even the most motivated employees.
Is there a reason why we attend and hold more meetings than we should?
“One of the most common reasons we end up attending too many meetings is FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out,” write Ashley Whillans,
Dave Feldman and Damian Wisniewski for HBR. If we don’t accept every meeting invitation, we worry that our colleagues will judge us – or worse, forget about us.
“Deeply ingrained norms around what it means to be an ‘ideal worker’ lead us to equate presence with productivity, and these assumptions are bolstered when bosses use Facetime as a proxy for commitment or when they fail to represent absent employees’ opinions in meetings,” they add.
How to address meeting overload?
Is there such a thing as too many meetings? Sadly, no clear answer exists. Meetings happen more often in some industries than others, especially if clients are involved, so the amount of time can vary.
You shouldn’t spend more than 20% of your time in recurring meetings, say some business experts. This would come out to eight hours of meetings per 40-hour work week. To mitigate meeting overload, you can take steps if you spend too much time in meetings.
Image Credit: Photo by Christina Morillo; Pexels; Thank you!