How to reduce meetings in the workplace
That meeting could have been an email.
It’s a sentiment most workers have thought at some point in their careers, if not complained aloud to a colleague.
It’s no surprise social media is rife with jokes about the frustration of meetings running over schedule and the stress of navigating Zoom calls when a generation of employees are burnt-out from spending too much time in meetings. It’s one way to make light of what is quickly becoming a problem for businesses in the twenty-first century.
Research shows 83% of modern workers have anywhere from four to 12 hours of meetings in their calendars every week, with the remaining 17% spending over 12 hours in meetings.
This issue has been exacerbated by the global pandemic with the rise of remote working. Now, meetings can be taken from anywhere, with none of the physical restraints of booking meeting rooms or travel restricting how many meetings a person can be expected to attend in a day.
So, what can businesses do about their meeting problem? First, let’s look at how we got here.
What caused the over-reliance on meetings?
Humans are social animals. Most of us don’t like to work in complete isolation, so meetings provide an opportunity not only for collaboration but socialization.
A 2020 report by Harvard Business School showed that employees participated in more meetings during lockdown than they had previously. In the age of Covid, Zoom calls replaced everything from coffee breaks with your work friends to business-wide events. While working from home has many benefits, many remote workers have reported feeling isolated.
But chatting with your mentor through the screen is not the same as having a catch-up over lunch. Ultimately, whether a Zoom call is intended to be fun or productive, they leave employees feeling the same sense of ‘Zoom fatigue’. What’s more, these habits don’t appear to have disappeared as the world adjusts to the new norm of hybrid working.
The benefits of reducing the number of meetings we attend
While there is one clear benefit to reducing the number of meetings employees attend — less time stuck in physical or virtual meeting rooms — there are many positives for employees and their employers.
Even when workers have a day with less meetings, they don’t work at 100% capacity. Life is full of distractions that can’t be avoided.
When you add the requirement of attending two, if not more, meetings each day, it’s clear that their level of efficiency will dwindle. Attending meetings isn’t just about the amount of time you spend in the meeting, but preparing and debriefing, too.
So, decreasing the number of meetings people attend will give them more time to focus on completing actual work. Whether that means responding to emails, creating reports, or designing websites, this type of work can’t be completed effectively when their time is being taken up by meetings.
Greater focus, fewer interruptions
When workers have meetings dotted throughout the day that drag their attention away from their work, their ability to focus is severely impacted.
Context switching is when you stop one task and move on to another before returning to the original task, which is mentally taxing. Not only does context switching prevent workers from concentrating in meetings, but it can cause the quality of their work to suffer.
Prioritizing opportunities for deep focus is especially important in the creative industries. Most creative work requires long periods of deep concentration, and the best thinking is often done alone.
In these agencies and similar businesses, projects are often planned by the day; if you estimate a designer needs two days to produce a concept, but they end up spending a third of that time in briefing, kick-off, and review meetings, they’ve lost a significant amount of time to work on the project.
Plus, more time spent on producing actual, high-quality outputs often means greater profits for your business.
If your team is rolling their eyes every time another meeting pops up in their diary, they’re less likely to be engaged with their work.
Creating a positive work environment for your employees means showing that you value their time and understand what they need to do their jobs properly.
Some employees will benefit from frequent meetings, especially those in managerial or decision-making roles; however, creative thinkers or employees whose work revolves around taking action will suffer from spending too much time unable to work through their task lists.
The types of meetings that cause issues
While some meetings, such as 1-to-1 and performance reviews, are non-negotiable, many meetings are not necessary. Here are some meetings you should think twice about before sending that invite.
All-hands can be a fantastic way to get employees from across a business together to celebrate wins, take on learnings, and engage with their peers.
However, sometimes employees are often expected to drop everything for these events with little regard for how that will impact their workday. When planning these types of meetings, ensure employees are supported by allowing them more time to complete tasks. Likewise, avoid scheduling too many all-hands, which can run for two hours or more.
Pre-meeting meetings and downloads
How often have you seen ‘Invite: Pre-Meeting Chat’ pop up in your calendar? How many times has it felt like a waste of time?
Most pre-meetings ensure attendees are aligned on discussion points and are ready for the call, all details that can be shared in an email.
Likewise, post-meeting meetings can be a helpful opportunity to debrief, especially for agencies that have received detailed feedback from a client. However, a client manager can often summarize this via email.
Recurring meetings ensure teams have a set time in the diary every week to catch up. This has its merits; if you’re working through a busy period, taking 15 minutes to align every Monday can provide an opportunity for team members to raise issues.
Yet, they can also be a huge drain on productivity if they gradually lose relevance over time and become a 'check-box' exercise. It’s always worth considering what information could be sent as a weekly status update via email. Cancel unnecessary meetings when there are no critical issues to discuss.
Meetings without agendas
Last on our list of meetings to delete are those that have no clear agendas.
Unproductive meetings lead to significant financial losses for businesses. If workers have a meeting in their dairy but aren’t sure what it’s for, there’s a high chance they can delete it.
How to reduce the number of meetings at work
Realizing your business has an issue with meetings? Follow this seven-step plan to fix it.
Look at what meetings are being called for
The first step is to run an internal review of what types of meetings people are having, how often, and why.
Make sure you don’t give in to the temptation of calling a meeting to discuss this! There are many ways to understand your employees’ needs, like asking them to fill in a questionnaire in their own time. This allows them to take the time they need to consider the issue and doesn’t infringe on their other priorities.
Plus, you get bonus points if the questionnaire is anonymous, encouraging honesty and transparency.
Delete pre-meeting meetings
This next step is an easy win. Ask employees to remove any pre-meeting meetings from their diaries; instead, encourage preparation to be done offline with any notes, requests, or questions shared via email or internal communication tools.
Get comfortable with declining
Too many workers accept meeting invites on autopilot. If the time in their diary isn’t already taken up by another meeting, it feels wrong to say no.
This has to stop. If a meeting isn’t relevant to you or doesn’t have a clear agenda, feel free to hit ‘decline’. If you manage a team, lead by example and show that this is acceptable and encouraged.
Introduce meeting-free days
If you’ve concluded that all your meetings are non-negotiable, an alternative is to introduce meeting-free days.
This groups meetings together to reduce context switching and allows workers to find deep focus, prioritizing their productivity and wellbeing.
Check the invite list
How many times have you attended a meeting that, halfway through, you realize is irrelevant to your work? This is a massive waste of time and can negatively impact productivity and output.
Always take a moment to double-check your invite list. Avoid inviting everyone involved in the project to every meeting. Take a moment to consider how the session will benefit each attendee and what they’ll contribute to the discussion.
You’ll find that most people can be informed of decisions made via a brief email sent afterward.
Make meetings shorter
The default meeting length seems to be 30 minutes, increasing in intervals of 30 depending on the topic of conversation. An exception is stand-ups, which are typically no longer than 15 minutes.
Consider setting a 15-minute limit for catch-ups, feedback reviews, and status meetings, with longer meetings reserved for workshops, creative sessions, and all-hands, as required. This will safeguard your employees’ time and make your meetings more efficient.
Introduce tools that mitigate the need for meetings
If your team relies on meetings for information sharing and project updates, they may not be working as efficiently as possible.
Tools such as Forecast mitigate the need for meetings, allowing you to cut down your time spent on Zoom and maximize your efficiency and concentration.
With dashboards that give you a bird’s-eye view of your projects, customized reports and clear visibility of your team’s workload, Forecast is the easiest way to keep your team connected without constant meetings.
Try Forecast out for yourself by signing up for a free trial below.