How to reduce meetings in the workplace
Imagine an entire work day without meetings. No Zoom calls. No last-minute attempts to track down a free meeting room at the office. Instead, a whole day to concentrate on working through your to-do list.
Sound like bliss?
No-meeting days are becoming more popular in a work culture that seems to revolve around calls and catch-ups. They’re exactly what they sound like, a day that is entirely devoid of meetings. No 1-to-1s. No calls with clients. No pre-meeting meetings.
While meetings are incredibly important for avoiding conflicts and collaboration, people need time to focus on getting tasks done. Too many meetings leave little room for the deep focus required to create fantastic outputs, be truly creative or strategic.
So, let’s take a deeper look at how implementing a meeting-free day at your workplace could benefit your team.
Do workers attend too many meetings?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: yes, but this is dependent on the individual’s level of seniority and their job function.
83% of workers spend between four to 12 hours in meetings every week. Everyone else spends over 12 hours on calls and in meeting rooms during the same period. Based on a 40-hour working week, that comes in at a minimum of 30% of work time.
While this overreliance on meetings is frequently mocked online and complained about by employees the world over, there are benefits to attending meetings. In a time where hybrid working is becoming the norm, meetings help us stay connected and give us opportunities to socialize.
However, if employees spend too much of their days on calls, their productivity will reduce, and their work will suffer. A no-meeting day could be the solution; one day free of meetings to concentrate on responding to emails, creating reports, or actioning requests.
No-meeting days and deep work
When people have too many meetings in their calendars, they miss out on opportunities to achieve deep focus. This is because they’re doing something called context switching. Context switching is when you pause one task to concentrate on another and can be detrimental to the quality of your work. It reduces your focus, increases your risk of making mistakes, and can lead to burnout. In fact, 43% of people say switching between tasks causes fatigue, according to Qatalog and Cornell University’s Ellis Idea Lab.
What is deep work?
Deep work is an experience also known as flow state. You may have experienced this state before if you’ve ever been hard at work on a task that requires you to focus completely on what you’re doing, so much so that you become unaware of the time passing by.
Deep work vs. shallow work
Deep work specifically relates to tasks that are cognitively demanding. This could include designing, writing, creating strategy decks, or completing research. It’s incredibly valuable to creative teams, providing designers and writers with the headspace to do their best work.
Other tasks such as making phone calls, writing emails and completing short-term admin tasks count as shallow work. While you may be deeply focused on these tasks, they’re usually quick and don’t result in a flow state.
Flow state and meetings
As it can take between 15 and 20 minutes to reach a state of deep work, having too many distractions such as meetings can prevent workers from achieving this. Workers can expect to be interrupted roughly every 15 minutes, with some experiencing upwards of 20 interruptions a day, making this virtually impossible.
The rise in meetings during the pandemic and constant communication via other online tools worsened matters. If you want to increase productivity and the quality of your work, you need to create more opportunities for your teams to enter a flow state.
The benefits of no-meeting days
So, what are the practical advantages of implementing no-meeting days at your workplace?
More time in deep work and less context switching equals higher productivity. It’s as simple as that.
When you context switch, it takes around nine and a half minutes to return to a productive workflow. On a day without meetings, the chances of being distracted are significantly reduced, allowing employees to spend longer on tasks and minimizing the time lost when ‘switching over’ between tasks.
Likewise, when you spend too much time in meetings, you introduce attention residue into your life; this is when you can’t concentrate on the task at hand because other jobs have been left unfinished. If a team member is unable to concentrate on their tasks because they’re still mentally processing an earlier meeting, their productivity is affected.
Better use of time and resources
Every project or account manager will understand the frustration of booking a colleague’s resource for the day before realizing they’ve spent half of it in meetings. While booking a day of someone’s time seems as if you’ll get seven hours of work on your project, it rarely works out that way in agencies.
Between briefing calls, kick-offs, client presentations, and creative reviews, a lot of time is wasted in meetings that could be spent working towards completing client work.
While these meetings aren’t always avoidable, they can be better managed. A meeting-free day each week guarantees as close as possible to 100% resource utilization on that day, allowing for better time management and project planning.
While not every employee hates attending meetings, there’s much to be said for reducing those that are unnecessary.
Creating a day free of meetings means employees can enjoy heads-down time to catch up on work. Meetings are unavoidable, but this lets them plan their time better and goes a long way to creating a positive work environment. Say hello to employees who feel accomplished and less stressed.
More effective meetings
When your team attends meetings on any other day of the week, they’ll be more engaged and productive. A non-meeting day not only provides an opportunity to catch up on overdue work but to prepare for the week ahead.
How to make no-meeting days part of your culture
Sold on the benefits of no-meeting days? Let's look at how you can make this powerful change work for you.
Get everyone on the same page
The first step is to sell everyone else in on the power of no-meeting days. Unfortunately, not everyone will be on the same page initially.
However, we’re confident that most people in your team will appreciate the suggestion. According to Harvard Business Review, a huge 71% of managers feel meetings are unproductive, and 65% say they prevent them from completing work.
If you’re in a position to make policy changes, great! We’d recommend running a survey to find out how your team really feels about meetings and if they’d benefit from a meeting-free day. If the results are positive, the next step is to implement a trial.
If you need to jump through a few more hoops, we advise contacting your line manager and stating your case. Take the time to explain the benefits of no-meeting days and how you feel the current ways of working are impacting you both at work and in your personal life. You could even send them this article!
Review what does and doesn’t work about your current structure
In order to do this properly, you need to understand how this change will affect your staff’s working days. Will clients need to be informed? Do recurring meetings need to be rearranged? Will project planning be impacted?
Understanding what is and isn’t working currently will help you manage these conversations and make the best decisions for your team. For example, if your Monday mornings begin with an all-team stand-up, do you still feel this is beneficial? If you have planning meetings on Wednesday, is this the most effective time to do this, or would Tuesday be better? Do your team typically host review meetings on Friday, but find they can’t concentrate after a week of hard work?
Identify which day of the week would work best as a no-meeting day
No Meeting Friday is a popular option because it’s the end of the week and gives everyone time to plan for the week ahead. However, it’s important not to default to the norm and to work out what’ll be best for your business. Why not try a No Meeting Wednesday if your employees find their workload catches up with them by mid-week?
Ask everyone to clear that day of meetings
Once you’ve selected a day, everyone should clear everything from their calendar. As mentioned, you’ll likely have recurring meetings already in the diary that would either need to be canceled or moved.
This is easily managed internally, but if regular meetings with clients or external partners need to be moved, these conversations can be more tricky. Make sure your client team has your entire support when informing partners of the policy change — it may be worth working together to write an email that explains your reasoning and outlines what steps will be taken to ensure your service to them will only get stronger.
Stick to it
There’ll be times that you’ll be tempted to sneak in a ‘quick catch-up’ on your no-meeting day, but we say ‘don’t’! No-meeting days will only work if you stick to it and make it an integral part of your company’s culture.
Of course, we’re not saying you can’t have meetings if there’s a true emergency — the wellbeing of your staff and the quality of your work comes first — but save this rule-breaking for when it’s truly justified.
How tools can help your non-meeting days be more effective
Want to understand how meetings are impacting your team’s productivity? Forecast’s resource management tool allows employees to track their time against tasks, gathering data on productivity and resource utilization.
Make sure to check this out when determining which day to make your meeting-free day. Forecast is here to help you plan your resource better and do your best work every time.
Try Forecast out for yourself by signing up for a free trial below.