Why conducting too many meetings is ruining team productivity
We all know the feeling of being in the zone, only to be interrupted by an upcoming meeting. Knowing you have a meeting fast approaching is a surefire way to lose concentration and come out of a state of deep work.
Research shows that it can take 25 minutes to resume deep concentration after an interruption. Not only are you losing time in the meeting, but you’re losing time on the front and back end thanks to fragmented work sessions.
A calendar full of meetings can also create a lack of fulfillment among team members, which can further decrease productivity. 56% of respondents felt their “swamped calendars” were hurting their job performance according to Doodle.
No one is hired to attend meetings—people are hired to do a specific job based on their unique talents and skill set.
Frustrations boil and burnout risk increases when employees realize they’re spending more time talking about tasks than actually doing what they’re great at.
Some businesses have implemented a “No Meetings Friday” to set aside intentional time to focus on heads-down work without interruption. This can certainly stave off context switching and boost productivity for an entire workday, but why stop at one day?
Who says you can’t enjoy more focus and less wasted time every day of the week? With Yac, you can do just that.
Too many Zoom meetings impacts employees’ ability to focus, their emotional connection to their tasks, and their work/life balance. This is a lethal combination to your bottom line, as it can lead to a number of inefficiencies in your business.
There are many reasons why "too many meetings" is hurting your team, including:
- 71% of meetings are unproductive and inefficient (according to a Harvard Business Review survey)
- Employees feel they have no time to do the actual work they’re meeting about
- The need to be “always on” is leading to increased cases of burnout
- The cognitive load and reduced mobility of constant video meetings quickly leads to Zoom fatigue
- The average professional spends 4.6 hours preparing for meetings per week
- Meetings are not always the most inclusive of all types of employees, such as introverts
Unfortunately, the pandemic has only made things worse.
As referenced at the start of this article, Harvard Business School conducted a study that found we’re sending more emails and spending more time in meetings since COVID-19.
The study, which analyzed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people in 16 global cities, found that employees were sending more emails, working longer hours, and attending more meetings than in their pre-pandemic lives.
With many employees still working remotely nearly 1.5 years from the start of the pandemic, and at least 16% of Americans planning to continue working from home in some capacity, our workplace “new normal” certainly isn’t going anywhere.
But the epidemic of too many meetings? That needs to be rooted out, fast.
When meetings are a waste of time
You may be in a position where you recognize that the amount of time your employees spend in meetings has become a problem. It can be difficult to take a step back and see which meetings should be on the chopping block.
First, let’s look at the most common types of meetings:
- Status update meetings (check-ins, standups, all-hands, etc.)
- One-on-one (feedback, appraisals, resolving issues, etc.)
- Innovation (brainstorming, collaborating, idea sharing, etc.)
- Relationship building (virtual coffees, onboarding, client intros, etc.)
- Decision-making (problem solving, sprints, etc.)
Here are some of the common reasons why some of these meetings may be unnecessary.
No problems to solve
This issue most commonly crops up with weekly team meetings or catch-ups.
For example, a marketing team may accomplish a ton in their weekly meetings while ideating on a campaign. The creative work behind a campaign concept often happens with a group of people brainstorming together (which, for the record, doesn’t necessarily have to be a meeting). A screen share, collaborative presentation, or voice notes can certainly fill in the gaps.
However, especially once the campaign concept is solidified and team members are executing the many moving parts, a team meeting may become more of a distraction than anything else.
It’s tempting to add weekly check-ins or status updates to the calendar—for many of us, it just feels like “what you do”—but it’s unlikely that there is a problem for the whole team to solve together every single week.
Information could be acquired asynchronously
Following the example above, if you’re the founder of a startup, it may be important for you to get regular updates on how each member of the team is progressing on their work for the campaign.
But does your copywriter really need insight into where the digital team is placing ad spend that week? Maybe, but you probably don’t need to block 30-60 minute chunks of time off of a whole team’s schedule to share that information.
When you’re not collaborating on big-picture initiatives as a team, encourage team members to communicate asynchronously.
Keep on top of progress with update requests that teams can reply to when they’re available. Sharing a doc or a presentation? Send a recording to your team so they can watch or listen in their own time. You can also get quick feedback with screenshots and link drops.
There’s a lot you can do without having to coordinate busy, and potentially global, schedules.
Agendas lack purpose
Most of us have run a meeting where we’ve thrown the agenda together in the two minutes just before it starts—or failed to create one altogether. Not everybody wants to admit that, but we’re unafraid to call it like we see it.
Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report found that 67% of respondents believe agendas are a key element of successful meetings.
Making a purposeful meeting agenda can be tedious, but there’s a reason it’s important. If your agenda is just a laundry list of objectives or updates, tangents become inevitable.
(Side note—if you’re struggling to create an agenda, it may also be because there’s not enough to discuss to warrant a full-blown meeting.)
You may have also been in a meeting where everyone feels like they need to share every single thing they’ve been working on—even if their individual work has no real impact on anyone else in the room.
In order to spend less time in meetings that don’t move the needle, work up front to create an agenda and do the talking before the meeting in Yac. Document the outcomes and share them with the relevant stakeholders.
You might notice you don’t need a meeting after all, and if you do, it will be to discuss something important.
Even on teams within an organization, some roles will work more closely together than others. For example, within a startup executive team, the members will likely meet with their own team members regularly.
Of course, when the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) wants to change the way they talk about a product on the website, they will need to come together with the sales team to align on the language. But that is probably an infrequent update and as such, still doesn’t necessarily warrant a required weekly meeting.
Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab, is a supporter of optional meetings, where employees determine their own attendance and set their own boundaries. Those that aren’t affected by the points on the meeting agenda, or are fine perusing the meeting notes or watching the recording, can opt-out.
This works in a company whose culture is firmly rooted in giving employees more autonomy, such as Gitlab. As such, they hire the type of people capable of managing themselves and making those decisions.
Optional meetings aren’t for every company. You may end up with a case where a manager calls a meeting, only for one person, or no one, to show up. We end up back with the original problem of wasted time. To get around this issue, talk about the meeting points first in Yac. This way, staff will be able to gauge whether or not their attendance is necessary.
Note how we mentioned meeting notes and recordings? Those are critical elements of running a more efficient workplace. Documentation takes the pressure off of having to remember and relay key information. It also makes optional meetings possible and provides a true north when checking on project health and progress.
So, let’s take a look back at the types of meetings businesses commonly schedule during the week and where they can potentially be replaced with asynchronous voice messaging.
On that note, let’s explore more best practices you should deploy when you do run meetings.
Establishing ground rules for meetings (when they’re absolutely necessary)
Hopefully, you’re starting to think through where, when, and how you can begin cutting back on meetings. We hardly have any meetings at Yac because we default to communicating asynchronously. This doesn’t mean that all meetings are bad.
We may be asynchronous advocates, but we do still value a meaningful meeting—if and when the time is right.
From where we’re standing, meaningful meetings fall into two categories:
- Relationship building meetings (e.g. meeting a new stakeholder for the first time, performance reviews and conflict resolution)
- High-level decision-making meetings (e.g. signing off on a project milestone)
For those meetings that are absolutely necessary, it’s important to establish ground rules to ensure they’re as productive as possible. Here are some tips for laying the foundation.
1. Get a sense of how meetings are perceived
Use surveys, like those that TINYpulse offer, to assess how employees feel about meetings. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we think it’s safe to assume that most, if not all of them, will feel like they are spending too much time in unnecessary meetings.
There are two ways to do this: survey about meetings in general or get feedback after specific meetings:
- Run a survey: Asking employees how they feel about meetings overall can help you gauge the collective temperature, and make large-scale adjustments like reducing the number of overall meetings by X%.
- Get feedback post-meetings: Getting feedback after meetings can help you make the decision about which meetings to scrap and improve the efficiency of the ones you decide to keep.
For example, you might learn in a general survey that your people are feeling burned out on weekly check-ins, but they find innovation meetings invaluable for their creativity. You might also discover post-standup that most people prefer cameras off.
Don’t overthink the surveys. They don’t need to be yet another intensive time investment. If the idea of pushing out a survey after each meeting seems extreme, try setting up an online poll instead. The post-meeting feedback can be as simple as two multiple-choice questions:
- Was this meeting helpful?
- How could this meeting have been improved?
Use the data collected from the surveys to set clear goals based on your organization’s pain points. This could look like X number of hours saved from reducing the number of meetings, X meetings taken off the calendar completely, X meetings replaced by using Yac, and so on.
2. Define the purpose of meetings throughout your organization
Many organizations put a lot of thought into things like mission statements and company culture. Consider putting the same effort into thinking through a meeting manifesto to determine why you have meetings in the first place.
Ask and answer questions like:
- Can this meeting be done asynchronously?
- For which use cases do we think it’s critical to meet face to face vs. a video chat or phone call?
- How do we decide who gets invited?
- How long should we aim to make every meeting? Why and when would a meeting need to be longer or shorter than that?
- What level of transparency is necessary at both the team and organizational levels for our employees to feel successful? Is it crucial that this transparency be communicated via meetings?
- What is our current protocol for scheduling meetings? Can anyone set up a meeting?
- Does every meeting need a facilitator?
- Would a standard meeting template work for all teams? What might that look like and is it worth testing?
- How do we take meeting notes? Who is responsible for this task?
- How can we allow for greater participation and collaboration in the necessary meetings?
- How are meeting action items communicated to both those in the meeting as well as any relevant stakeholders?
Taking the time to answer these questions will help you define a clear purpose for meetings throughout your organization.
3. Use technology to enable more productive meetings
With so many great technology tools created specifically for the purpose of increasing productivity, it’s worth investing time into choosing the best ones for your organization and then putting them to work.
For example, you can hold onto the human element of meetings with Yac’s asynchronous voice and video messages. As we’ve mentioned before, to share a product update or relay task progress, for example, you can simply record your screen with a voice overlay and share it with relevant team members.
If you’re worried about a cohesive workflow getting lost in messages, Yac lets you organize your communications into channels and threads.
Yac channels work like other channels you may already be used to in tools like Slack. Think of channels as a high-level way to catalog conversations. Group conversations by teams, projects, clients, meeting types, and so on, and then invite the relevant people to the channel.
You can get even more granular with your communications organization in threads. Nest your replies to a topic within a channel so conversations are kept together and easy to refer back to later.
Using threads helps keep the channel tidy (not to mention scannable), similar to the way you would communicate on synchronous meeting agenda items one at a time:
Top Tip: You can also use documentation tools to chronicle your workflow. We go into more detail about documentation tools like Notion and Coda in our complete guide to asynchronous communication.
4. Limit the number of attendees
When you boil meaningful synchronous meetings down to their core, they’re about getting consensus, making sure everyone is on the same page, and nurturing relationships.
This is where agendas, facilitation and intentions are crucial. If you are making a high-level decision regarding the quarter’s major marketing campaign, you can probably avoid filling the meeting room by gathering input and tapping ideas asynchronously ahead of time. This way, time is saved for those not in a decision-making capacity, but the leadership team is still aligned with the feelings within the organization.
And if you need to have a meeting that gets down to brass tacks regarding every action that must be taken to create the campaign, that’s probably not a good use of time for your more senior, strategic executives.
It will—especially at first—take more time to think through who really needs to be in a meeting. But taking 10 minutes to think strategically may ultimately save hours of your employees’ time.
If you need something more tangible to help make your decision about who should be in meetings, Harvard Business Review developed a free meeting calculator tool. Input your meeting time, the number of attendees and the average salary figure for each attendee to find out how much meetings are costing you—and where you could be saving.
5. Strive for decisions and outcomes at all meetings
Try to avoid meetings that are purely for updates. If the meeting isn’t about building relationships or there isn’t a decision to be made, there may not be a reason to meet.
Employees should leave every meeting with an action item either delivered or received, so make sure you have a system in place for tracking and organizing these takeaways as well as their respective timelines.
The simplest way to do this is to add a section for action items to your meeting minutes. For example, if you’re using a Google Doc to record meeting agenda items, you can add the items to a table with a column for action item ownership (i.e. Hunter Moonshot to share proposal draft by 8/23).
Once you’ve documented these takeaways, you can share the highlights with relevant team members who didn’t need to be present for decision-making.
6. Move all other communication to an asynchronous approach
Once you’ve identified the purposeful meetings within your organization, all other communication should be moved to an asynchronous approach.
If you Slack, text, email, or DM your colleagues, you’ve worked asynchronously. In other words, you’ve communicated and worked on the same issue, project, or goal without the need for all stakeholders to be available at the same time.
Share synchronous meeting agendas ahead of time, so attendees can adequately prepare presentations and prioritize work that may be discussed. Attendees can also Yac their questions on meeting topics ahead of time to make sure they’re addressed, or Yac a collaborative document with a voice note explainer.
You can set time parameters for async communications if you need some middle ground. “Time box” the more urgent, but not quite meeting material, pings with “Can you check on this before X?”
There are so many use cases for and benefits of asynchronous communication, though it can be an adjustment for teams who have always done things a certain way.
Understanding your organization's true purpose behind meetings and then showing your team the why and how behind async will help empower your team to work more efficiently and with fewer distractions.
But don’t just take our word for it. We did some research based on companies on a mission to eliminate meetings and found some pretty amazing overall results. In short, companies using Yac are wasting less time on meetings, and spending more time getting stuff done:
- 35 minutes are saved each day
- 91% had fewer meetings
- 66% replaced existing tools with Yac
- 45% say Yac has helped them replace Zoom
Over the last year and a half of almost strictly remote work, we’ve seen the negative impact too many meetings can have on our teams and organizations. It’s time to break away from the synchronous meeting comfort zone and start looking into better options, for business and employee wellbeing.
Take steps toward a solution by understanding your organization's purpose behind meetings, creating guidelines for when and how to have them, and empowering your team with the tools they need for effective asynchronous communication.
Guilty of too many meetings? One place to start is to choose one regular meeting to replace with a Yac. Once this habit is firmly in place, look for more opportunities to give your people back some time.