Updated: Mar 19
Do you like meetings? I don't, and I'm pretty sure most other people don't either. In fact, 67% of employees complain about spending too much time in meetings. It's not that all meetings are totally useless, it's just that there are often far too many meetings.
Someone once said that meetings are an opportunity to spend time talking about the work that you should be doing. Here lies the problem, for every moment you are in a meeting, you are not doing the work you need to get done. It may be a trope, but me and many others live by the phrase “If it could be an email, don't you dare schedule a meeting with me”!
This problem is especially prevalent in remote settings where the barrier to scheduling meetings is even lower, since you don't need to get everyone together in one place. It's all too easy to hit a roadblock and suggest a meeting as the next step to “figure it out”.
However as more and more companies are transitioning to remote work, we have seen more companies experimenting with “no meeting” days or weeks. As we all learned last year, focus is at a premium when working from home and having dedicated blocks to plow through work without meetings or notifications can be a life saver. Let's explore the value of dedicated deep work time and how no meeting trends are affecting remote work.
The Problems With Meetings
The past year or so has seen a lot of conversation about zoom fatigue, employee burnout, and the role of meetings. However meetings have been around forever, why did it take this transition to remote work for companies to really start thinking about the impact they have on time, productivity, and focus?
Well, the truth is, meetings have always been an issue, but there are more meetings now than ever before. In fact, the time employees spend in meetings has gone up around 10% per year since 2000! Meetings this last year have felt particularly draining because of the very real physical and mental effects of Zoom fatigue.
Virtual meetings can be especially troubling because they are extremely easy to schedule. You can throw meetings whenever you want knowing that you don't need to get everyone to the same place or reserve a conference room to have the chat. There's also an accountability issue as its much easier to multitask or lose focus during a virtual meeting.
However, the fact that meetings are all virtual right now isn't the primary reason to reduce meetings, the real reason is because meetings get in the way of actually getting work done. We all have limited time every day to accomplish the things that are on our plate. By scheduling half of the day in meetings, we are forced to work extra hours to complete all of our tasks. We also have limited focus and having a day full of meetings breaks up any opportunity to dive into work and be free of distractions.
Finally, meetings are also not particularly conducive to achieving good outcomes. According to this study, 73% of people are doing other things during meetings and 9/10 people are daydreaming. Companies are wasting a collective 37 billion dollars a year on unproductive meetings. These types of realizations are leading companies around the world to reevaluate meeting cadences and look for opportunities to reduce meeting load around the company.
How To Limit Meeting and Give Back Time For Deep Work
Allocate Deep Work Days or Weeks
Time and focus are extremely precious resources in a fast moving company. All too often I find myself wondering when I am going to finish my work in between the endless meeting cadence I have begrudgingly accepted. By setting aside entire days (or even weeks) to solely focus on cleaning out an inbox and finishing that project that has been pending for 3 months, I can finally get some piece of mind. Google has even started experimenting with no meeting weeks in the hope of fighting burnout and increasing productivity.
Utilize Async Channels
Whether you use slack, or Microsoft Teams, or your own internal messaging system — use it to replace meetings. It's 2021, there's no reason that meetings have to be synchronous. Try hosting an async meeting on Slack, everyone jumps into your messaging platform and leaves their thoughts, comments, or opinions on their own time. Not only do you save everyone time, but you have a documented archive of the conversation.
Use tools like Voodle
This new remote work trend has helped usher in a whole new generation of tools aimed at helping remote teams. One great example is Voodle, a video messaging tool that allows you to share 60 second video message updates. Instead of calling a meeting, coordinating calendars, and wasting everyone's time — simply ask them to send their thoughts in a voodle. Boom, you replaced a 30 minute meeting full of half baked tangents with a series of 60 second messages that were well thought out and condensed.
Require Meeting Agendas
While this step does not solve for meetings, it helps reduce them overall. It creates a small barrier, or a healthy amount of friction, when deciding to schedule a meeting. For one, it means that the person proposing the meeting has to put in the prep work to make sure the meeting will stay on track. Two, it allows all participants to review the agenda and see if they are really needed for this meeting or not.
What this means for remote work
The reduction of meetings is an important trend for the future of work. Less meetings means more time to get work done, and in a no BS world, productivity should be the golden metric. Not only that, but less time in meetings and more productive work means (hopefully) more time to enjoy your life outside of work. In an ever increasingly digital world, we need to value and protect our time outside of work and away from computers.
Less meetings and more async work also helps to democratize, and globalize, workforces. What I mean is, it's hard to live in India and work for a company in the valley if you have 6 hours of meetings every day. The rise of async communication and remote work means the best people can fill the best roles, without any geographic restrictions.
Finally, reducing meetings in a remote world means less zoom burnout and a more enjoyable work experience. At the end of the day, isn't this what we are all looking for?
Produced in collaboration with Voodle.