The days of standard, template, in-person office meetings might be numbered. Research has shown that standard words used to describe such meetings include ‘pointless’, ‘dull’ and ‘waste of time’. Some argue that meetings are too often for the benefit of the manager and not the team. Meeting formats are changing.
Today millions of businesses conduct virtual meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. The stats speak for themselves.
The Zoom mobile app was downloaded 485 million times in 2020.
Zoom has 467,100 business customers.
The number of annual meeting minutes on Zoom is now over 3.3 trillion.
45 billion minutes of webinars are hosted on Zoom every year.
Microsoft Teams has over 500,000 business customers and 145 million daily active users. Google Meet has over 100 million active user participants per day while Zoom has over 200 million. Slack, Cisco and others are hosting millions of additional users.
The pandemic has accelerated the shift to virtual meetings by several years. Almost all workers have some experience of remote meetings. But there is no guarantee that more collaboration tools lead to more productive meetings.
According to Atlassian, most employees attend on average 62 meetings a month. 50% of these meetings are considered a waste of time and 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings per month. That's the equivalent of 4 working days per month in unproductive meetings.
Research revealed that for the average meeting goer 91% daydreamed during meetings, 96% missed meetings, 39% slept during a meeting and 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended. Half of meeting goers complained that meetings were the number 1 time waster in the office - alongside email overload and constant interruptions.
Research we conducted by inviting a group of teenage school-goers to listen into a series of third party office meetings were marked by words of feedback which included ‘waste of time’, ‘lame’, ‘pointless’, ‘dull’ and ‘really, is that it?’. They all asked why face to face meetings, whether they were virtual or physical, were needed at all. They have been brought up in a world of online communications that are more fluid and informal.
It seems that the current system of meetings is broken. And the explosion of virtual meetings might have just made the situation worse. After all, the format of meetings has not changed that much - it is possible that we are just having more of them.
The problem with the concept of the company meeting is that it is all too often a status symbol. As a result, it seems too many employees are happy to participate in unproductive work ‘to be seen and heard by others’. It looks like this cycle might need to be broken.
There are a number of meeting productivity apps and tools out there that can help to make setting up and managing meetings more productive. But, in the end, it could be that the problem is the meeting itself.
It might be time to apply Size Zero principles. Perhaps we should treat meetings like budgets. Zero budgeting has become an increasing trend among corporates - meaning all budgets are zeroed out at the beginning of the year and rebuilt from scratch.
What would happen if we created a culture of Zero Meetings or at the very least a culture of Zero Dead-time?
Back in the day you needed to have a really good reason to invite Andy Grove to a meeting. The former Intel boss once wrote: “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn't let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.”
Treating timewasters on a par with thieves may sound a bit harsh, but if you think about it such an attitude could well be justified. After all, you are paying your people to be productive. If someone or something is holding them back then you are losing money. And the drain is probably a lot greater than you think.
A study by the consulting firm Bain & Company estimated that about 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. The amount has been rising every year since 2008. And about 20% of that time is unproductive.
Corporate meetings are incredible time vampires.
Bain uncovered one company with a weekly leadership meeting that added up to 7,000 hours a year for the attendees, but 300,000 hours a year for the workers who had to prepare materials for it.
Because meetings are so often useless, workers might no longer take them seriously.
The cost of such unproductive meeting time is apparently $37 billion in the US alone. But that's not all. When not stuck in pointless meetings, your people are likely to be swamped with useless emails.
Bain’s research, meanwhile, uncovered 22% of meeting participants sending at least one email per 10 minutes of meeting time, on average, and double-booking meetings to put off decisions about which to attend. “Dysfunctional behaviours like these create a vicious cycle,” says the Harvard Business Review. “Parallel processing and double booking limit the effectiveness of meeting time, so the organisation sets up more meetings to get the work done.”
Apart from the time spent checking for and dealing with emails, Atlassian says the strain of constantly fielding messages can literally make you stupid. You can lose up to 10 IQ points, the same as missing an entire night's sleep.
With all of this, it's a wonder any work gets done at all in a modern office setting. Indeed, it seems that only about 60% of your time at work is actually productive. That's a sobering thought and potentially means 40% of payroll spend is unproductive.
New approaches could look at a zero-based time budgets. Do to time what many corporate finance departments are doing to expenditure. Leaders could even decide in advance how much time employees should spend in meetings and give it to them as fixed budgets for them to spend, and include penalties for anyone who goes over. Or provide incentives for slashing meeting time and increasing productivity - such as a 4 day work week.
A more extreme approach could be to implement zero meeting time. How would we operate as workers if we were not allowed to spend time in organised, repetitive meetings? What tools would we develop to replace the current approach? After all, as automation rolls on, we should remind ourselves that machines don't need to meet. At the very least this approach could be worth the intellectual exercise.
We should also perhaps spend more time researching exactly why employees are willing to waste so much time on meetings and interruptions. Perhaps we should consider switching to output based remuneration and incentive structures rather than input based as is so often the case today.
Businesses could impose rules based approaches such as cutting meeting times in half and cutting the number of internal meetings by half. They could get tougher on the number of attendees - perhaps even insisting on slashing this number in half.
But, in the end, it will likely come down to leadership and culture. As an increasing number of office and meeting productivity apps and tools are implemented we should perhaps step back and focus on employee wellbeing to drive productivity. After all, if standard meeting times were cut in half, we would be able to spend our Friday afternoons differently. Some going to the beach, some taking up a hobby and some with their family. We probably already know what we would rather be doing.
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