Too Many Meetings at Work? Here is How to Scale Back

Do you get frustrated when you open your calendar and find it filled with meetings or feel like you are wasting valuable work hours on meetings all day?

The truth is that you are not alone. 

The latest statistics have revealed that teams all over the world are having too many meetings:

  • Most people have between 8 and 17 meetings a week.

  • 83% of employees spend 33% or less of their work week in meetings while 4.7% spend half of their work week in meetings.

  • 51% of employees believe the number of meetings is rising.

And in spite of the figures above, only 11% of meetings are considered productive. 

Even worse is the fact that meetings are not cheap. An hour-long meeting with five attendees, for example, costs companies $338 in salaries. Therefore, having too many meetings at work comes at a very steep price, with both time and money lost.

The good news, however, is that you can scale down your meetings and improve their overall quality. And we will show you how in this article!

Why do we schedule so many meetings at work? 

Before we delve into how to solve the “too many meetings” problem, we must first understand why it exists in the first place.

We have identified the following as the most common reasons teams have too many meetings:

  • Lack of trust within the team 

Distrust and unclear roles within teams is a leading reason for over-scheduling meetings. When team members are not confident in one another’s ability, they are bound to resort to meetings to get a commitment.

A more common manifestation of distrust is micromanaging. Team leads who do not trust their direct reports to understand and efficiently carry out assignments try to control every decision and all aspects of project execution, instead of aligning on key aspects and allowing them to work independently. This often leads to scheduling more meetings than necessary.

  • Limited understanding or acceptance of new technology

There are several software that can help make scheduling meetings unnecessary by helping teams communicate effectively and collaborate asynchronously, such as project management tools, virtual workspaces with instant messaging features like Slack, or apps like Loom that make pre-recording presentations efficient.

Teams that do not know how to properly leverage these technologies to improve their communication will likely rely heavily on meetings to collaborate and align.

  • Lack of consideration for others

Surprisingly, there are people who consider meetings as their preferred mode of communication, regardless of whether the meetings are objectively necessary or not. They especially resort to it when there is an urgency to disseminate or acquire information.

If a manager likes meetings, they are likely to schedule them often without proper consideration for their team members regarding current workload or priorities. This is an invasive practice that could frustrate team members.

  • Working remotely

Remote teams, on average, tend to have more meetings than onsite teams. According to a report, 14% of remote workers attend more than 10 meetings per week, compared to 3% of onsite workers. 

The reason for this is fairly obvious. Outside meetings, remote team members generally spend less time interacting or communicating with their team members. So, issues that could be easily resolved by simply walking to their desk and having a quick chat (as you would in an on-site team), might require scheduling a meeting.

Also, teams tend to overcompensate for the lack of physical interaction by scheduling meetings and check-ins to inquire about one-another’s welfare and keep the team’s bond intact.

What’s the impact? Read on as it is explained below.

The negative impact of too many meetings

“Meetings should be like salt - a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.” - Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp

Regardless of your intention for scheduling many meetings, they negatively affect employees and the company. 

1. Employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. 

Excessive meetings have become a known cause of fatigue, frustration, and anxiety among employees in the workplace as meetings are mentally and physically draining. And combining them with the day’s work could easily set employees over the edge. 

A study by Perceptyx found that workers whose meeting load increased over the past year are 33% more likely to be physically exhausted and 24% more likely to be mentally exhausted at the end of the workday than those whose meeting time decreased or remained the same. 

2. Reduced workplace cohesion

“If I’m a person who’s overscheduled or in too many meetings, by extension of that I’m a bit more short with my coworkers or with my subordinates.” - Emily Killham, Perceptyx

Perhaps one of the most shocking impacts of too many meetings is that it makes people in the workplace more impatient and rude toward one another.

In a recent study, the calendars and communications of managers were screened for their tone to determine if there was any correlation between having many meetings and their attitude toward their coworkers. 

It was discovered that having more meetings indeed resulted in people being less polite. Also, having a lot of sporadic meetings instead of following a predictable schedule could contribute to employees’ short tempers, damaging company cohesion.

3. Decreased productivity 

Employees cannot do their best work when their tasks are constantly interrupted by meetings. 

Not only does joining meetings interrupt the time they have blocked out to complete tasks, but preparing for meetings also divides their focus while working. 

This is a problem because deep work, which is often necessary for productivity, requires blocking out time to focus exclusively on a task. But being distracted by meeting schedules gets in the way. 

4. Waste of time and resources

Businesses lose time and money to unproductive and excessive meetings every year. According to reports:

  • 24 billion hours are wasted on unproductive meetings each year.

  • Workers spend an average of 31 hours on unproductive meetings monthly.

  • 71% of workers waste time every week because of unproductive or canceled meetings.

These figures have a real impact on companies’ resources. It is estimated that $37 billion is lost yearly to ineffective and unnecessary meetings in the US alone.  

The question on most minds at this point is, “How can we avoid these problems?” The simple answer is to have fewer and better meetings. 

In fact, research has shown a positive correlation between reduced meetings and productivity

  • Where meetings were reduced by 40%, productivity increased by 71%. This was mainly attributed to greater feelings of empowerment and autonomy among employees. 

  • Also, where meetings were reduced by 80%, employees' feelings of being micromanaged were reduced by 74%. And because they felt more valued, trusted, and engaged, they worked harder for their company. 

Interestingly, communication became clearer and more effective by 65% because there were fewer misunderstandings. This suggests that fewer meetings, not more, are needed to improve communication among teams.

What’s more? Companies can also directly benefit from fewer meetings and save as much as $100 million a year by holding fewer unnecessary meetings and cutting down on their invite lists. 

So here comes

How to have fewer and better meetings?

Scaling back meetings is the surest way to avoid the problems identified above while improving employees’ overall experience in the workplace. As for the ideal cadence, it is generally advised that the ideal is to cap weekly meetings at 20% of your time with each meeting should be not more than 30 minutes long.

We have curated 7 tips to help you achieve this goal.

1. Eliminate unnecessary meetings

Reflect on the recent meetings you conducted or participated in; which ones provide the most value? As a rule of thumb, we recommend attending only vital meetings and eliminating the unnecessary ones.

The vital meetings are the ones with a clear goal and purpose that require synchronous communication to be achieved effectively. For example, a project kick-off meeting or a brainstorming session.

Unnecessary meetings, on the other hand, are often dated, without a clear objective, or could be substituted with asynchronous communication. Meetings that fall in the latter category should be eliminated. The most typical example is a status update meeting.

Another pitfall to avoid is having vital meetings too frequently. You can avoid this by simply reducing the meeting cadence. This way, you will successfully eliminate unnecessary meetings without jeopardizing the goals you had set out to achieve.

2. Only invite the necessary participants

Avoid wasting your team members’ time by roping them into meetings they do not need to be. 

Having too many participants in a meeting also makes the discussion more tedious and dragged out - especially when the facilitator tries to involve everyone in the conversation. 

Instead, you should only invite participants whose presence and input in the meeting are necessary for achieving the goals of the meeting. One way to determine this is to interrogate what their role would be at the meeting and if the meeting can be effectively held without them. 

If they do not play any significant part in the meeting or are not vital to running it effectively, then they should not be invited or are classified as optional.

Team members should also have the liberty to skip meetings where their presence is unnecessary without consequence. 

3. Ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities

Defining clearly what every team member should do and how they can contribute to the success of the team is vital for operational efficiency and therefore fewer team meetings. 

To ensure that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, you must first define what needs to be achieved by the team and break them into actionable steps. After this, determine what each team member’s official role is. This is often clear in their job description or their official job title. 

Then, you can proceed to match their official roles with where they fit in on the steps necessary in achieving the team goals. Sometimes, it helps to simply match them to the areas you have observed that they are most competent in.

You must, however, take the time to thoroughly explain each team member’s responsibilities and roles and allow them to ask questions and get clarifications.

4. Set a no-meetings day

No-meeting days are not only an opportunity to scale back on meetings but a great way to have a “meeting detox” to help teams refocus on their priorities, take a break from the pressures of meetings, and get more work done.

The no-meeting day can be set on any day of the work week. We, however, advise that it is fixed on the day that the team is typically the busiest. This way, they can avoid being bombarded with meetings in addition to the day’s work.

5. Leverage asynchronous communication

Not every contact you make with your team members has to be in the form of a meeting. Sometimes, it is better to leverage asynchronous communication to align.

Asynchronous communication has become more popular as more teams embrace remote work. This is because teams are becoming more and more geographically diverse and working in vastly different time zones. 

So, asynchronous communication helps you avoid meetings that could have been an email or a simple instant message on Slack. For example, if the reason you were going to call a meeting is to get status updates from team members, you can instead simply direct them to send their updates in an email or add them to a shared document.

6. Make sure every meeting has a goal and agenda

Never fall into the trap of having a meeting simply because you think there should be one. If a meeting does not have a clear purpose to achieve, it is absolutely unnecessary. 

To determine the goals of your meeting, you must ask the following questions:

  • What do we seek to achieve with this meeting?

  • Why is this meeting necessary?

  • What topics will we be discussing during the meeting?

Answering these questions will make developing the talking points to include in your agenda easy. A meeting agenda is an outline of the meeting that will guide the conversation and keep it on track. 

In the case of recurring meetings, the overarching goals should also be set before they are scheduled. And it should also be okay to skip the meeting if both parties decide that it is unnecessary. This way, you can avoid monotonous and pointless sessions.

7. Use AI meeting notes software

Meeting notes software is designed to help you facilitate note-taking in meetings and even build a knowledge base out of all the notes. 

When selecting your meeting notes software, it is advisable to make sure that it has end-to-end management features like Notta

Notta

  • Live meeting transcription: The live transcription feature automatically converts voice conversations to text in real time, making it easy for teams to retain details of their meetings and retrieve any information they might have missed.

    The feature also allows meeting attendees to stay focused during the meeting, instead of struggling with creating notes. 

  • Meeting notes sharing: Some meeting attendees are absent? No worries, when you record the meeting with Notta, you may simply share meeting notes with anyone in a click. 

  • AI meeting summary: Why spend hours distilling the information and summarizing meeting notes when you have Notta? This tool leverages AI algorithms to generate a summary with actionable insights with a click.

Get Notta for free >>

Summary

“Some meetings are toxic, and some are quite useful. The goal is to eliminate toxic meetings and become better at having meetings. The goal should not be to eliminate all meetings.”  - Amir Salihefendić, Founder and CEO, Doist

The quote above presents an apt summary of all we have discussed in this article. Nothing in this article must be construed to imply that meetings are bad or unnecessary. They are, in fact, very useful in helping your organization succeed. But you must avoid going overboard and make moderation your watchword. 

If, however, you observe that you have too many meetings, you can apply the tips in the previous section to run fewer and better meetings. 

Scaling back your meetings and making them more productive would require carefully auditing your current meeting practices and overall operations. It is, however, important to note that the audit should not be a one-time affair. Instead, periodic audits are necessary to assess the effectiveness of the changes you have made.