Most work meetings go on for extended periods of time and don’t follow a set agenda. At worst, some managers call meetings simply to make themselves appear busy to executives and to give the appearance of moving a project forward. However, productivity can take a hit if employees spend more time talking about work than doing actual work.
If you’re in a management position, you’re in a tough spot: you must have meetings to keep c-suite executives apprised of what’s happening on the lower level, but you are also probably responsible for ensuring productivity doesn’t suffer. According to the career resource site The Muse, middle management spends approximately 35 percent of their time in meetings—and this figure can be as high as 50 percent for upper management.
Pointless meetings sap precious time from the workday, but this is not only because they rob participants of an hour or two they could have devoted to work. Making employees stop their work for a meeting and then return to it later hampers productivity; the meeting interrupts their concentration and they are forced to spend time getting back into that focused state. Excessive or lengthy meetings can also lead to general disorganization, which can contribute to reduced productivity and employee apathy. Find out how to recognize when meetings are hurting your productivity and what to do about it.
Is the Meeting Really Necessary?
The first question to ask when scheduling a meeting should be: is this meeting really necessary? Collectively, organizations spend about 15% of their time in meetings. The typical meeting is scheduled for an hour by default, so when you add this up over the course of the year, it’s easy to see how productivity can be severely affected.
In many cases, meetings aren’t necessary when simple information or a minor change in policy needs to be communicated. An email or other communication would serve the same purpose without having to disrupt anyone’s workday. If managers receive a lot of feedback or questions regarding the communication, then it may be a good idea to schedule a quick meeting to go over the finer details.
As a non-management employee, there are ways to avoid attending meetings that disrupt your workflow. One way is to simply ask to be excluded from meetings where your presence isn’t absolutely critical. Skipping meetings may not be an option if you’re not in a management role, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. At the very least, request an agenda prior to the meeting so you can tell just by looking at it whether your presence is needed.
For management, it’s understandable that not all meetings can be avoided, as some more complex topics cannot be covered via email. However, learning the difference between an essential meeting and a time-wasting meeting makes all the difference in productivity. Generally, a meeting might be required when some matter is up for discussion or debate, or when a decision must be reached by consensus. Announcements and status updates can be covered via email.
Meetings Can Make Productivity Plummet
We’ve already touched on how meetings may impact productivity, but it goes a little further than that. Not only do meetings hurt productivity by taking employees away from their tasks, but oftentimes, people spend meetings checking email, reading, and multitasking rather than participating and actively listening. This means the meeting topic may not get the attention it deserves, and critical information can be missed.
Meetings also kill productivity because they interrupt the day. It’s the continuous start-and-stop that wastes time—an employee may become absorbed in a project, but then have to stop, put it on hold, attend a meeting, and return to the project later. Time is wasted in re-orienting and getting back into the flow of work. It’s a fair bet that a person who works four hours straight can get more accomplished than someone who works two hours, stops for a meeting, and then returns to work for another two.
Having meetings too frequently can also end up costing the employer money in the long run. Employees who are required to attend multiple meetings throughout the week may end up coming in earlier or leaving later in order to complete their job duties. For hourly employees, this can result in more overtime, and for salaried employees, it can increase their work hours throughout the year from about 40 to 60 hours/week, on average.
How to Make Meetings More Effective
If you think your organization has a meeting problem, it’s time to take action and rethink your approach. Are multiple meetings really necessary? Is it better to schedule them back-to-back, rather than scattered throughout the workday? Do meetings really need to be scheduled for an hour by default, or would 30 minutes suffice? Management needs to answer these questions honestly and develop a meeting policy that provides guidance to others in the organization. A good way to maximize everyone’s uninterrupted work time is to schedule all meetings on a certain day only. This way, people are guaranteed several “meeting-free” days to devote solely to work.
Meeting leaders can also follow a few tips to make their meetings more effective. First, leaders should figure out the meeting’s objective and communicate this in advance. In addition, create an agenda and distribute it beforehand, along with any supporting documents. During the meeting, stick to the agenda and allotted timeframe—and be sure to redirect the conversation back to the matter at hand if the conversation starts to veer off. Make sure to take notes and jot down any action items or important follow-up tasks. Email this information to all participants afterward.
Some meetings are necessary, but that does not mean they need to waste participants’ time. If an issue can’t be solved or something can’t be communicated via email or by phone, a face-to-face meeting may indeed be required, but it should still be designed with a clear focus and respect for people’s time.