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Needless Meetings Could Be Killing Your Company. Fact.

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 — February 2nd, 2023

Needless Meetings Could Be Killing Your Company. Fact.

I was always good with words. I loved the English language as a child and was a voracious reader. But I was shocking at math.

Numbers scared me—and frankly, they still do—but let me share a terrifying number with you: 100 million dollars.

This outrageous sum is the estimated cost to large companies of holding unnecessary work meetings, according to a recent report from Steven G. Rogelberg, a UNC Charlotte professor and expert on meeting strategy.

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Rogelberg’s research found that employees all over the world are wasting valuable time each day in pointless meetings. (Sounds relatable, doesn’t it?) In this study, respondents said that their attendance was not required at up to 30% of the meetings they attended.

If we worked to reduce these unnecessary meetings, it would increase productivity, decrease employee frustration and cut costs. In companies with 100 employees, reducing meetings could save $2.5 million a year. In larger businesses with 5,000 employees, they could save $100 million a year by finding ways to communicate other than through meetings.

The monetary investment in this level of face-to-face synchronous communication is enormous. Let’s look at an example.

Say you have eight people in a weekly meeting. The meeting runs for an hour every Tuesday and the average salary of the attendees is $50,000. The cost of attendees’ time is $12,000 a year. Just for that one meeting alone. Man alive, this is an expensive way to communicate.

Why does this behavior persist, even in the face of clear data to show the loss of productivity in the business? Well, mostly because meetings are easy. People default to meetings because they don’t really require any effort or preparation. You just call a meeting, people show up, and maybe you achieve something or maybe you don’t. But, sure, you had the meeting.

But there are other and better ways to communicate in the workplace. You need to take an intentional, deliberate approach to create a system of communication in work that includes both synchronous, real-time channels such as meetings, and also asynchronous channels.

You can’t simply replicate the office environment in a virtual world; it leads to zoom fatigue, frustration, and disengagement.

This need for an asynchronous approach to workplace communication is going to become increasingly important in the coming years. Hybrid work is here to stay, and the more daring companies in the world are embracing remote work with all its benefits.

In a hybrid and remote work environment, particularly one that spans multiple time zones, meetings are more than just expensive; they are simply impractical.

So, what’s the alternative? Start with purpose. If you’re inviting someone to a meeting, are you clear on the purpose? If the purpose is just to share information, then you don’t need a meeting for that.

Information can be shared asynchronously. Send an email. Record a video. Create a Loom. Use your collaborative project management tool. Send a homing pigeon, if you have one. But don’t take up an hour of people’s time when they could simply read your content in five minutes.

Identify the tools and tactics available to you in your organization. Modern communication tools like Poppulo are ideal for embracing asynchronous flows of communication throughout your organization.

This type of digital technology can be used to send smart, targeted communications within/ across teams, to the wider organization, and to a select number of leaders… the options are endless.

You can also look at video-sharing tools like Loom, in which you can record yourself giving a presentation and send it to your stakeholders to view in their own time. This can save you from calling a meeting—particularly if your presentation is just sharing information.

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Other new tools like Fellow are interesting; these enable you to hold asynchronous team meetings instead of having real-time catch-ups each day.

In an async team meeting, all team members complete a shared document in the morning to outline their priorities for the week and any concerns and ideas they have. You can then review it in the afternoon to get a quick overview of what the whole team is working on and whether you need to collaborate with anyone. All without calling a meeting!

Some organizations are async by default, which is certainly unusual but not unheard of. GitLab and Zapier are both fully-remote companies with dispersed workers all over the world. They run their companies on asynchronous communication, using sync time in a limited and purposeful way.

Both organizations are very transparent about how they work; you can find lots of documentation on their websites about how to run a remote company and how to shift towards async communication. 

I recommend having a look—there’s good material there. (Spoiler alert: they don't hold many meetings.)

Now in saying all this, meetings have a place, of course. There are certain situations where communication should be synchronous and real-time. Performance reviews, for example, should be real-time conversations. If you are working on a significant change and you need to influence a key stakeholder, then yes, I would suggest a conversation is required.

The point is to stop and think: what’s the purpose of this meeting? Do I really need to call a meeting, or are there other ways I could communicate more efficiently?

And the killer question: what is this meeting costing me and what is it costing the business? Because remember, if you’re in a large organization that could be as terrifying as 100 million dollars!

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