Does this sound familiar? It’s Friday morning, and you come into the office or log on from home and check your email. You don’t see anything critical, so you begin your day by catching up on the tasks you are already behind on. After your third cup of coffee, you check your calendar for next week. And then it hits you. You have nine meetings scheduled!
I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much what I expect to see each week these days. So before I even leave for the weekend, I’m already thinking about all the preparation I’ll have to do to be ready for those nine meetings – and that’s on top of my normal daily job and to-do list. No wonder today’s workers have more stress and anxiety than ever.
Meetings have long been a staple of the corporate world, offering a space for teams to collaborate, brainstorm, and communicate. They are also critical in the AEC industry, where face-to-face client service is the key to success. However, recent studies show that the frequency and duration of meetings in the workplace are continuing a steep ascent, leading to a decline in productivity and employee happiness.
The meeting epidemic. One of the unintended consequences that came out of the pandemic era is the massive increase in meeting requests. Surely you’ve noticed. Some of it is due to having team members working from home, but the vast majority is due to the speed at which we’ve all become accustomed to improved meeting technology with apps such as Slack, Teams, and Zoom.
Over the past three years, the average number of meetings per employee has increased significantly, with many employees spending more than 30 percent of their working hours in meetings. Do the math with your rate schedule and your eyes will pop.
There is also direct evidence that meetings cost companies a vast amount of lost productivity. One recent analysis found that one-on-one meetings are up 500 percent since remote work skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic. Another study surveyed companies that put limitations on meetings and found productivity increased 73 percent if they limited meetings to just three days per week.
While the intention behind meetings may be positive, the reality is that they often contribute to wasted time, decreased productivity, and increased employee burnout.
The nuclear option. Inc. Magazine recently published an article featuring an example of what one company is doing to fight unnecessary meetings. The e-commerce company Shopify is enforcing the nuclear option on all recurring meetings. They recently conducted a calendar purge, removing all recurring meetings with more than two people “in perpetuity” while also creating a rule that no meetings can be held on Wednesdays.
Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobi Lutke reinforced the company’s commitment to a radical reduction in meetings in an email statement: “The best thing we can do is subtraction. It’s much easier to add things than to remove things. If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done with that period of time.”
I love that quote. Since I am in the creative profession, I can imagine how many more amazing ideas I can come up with if I have more breathing room each week and can work uninterrupted.
Interruptions from pointless meetings make it hard to think outside the box and build momentum. Think of an author writing a novel. Imagine working on a pivotal chapter in your next great bestseller; your mind is completely focused on creating a dramatic climax during a heart-pounding chase scene, and then your dreaded meeting reminder goes off. You’re forced to leave that head space completely and start again later.
The hidden costs of meeting overload. When meetings dominate employees’ schedules, several negative consequences emerge:
- Decreased productivity. Employees often find themselves attending back-to-back meetings, leaving little time for focused work. This constant context-switching can lead to a decline in productivity as employees struggle to make progress on their primary tasks.
- Employee burnout. The mental and emotional strain of attending excessive meetings can contribute to employee burnout, as they feel overwhelmed by the constant demand to be “on” and engaged.
- Reduced innovation. When employees are stuck in meetings, they have less time to brainstorm, think creatively, and develop new ideas. The result is a stagnation in innovation and a stifling of the firm’s competitive edge.
- Inefficient use of resources. Meetings can be costly, consuming valuable time and resources. In fact, it’s estimated that a large organization’s average meeting cost is $30,000 per hour. Reducing the frequency of meetings can save a company significant money and resources.
Solutions for reducing meeting frequency. To combat the negative effects of meeting overload, consider some of the ideas that WK Dickson has tried:
- Establish a meeting policy. Develop a company-wide policy that defines meetings’ purpose, format, and duration. This policy should include guidelines on when meetings are necessary and when alternative methods of communication, such as email or instant messaging, would be more efficient.
- Set clear agendas and objectives. It is always an immediate red flag if you are invited to a meeting without an agenda. Before scheduling, ensure that a clear agenda and specific objectives are established. This will help to keep the meeting focused and prevent it from devolving into a time-wasting exercise.
- Limit the number of attendees. Only invite essential participants to meetings. Including too many people can lead to a lack of focus and an unproductive environment. Let employees know it is okay to decline meeting invitations if they do not feel they can contribute meaningfully to the discussion.
- Implement “no meeting” days or periods. Designate specific days or time periods during which meetings are not allowed. This encourages employees to use their time more effectively and allows for uninterrupted blocks of work.
- Use software to block invitations. Since most businesses use Microsoft Outlook, use its Focus function to create focus periods on your daily calendar. I block two hours every day for “me time,” and it prevents others from inviting me to a meeting.
The rise in meeting frequency since 2020 has substantially impacted businesses, both financially and in terms of employee productivity and satisfaction. By implementing strategies to reduce the frequency of meetings, AEC companies can unlock the power of productivity, improve employee morale, and drive innovation while simultaneously saving significant resources. In today’s fast-paced, competitive environment, where we can barely meet the demand of project deadlines, it is essential for companies to reevaluate their meeting culture and prioritize efficiency and effectiveness for long-term success.
Kraig Kern, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing at WK Dickson. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.