Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of effective communication tools for the workplace.
There are all kinds of email platforms, Slack, Google Drive, custom intranets, Asana, Jira, knowledge bases, Basecamp, video chat...the list goes on and on.
It almost makes you wonder: Why have face-to-face meetings at all? Especially when you think of all the stats pointing at their ineffectiveness.
Because, as it turns out, meetings are the best way to transmit company culture and important nonverbal communication, boost productivity by as much as 10 percent, solve disagreements, and even improve creativity by over 70 percent.
It turns out that it’s not meetings that are the enemy—it’s all the wasted time that the poorly-planned ones generate.
Find out how unnecessary meetings cost U.S. companies nearly 40 billion in salary dollars each year and six steps to vanquish the enemy that is time-wasting meeting habits once and for all.
Meetings are great for...
The face-to-face communication that takes place in meetings has plenty of benefits for both attendees and businesses.
Reinforcing culture, company-wide
Unlike chats in the breakroom or post-work happy hours, meetings are a great way to strengthen company culture while still remaining productive.
And for workers like managers and executives who may not interact as closely with the rest of the team in the course of their day-to-day activities, meetings provide a rare and welcome opportunity to engage with and even influence office culture.
According to the head of Organization Practice at Bain & Company consulting firm Michael Mankins, executives who consistently turn down meetings may actually earn themselves a negative perception: “Ignore emails and meeting invitations and you risk alienating your colleagues.”
Productive meetings make collaboration a core element of your culture and further your team’s commitment to working together toward a shared goal.
But wait—you don’t think there is such a thing as a “productive meeting”?
Have we got (good) news for you.
Improving productivity (By as much as 10%!)
A study by MIT found that the informal communication that takes between employees when they get together for meetings actually improves cohesion—and that cohesion results in improved productivity. In fact, employees who ranked in the top third in this “cohesiveness” metric in the study were proven to be 10 percent more productive than their less-cohesive coworkers!
Transmitting nonverbal communication
We’ve all been there—spending tens of minutes typing, editing, and over-analyzing an email about a concept that would just take a few minutes (and a lot less agonizing) to explain in person.
Tasks like these are what meetings are made for.
Sometimes, it just makes sense to get in the room together for projects or tasks that require a lot of collaboration and communication. When a whopping 93 percent of communication takes place nonverbally, just imagine how many great ideas and opportunities for cultural development are missed when things like committee-based planning sessions, new team member introductions, and training sessions are conducted without a single face-to-face interaction.
Providing an outlet for resolving tense situations
Is there more than one person in your organization?
Then sooner or later, there’s going to be friction.
And without an outlet where disagreements can be hashed out and feedback can be openly shared, that friction can cause factions that poison an otherwise great culture.
Because, as we just learned, the vast majority of communication takes place in our tone and our body language—the absolute best way to communicate clearly in tense situations is in person.
Improving creativity by over 70%
Brainstorming research published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that people who brainstorm alone, then share their ideas, then brainstorm alone again, then finally brainstorm with a group again are the most creative.
If you didn’t follow that—the gist is that generating new, creative ideas in a group setting is much more effective than going it alone.
This research definitively proves what many meeting managers and attendees have known forever—meetings can be a great tool for boosting creativity and inspiring awesome new ideas that individual team members may never have discovered on their own.
So why do we dislike meetings so much?
Stronger team culture, improved communication and productivity, through-the-roof creativity—what is there to dislike about meetings?
It’s not the meetings themselves that are the enemy, it’s all the wasted time the unproductive ones create.
There are 25 million meetings held every day in the U.S. And while executives consider nearly 70 percent of these meetings to be failures, the average employee is still spending (aka wasting) 5 hours in meetings—and over 4 hours preparing for meetings—each week.
As you move up the ladder, middle managers spend up to 35 percent of their time in meetings. And upper management? Half of their entire career is attending meetings.
With numbers like that, it’s really no surprise that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses $37 billion in salary every year.
In one terrifyingly-familiar example, a single business reported spending hundreds of thousands of hours in a single year on a weekly executive meeting.
It’s estimated that only about 60 percent of the time we spend at work is actually productive.
And you can probably guess what the number one time waster is—overzealous meetings.
Wow, it’s no wonder meetings get a bad rap!
Here are some of the ways overzealous meetings cost businesses in salary dollars, lost productivity, and missed opportunities—as well as six simple steps businesses can use to shut down time-wasters once and for all!
Meetings interrupt productive deep work
Ever have a hard time getting anything done during a day that’s peppered with meetings?
That makes two of us!
Even meetings that end up being productive still keep us from slipping into the right headspace to produce “deep work”—which is, according to Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport, work that’s made up of cognitively-demanding tasks that require the ability to focus without distractions.
Time is zero-sum. Time spent (ahem—wasted) in what ends up being a pointless meeting can never be recovered and spent on impactful solo work, instead. Just think about all the opportunity cost that’s permanently going down the drain every time your team gathers to discuss something that could have easily been shared or decided via email.
Many meetings focus on discussions instead of decisions
Speaking of replacing time-wasting meetings with emails—here’s your encouragement to do that more often!
Unless the specified goal of a meeting is brainstorming, a meeting isn’t really productive unless it actually, well, produces something. That may be a final decision, a set date, a new hire, a solid roadmap, or a completed product or service.
For the most part, if a meeting is held to discuss or reviews already-known content—it’s a waste of time. Instead, meeting attendees should be encouraged to share, review, and discuss all the pertinent material before the meeting so they can come prepared to produce an outcome.
Late starts cost big salary dollars
The average meeting starts six minutes late. No biggie, right?
Well, it wouldn’t be if the average U.S. employee didn’t attend 62 meetings every month. That’s 6.2 wasted hours each month—or 74.4 hours per year—per employee.
Have 50 employees? If they're making about as much as the average U.S. office worker at $13.27 per hour, you’re spending almost $50K every single year on unproductive meeting time.
All this is to say that there’s a lot more than just productivity that’s lost when meetings don’t begin right when you say they’re going to begin—there’s cold, hard cash on the line.
Planning meetings takes way too long
About 70 percent of workers spend as many as 15 minutes every day just looking for a place where they can meet and collaborate with colleagues.
And it’s surprising that they don’t spend even more time planning meetings when you consider that meeting spaces are typically booked over 90 percent of the time—yet 34 percent of planned meetings get “ghosted” and go unattended!
The process of planning a meeting has become so convoluted that workers are starting to spend as much time preparing for them as they are sitting in them! And with the length and frequency of meetings growing, if we aren’t careful it won’t be long until all we do at work is plan, attend, and run between meetings.
Even will all the time-wasting habits that surround meetings, we still believe in the benefits of great meetings and totally advocate having them when you really need them.
Meetings don’t have to be the enemy. Just check out the next section to learn how to master effective meetings that build up company culture, boost team creativity, and get work done.
6 steps to take control of your time and create a culture of effective meetings
It really doesn’t have to take a ton of time, money, or even training to take control of time-wasting meeting habits.
Just follow these six steps to streamline meeting operations and get back to effective meetings that actually make money through boosted brainstorming, improved productivity, and a culture that thrives on getting more done in less time.
1. Ask: Is this meeting necessary?
Not sure if a meeting is necessary? Well, if the fact that you’re asking that question isn’t enough to tell you the answer, then looking at it from a cost perspective will help you make up your mind quickly.
Not sure how to find the cost of a meeting? You may be sorry you asked.
Use a meeting cost calculator that uses salary to determine how much your company is spending just to have all the meeting attendees in the room together for that stretch of time. For even more accuracy, remember that a meeting is never just the gathering itself—it also includes all the work that went into planning and preparing for the meeting.
If the cost of the meeting isn’t worth the outcome, it probably isn’t necessary.
2. Develop, share, and swear by an agenda
Just like a ship needs a captain and a map to avoid crashing, a meeting needs a leader who is willing to develop and stick to an agenda to avoid becoming a complete waste of time.
An agenda is basically a list of goals that you want to achieve during the meeting. It should be created and shared with attendees prior to the meeting so that everyone arrives already on the same page.
Without an agenda in-hand, no one will know what’s expected of them and your meeting will flounder from the get-go. And without a leader who sticks to this agenda, it’s unlikely the key goals will ever be achieved.
3. Share the right materials at the right time
It’s not just the agenda that meeting attendees should be familiar with before a meeting even starts.
Ideally, you’ll be able to share all the materials attendees need to review—and do so with enough lead time to let them soak up all that information. This will set the expectation that they’ll be attending a productive meeting and gives everyone the tools they need to cut through discovery-level discuss and get straight to the decision making.
And immediately following the meeting, it’s also important to make sure any attendees who committed to follow-up tasks get the materials they need to move forward.
4. Set a tight, strict time frame
Whether you tried out that meeting cost calculator or not, you already know that time is money—and time wasted twiddling your thumbs while waiting for a meeting to start is no different.
Salary savings aren’t the only reason to start every single meeting on time. As we’ve already explored, meetings have a powerful impact on company culture. It’s especially important to use them as an opportunity to establish that your culture emphasizes productivity and respect for everyone’s time. Whether it’s for the boss or the newest intern, don’t wait.
In addition to starting meetings on time—you should also try scheduling them to take up as little time as possible.
Parkinson's Law dictates that work will always expand to fill the time that’s allotted for it, which means it’s also possible to get a surprising amount of work done in a tight timeframe. Start out by scheduling meetings as short as possible. Only increase the time if you find that you’re consistently not able to get through all the information you wanted to cover.
5. Streamline meeting setup
Simply put—meeting spaces are being booked more often than they’re actually being used.
This complicated search for meeting spaces wastes productivity and salary dollars. And this inaccurate portrayal of how effectively your organization’s real estate is being used could lead to unnecessary spending on office space.
The cool thing about this step is that all it takes is adopting the right meeting management software to take the frustration out of meeting planning and hosting, streamline visitor management, and gain meeting insights that strengthen your knowledge about space and resource utilization.
6. Always end on action
Last but certainly not least is to end every meeting with next steps.
The last few minutes of every meeting should be spent clarifying who is responsible for what and when it’s due.
We like the phrase Mark Toro, managing partner at the real estate firm North American Properties–Atlanta, coined: W.W.D.W.B.W. or “Who will do what by when?”
On that note, we’re going to follow our own advice and give you a next step that, if you take it, will enlighten you on your time-wasting meeting habits and empower you to vanquish the enemy once and for all.