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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Stop the Meetings

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Here’s a good one.

Look at the people in this business meeting "stock image" of actors.

Don't they look engaged? Don't they look happy?

Well that's because this isn't their 5th meeting of the week that could have been an email - and because they are actors. Similarly to your people though - they are also being paid to appear engaged, collaborative and happy...

When leading US University MIT asked Professor Vijay Pereira to investigate the impact of companies introducing ‘no meeting days,’ the learned academic went to see the CEO of a leading multinational.

Professor Pereira explained that he wanted to sign up a large number of companies to the idea – no meeting days (say two or three days each week) -to see how work patterns, staff motivation and productivity changed.

The CEO thought the idea interesting. He wasn’t prepared to commit there and then – but he would call a meeting of his direct reports to discuss.

The direct reports met – and came up with a way forward.

They called another meeting – passing the question down to the next level for their views.

So, there was a meeting. Then another, and another, and another.

They had 17 meetings, at an average of two hours - 34 hours of meetings (with varying numbers of attendees). Time spent to decide whether to opt in for no meeting days.

Eventually a decision was taken to have meeting free days – twice a week.

And like most companies (76) in Pereira’s study) – they found it worked. His findings were: ‘on most days they didn’t need meetings at all.’ (New Statesman, ‘Why your Meetings are a Waste of Time’).

Very few things flourished during the pandemic.

Meetings were the exception.

A recent study by the Wall Street Journal found:

‘The corporate world has always loved meetings just a little too much.

But the pandemic accelerated the problem - as managers desperately attempted to supervise their direct reports after the shift to remote work - and team members strove to coordinate with each other and maintain some semblance of social connection.’

A recent study showed that professionals now spend more than half the standard workweek—a full 21.5 hours—in meetings - an increase of 7.3 hours a week just since the pandemic began.

Even as many companies have returned to the office or adopted hybrid arrangements, the bias toward more meetings may have stuck. The overall number of meetings remains up 70% versus February 2020.

And the impact of meeting free days?

  • Micromanaging came down when there were less meetings.

  • Stress levels also came down.

  • Autonomy increased, communication was better, there was better cooperation, there was better engagement, there was better productivity, and there was better satisfaction.

When meetings were reduced by 40% (the equivalent of two days per week), it was found productivity increased 71% because employees felt more empowered and autonomous.

Rather than being pinned down by a schedule, they owned their to-do lists and held themselves accountable, which consequently increased satisfaction by 52%.

Across all the companies in the study, the most beneficial results came when companies restricted meetings to two days per week. At the companies with more meeting-free days, meetings were better structured - they wanted to not beat around the bush but come to the point – and have good meeting ‘hygiene.’

Fortunately, there is an answer if you find yourself inundated by too many meeting requests.

It’s the good old ‘tentative’ button.

If someone sends you a meeting request for the future - and you think the meeting could be a waste of time – answer by clicking the ‘tentative’ button.

And if an agenda doesn’t arrive, and you see that all the people needed to take a decision won’t be at the meeting or you suspect no-one will have sone their actions yet again from the previous meeting – send a ‘decline’ and get on with something useful.

Perhaps then we wont all be working late at night and checking emails at the weekend – and the productive work will get done.

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