I think it is safe to say, meetings have always considered an essential part of the working day.

Meetings have however become one of the main factors of the broken world of work.

I believe I can safely speak on behalf of almost all of us, lockdowns (and quarantines) have made back to back meetings feel like it is the only way we can do our daily work.

This is definitely dangerous and a broken way of thinking and a broken way of work.

Deliberate With Meetings

In most organisations, they have not defined when, why or how to host or have meetings. This is causing stress, burnout and meeting fatigue.

If you have worked in a fully remote or fully distributed team, you know meetings are essential parts of projects and campaigns but will often slow down important work. So deliberate reasons for meetings, brainstorms and quick asynchronous standup have been vital and calculated to get the most out of “meetings”. If you have ever spoken to someone who has worked fully remotely, they will tell you deep work is essential and arranging your days around meetings slow’s the flow and projects right down.

Meetings = Burnout?

At the end of 2020, Google introduced no meetings week, as I wrote then, this move would have from the outside seemed a good idea to prevent burnout but internally the anxiety levels would have increased and many businesses are not set up to align, agree on progress or make important decisions on email threads and instant messengers like Teams or Slack.

Many organisations I have spoken to over the last nine months have suggested meetings in person moved online and onto video as default, with the same structure of meetings, the same decision process is happening, now just more slowly or with more but shorter meetings to gain alignment.

More meetings do not help, they take more time, add more opinions and add more complexity to your workday, this is actually causing more fatigue and potential burnout.

Back To Backs – The Exec Problem

Even the most senior and well-supported company executives burnout from back to back meetings, if you speak to anyone at a mid to large-sized business in a leadership role, their calendars are back to back to back. For some this is the way they have learnt, others this is the way they are expected to lead. For most this is a choice and ripples through businesses.

This back to back theme became the norm in the early 2000’s and has plagued organisations since, this is where a HiPPO should lead and ensure the company knows this is bad practise and does not enable productive or positive working environments.

A Dive Into Meeting Stats

  • With the move to forced working from home, we now average 6.9 meetings per day
  • That’s a 13.5% increase YoY
  • Meeting lengths
    • 31% of meetings were 15 minute meetings long
    • 36% of meetings were 30-minute
    • 20% of meetings ran for 60 minutes
  • Studies found that staff attend on average 62 meetings per month, where ~50% of the meetings were considered a complete waste of time.
  • 50% of meeting agendas are recycled – this can help and hinder

These many meetings mean we do not have time to recover from meetings and digest what was said and the actions that need to happen. Frustrations with meetings, the time it takes away from you and the feelings it creates are known as Meeting Recovery Syndrome. MRS is an important component of your workday and is one of the most misunderstood parts of the day.

Running late on video calls on the surface seems to waste more people’s time, with six or more people staring at pixels and inspecting the backgrounds of their colleagues, a meeting overrunning also brings more stress and anxiety, this zaps more energy from meeting attendee’s meaning MRS is heightened and tension builds from meeting to meeting. MRS is taken from one meeting to the next.

Unfortunately just not having meetings or reducing down meetings with bad habits, is not going to positively change how your company or agency operates, it will reduce some stress but will apply more pressure on the meetings that take place and will see more internal communications that has not been planned for.

Meeting Design

Meeting design is a whole category business should dedicate an owner to, research, adopt and introduce company-wide.
Learning how to craft meetings, being thoughtful of those who need to attend, why they should attend, what time they should attend, the work required pre-meeting, the reading materials supplied, the crafted vs recycled agenda are all essential parts of making one meeting a success.

Fewer Meetings Vs No Meetings

Trying to turn this off and reduce meetings down when we are having more meetings on the surface seems a good idea but second-order thinking will allow you understand this is a bandaid approach that many businesses will struggle to help their teams adopt.

No meetings will help reduce a day to two of stress providing it is planned for and the campaign, project or product leads understand how they are critical parts of reducing stress and organising around previous poor workflows could and should work.

Are No Meeting Days Possible?

No meeting days is not a new concept, the concept has been around for a number of years and has enabled a number of people to get their head down and get their work done.

Company-wide no meeting days has been an answer many businesses have tried but has failed for mass adoption or success, this is typically down to organisations who rely on meetings to make decisions, relying on meetings to keep management up to date with what is happening and misalignment on work being mixed up with meetings.

No meeting days will be possible if you build-up muscle memory up towards no meetings, you have to remove the friction points (for example decision making only happening meetings) and then enable them to happen over email, project tools or instant messenger. Having a company-wide agreement that is followed by the most junior to most senior is essential.

No Meeting Days Plan For Success

Meeting free days actually take a number of months to transition to, there are many reasons but the most important to note are

  • To build a company-wide agreement of what a meeting is and is not
  • To build confidence no meeting days can work
  • To enable teams to move away from meetings, stand-ups and in-person and hybrid status updates
  • To replace the reliance on meetings to make decisions
  • To replace decision making in meetings with an agree process, whether this is on email, on chat, on a dedicated document or on a project management tool.
    • A decision document will be an important step to increase awareness of decisions and why these take place.
  • To build a new way of asynchronous communications.

The way the world is changing and the way many have already embraced working remotely and from home, we will see meetings play an essential part of the hybrid office, this will however require work, investment into people, tools and processes and agreed to company-wide principles to follow these, even when projects go off schedule, things hit the fan or the HiPPO demands a meeting.

The ways to win:

  • Reducing down meetings is being more deliberate with what a meeting is, is not and what you have to achieve from the meeting
  • It is knowing what the outcome of the meetings are and then giving the company and teams a chance to create more deliberate and considered communications asynchronously.
  • This methodology reduces the requirements for meetings, you build up muscle for making decisions away from meetings and ensure the company know when they are deliberate, they win vs requiring a meeting to make progress.
  • Remove the busy badge of honour and replace it with deliberate communications and thoughtful work wins and knowing that they can trust each other and no meetings days to win.

Recommended Reading

Stats Source – Otter