Does banning meetings help workers get back their time? - Deepstash

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Excess meetings

Excess meetings

Remote working has only exacerbated the problem of excess meetings, with casual deskside chats replaced by default half-hour Zoom calls. Analysis of employees' meeting invitations at 21,500 global companies by Harvard Business School revealed that although meetings were on average 12 minutes shorter versus pre-pandemic, people were attending 13% more of them, with the number of invitees rising by 14%.

More meetings, for more employees, mean more fragmented workdays – which impacts on productivity. Zoom fatigue creeps in, the risk of burnout spikes.

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How meetings bloomed

Humans are inherently social beings; our instinct to meet in order to strategize and share ideas predates modern civilization, let alone office culture.

As knowledge work boomed in the mid-20th Century, businesses gradually moved away from command-and-control style leadership towards collaboration. Meetings became the best process to allow the coming together of ideas, inspiring innovation.

Once video-conferencing technology became more sophisticated, meetings were no longer constrained by room size or office hours. 

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"It’s become too easy to take someone’s schedule away from them. People don’t think – they just click ‘yes’ to the invite"

STEVEN ROGELBERG

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Good meetings, bad meetings

Meetings can enable teams to brainstorm, align thinking and take decisive action, but without clear goals, they lose focus. They often bloat – what should be a quick one-on-one conversation becomes an hour-long call requiring entire teams. 

Bad meetings have knock-on effects that spill into the workday, as well as depriving workers of their time: Meeting recovery syndrome, where workers ruminate post-meeting, can dent productivity. Constant context switching comes at a cost: it’s a form of multitasking, which our brains aren’t built to handle. 

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Banning meetings

Banning meetings

Some companies have banned meetings, either permanently or for specific days each week.

Many tech-related start-ups, which often employ remote workers in different time zones prioritize efficient asynchronous communication rather than live calls.

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The struggle with implementing the "no-meeting" trend

  • A common pitfall is that the unproductive Zoom calls are simply pushed to either side of the meeting-free day. Worse, time-stretched managers sometimes ignore company policy: they see a yawning gap in workers’ schedules on a no-meeting day and set up an hour-long call. Employees, meanwhile, presume the meeting must be important and feel obliged to attend.
  • There can be other unintended consequences, too. Meetings can be a surprisingly efficient way of exchanging information. Without alternatives in place, a quick question during a morning catch-up can be replaced by email ping-pong.

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Reform, don't remove

The no-meeting trend is fairly new: there's little concrete data to support whether it works and what gets lost. It’s why most of the discussion around it is anecdotal. However, it seems that without addressing pre-existing issues, an outright meeting ban simply moves the problem elsewhere.

The goal isn’t to eliminate meetings, it’s to eliminate the bad ones. You need to do the hard stuff – changing meetings and the ecosystem in which they sit so they’re more effective. Just banning them on an afternoon isn’t enough.”

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