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