MOST of us believe that meetings—whether virtual or face to face—are a necessary evil. Without them, author Minda Zetlin says in an article in Inc.com, “communication would break down, important information would get missed, there would be less collaboration, and your team would stop feeling like a team.”
At the same time, she notes that “it’s no secret most people dislike having to attend meetings.” In a research assembled by the transcription site Otter.ai, 67 percent of employees complained that meetings were hindering their productivity, and 35 percent said they sent up to five hours a week in meetings that did little to advance the work or the company’s success.
Finding middle ground, a team led by Benjamin Laker, professor of leadership at the University of Reading in England, surveyed 76 companies that had deliberately reduced their number of meetings, eliminating some, most, or even all of them.
Zetlin says that researchers found that “every company that lessened its meeting burden saw benefits.” In every case, “researchers found increases in productivity, cooperation, communication and job satisfaction.”
But, she says, “the sweet spot seemed to be reducing meetings by 40 percent or four out of five meetings.” Companies that did saw an average 74 percent increase in productivity, 44 percent in employee engagement, job satisfaction at 62 percent. Stress, interestingly, went down a whopping 63 percent.
Researchers explained in Harvard Business Review that “team interactions are important for collaboration, but meetings are no longer the best way to interact. In fact, there are more effective ways to develop bonds.”
Here are some of Zetlin’s suggestions in her article Want More Happiness and Productivity? Cancel 4 of Every 5 Meetings, Study Shows.
1. Replace your morning check-in meeting with a check-in message
“Daily huddles are the most frequently held meetings, and often, they are the most difficult to give up,” the researchers write. They add that managers, especially if they are inexperienced, may want to get everyone together to make sure all team members are on track with their work and aware of what everyone else is doing.
While it is important to share information, the researchers say, but check-in meetings aren’t the best way to do it.
They have another suggestion: Set up a Slack or Teams channel specifically for this purpose. This means every weekday, schedule a message to go out at 9:00am: “@here What’s on your plate today?” Let everyone know you’d like an answer within one hour.
Research shows that 83 percent of employees prefer this method of checking in as this doesn’t interrupt their workflow.
More than that, if someone forgets what another person is working on or didn’t take adequate notes, they can always review the conversation to find the missing info.
And anyone who has follow-up questions or needs to discuss anything can do it by sending a message to the appropriate person or persons. That way, one-to-one chats can be quicker and more efficient than holding up the whole group by involving them in things that don’t necessarily concern them.
2. Only hold meetings when necessary.
Are there any guidelines on the best time to hold meetings? There are several schools of thought.
Zetlin quotes Wharton psychologist and author Adam Grant as saying that there are only four good reasons people should meet—to learn something, to decide something together, to actually accomplish a task together, or to bond. That is, she says, “very good advice but very broad.”
On the other hand, Laker and the researchers have a slightly different point of view. They say that in most cases, the only good reasons to meet are to review the past work and learn from it; to clarify and support something, such as a policy or a goal; or to distribute work within a team.
Whichever any of these standards—or something else—makes sense to you—Zetlin’s advice is to be “extremely picky about the meetings you hold.”
She adds that “some economists say that the financial factor most people fail to consider is opportunity costs.” All meetings have opportunity costs, so ask yourself what work isn’t getting done because the people who would be doing it are in a meeting instead. And of course, “the more people in the meeting, the greater the opportunity cost.”
3. Let people opt out
Many meetings have good intentions at their root—so that everyone will be informed and no one will be left out.
But researchers note that “the less important a topic is to someone’s specific job, the likelier they are to be answering their email—or playing online solitaire—while the meeting goes on.”
Zetlin suggests one solution—“make meetings as optional for as many team members as you can. That way, they can attend if a topic seems important to them or skip it if not.”
Researchers also say it’s best “to encourage your team to flag or cancel meetings if they aren’t the best use of their time.” It is also important to make it clear that, as their manager, you encourage it, and won’t judge or punish them.”
After all, “staying away from a meeting may boost an employee’s productivity, and why would you punish them for that?
PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior professionals around the world. Millie Dizon, the senior vice president for Marketing and Communications of SM, is the former local chairman.
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