We all know the feeling: You have a million things on your plate, and you have to head into yet another meeting. What’s worse, you have the sinking suspicion this will be a waste of your already limited time.
It turns out you’re not alone. A 2018 survey finds that workers deem office meetings the biggest time-waster. And they cost a lot in money as well as time: In the U.S., $25 million is wasted each day on unproductive meetings. Harvard has even developed a meeting cost calculator, where you can calculate the exact cost of a meeting based on its length and the salaries of those attending.
But we can’t cancel meetings entirely. Research shows that the majority of communication occurs through nonverbal cues — so relying completely on email and other digital communication methods isn’t an alternative.
It’s time to rethink how meetings are run at your workplace. This can save time, improve efficiency and hugely impact employee satisfaction. Here’s how to get started.
Figure out what’s working and what isn’t
Unfortunately, research suggests we aren’t as good at running office meetings as we think we are: 79% of meeting hosts think the time is productive, but only 56% of those attending feel the same way. Reevaluating your approach to meetings starts with assessing which formats and tactics are effective and which aren’t.
It’s essential to work on this since the frustration with meetings can lead to dire situations: Multiple studies show that ineffective meetings are a predictor of unhappiness at work and can make employees more likely to quit.
The good news? Employee feedback can paint a fuller picture and help you start improving. For example, RSC Bio Solutions, a small marine oil company in Charlotte, North Carolina, changed the format of their short, daily meetings by implementing rotating leaders based on feedback from an employee survey.
To make office meetings more productive, poll employees about how they think meetings are being run. Discuss feedback as a group, and make a plan to implement changes for the most common issues.
Once you’ve figured out what team members want from office meetings, make a plan. Clear goals and ownership should be established for the meeting as a whole and for each agenda item, as well.
Studies prove meetings are massively time-consuming: Up to 35% of middle managers’ time is spent in meetings; for upper management, it’s a whopping 50%. Add in the fact that meetings are often viewed as unproductive, and it’s clear they should be viewed as a last resort for solving problems. When you do use them, be clear about the desired outcomes and how each attendee can help.
Speaking of attendees, at each meeting, think critically about who needs to be there. Jeff Bezos has a rule at Amazon that states two pizzas should be able to feed everyone at a meeting because inviting more people than that stifles creativity and innovation. He has a point — for each additional person over seven in a meeting, the effectiveness of decision-making decreases by 10%.
To include feedback from more people without compromising the meeting’s efficiency, gather input from the team beforehand; conduct the meeting with only the key stakeholders present; then fill everyone in afterward.
Keep people focused
In a survey of senior managers, 71% feel meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 65% say meetings keep them from completing their work. Following a few basic ground rules — including being punctual and banning multitasking — can make your meetings more productive and less frustrating.
Enforcing punctuality means starting the meeting on time, regardless of who is there. Put the onus on stragglers to figure out what they missed, as opposed to starting the meeting multiple times to catch them up. Having “tech-free” meetings can also eliminate multitasking, so people pay more attention and are better engaged. For example, travel company Luxtripper reduced three-hour meeting times to one hour by instating a tech-free rule helping attendees to focus.
Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to keeping workers on track. Companies such as Apple, Zappos and Capital One conduct meetings where everyone literally stands up to increase efficiency — sit-down meetings last 34% longer.
Make sure to check in with employees about how office meetings are going and to regularly reassess the ones on your schedule. If a meeting is happening just because it always has, try canceling it to see if it remains necessary.