If you’ve ever been stuck in a two-hour meeting with nothing to contribute and nothing to learn, you’ve felt the pain of inefficient meetings—and you’ll be happy to hear that these days of wasted time and mismanaged resources may soon be over.
It’s not quite accurate to say that meetings are dead, or even that they’re dying, since even if they decline in public favor for the foreseeable future, they’ll never completely go away. But we are seeing a massive reduction in the number of meetings held, the length of those meetings, and the number of participants included—and public attitudes about meetings are drastically changing.
Meetings and Time Waste
Meetings waste time in almost every scenario, for one reason or another, and Americans are starting to wake up to this reality. More than two-thirds of American workers claim that too much time in meetings is distracting, preventing them from accomplishing their core responsibilities. And participants in meetings feel that as much as a third of all meeting time is a total waste, exacerbated by the fact that 63 percent of meetings are held without a pre-planned agenda.
This problem of time waste is compounded by several factors. First, the sheer number of meetings held; there are more than 11 million meetings per day, and in many organizations, meetings are held for even the smallest matters. Each meeting includes multiple participants, multiplying the man-hours necessary to carry it out, and in many cases those participants are unnecessary. And of course, extra-long meetings multiply all these factors even further.
See this math in action; if your company has 100 employees making $60,000 per year with 60 meetings per month, the total cost of meetings per year is $2.25 million. Is that really worth the insights you glean from daily updates?
For the last several years, executives have been waking up to this reality and curtailing their meeting habits, but an even more powerful force is influencing meeting norms.
The Last Nail in the Coffin
The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses all over the country to rapidly deploy a remote work strategy. Initially, most of those businesses attempted to simply copy and paste their traditional work processes into a virtual environment, with minimal changes—for the sake of simplicity, speed, and adherence to tradition. However, this meant dealing with lag, interruptions, limited body language, and excessive participants in video chats.
Furthermore, remote meetings tend to allow for a more lax atmosphere, allowing participants to multi-task (or worse, multi-lax) while other participants take the lead and drive the organization forward.
As more business owners and team leaders are realizing, traditional meetings are borderline untenable in these circumstances, reserved only for very specific types of discussions. And once they realize that meetings can be replaced with better alternatives, there may not be a reason to ever go back—even if they return to the traditional office.
New Types of Meetings
In some ways, meetings are evolving, rather than dying. Increasingly, they’re benefiting from strategies like:
- Better proactive planning. Team leaders must be organized and have a vision if they’re going to hold a successful meeting. That means starting each meeting with a clear agenda and a list of goals to accomplish.
- Limited participation. Adding more people to a meeting typically increases its complexity, and multiplies the amount of time it wastes. Accordingly, many teams are transitioning to include fewer participants.
- Limited timing and frequency. And in one of the most straightforward changes, meetings are beginning to grow shorter, less frequent and are ultimately becoming more customized.
What Could Replace Meetings?
Meetings are at the core of successful companies. They have been around since time immemorial. And yet, many meetings remain inefficient and time-wasting. At best, meetings need improvement. Any meetings that can’t be truncated or improved must be replaced. But what could replace the interactive potential of a traditional meeting?
There are a few potential models:
- Trust and autonomy. An easy way to eliminate many meetings is to give your employees more trust and autonomy. If they have the power to make their own decisions and accomplish their own goals, they won’t need to check in with a boss twice a day. In many cases, team huddle and daily check-in style meetings can easily be replaced with a simple email with a punchy subject at the beginning (or pointed call to action at the end) of the day.
- Chat channels. Thread-based and group-based instant messaging channels have many advantages over meetings; they’re recorded (so transcripts are permanent), they’re less urgent (and less distracting), and they can occur in the background throughout the day. Businesses are catching onto this; Slack, for example, has more than 12 million daily active users.
- Social/blogging hybrids. Some companies are beginning to decrease their reliance on email, meetings, and other forms of traditional office communication in favor of social and blog-based communication channels. For example, Automattic (the parent company of WordPress) is known for pioneering a system of communication that revolves around signature blogs known as P2. These allow conversations to occur both publicly and privately, with real-time commentary from coworkers and an intuitive system of organization.
- Keep it Short Stupid. Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame is known for his “one page” approach to meetings wherein the organizer or presenter in a meeting is not allowed to present in a slide deck, but must keep the meeting agenda on a single piece of paper.
Ultimately, the new work from home normal really only works when teams are made up of responsible adults who are able to work autonomously on their own. While this might be true for many workers, the Melissa Meyer approach to location-based working is really to police the shirkers, not just to attempt to create a better working relationship among various coworkers.
In the next several years, you’ll likely start enjoying the benefits of reduced meetings and more efficient forms of communication. And if you’re in charge of organizing meetings for your team, consider jumping on this trend. Now is the perfect time to overhaul your communication strategy, and take advantage of more efficient collaboration channels.
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