Meetings are a productivity killer

According to a study reported in by Byjane Thier: “3 in every 4 meetings are totally ineffective – they really should have been just email”.

5,000 knowledge workers across four continents took part in a recent survey by Australian software giant Atlassian and the vast consensus among those respondents was that nothing wastes more of their time than meetings.

Meetings—often over Zoom these days, though occasionally used as an excuse to yank people into an office—are ineffective at disseminating information, encouraging collaboration, and accomplishing tasks a whopping 72% of the time. That means, on average, 3 in 4 meetings truly could’ve been supplanted by a written memo, and probably should have been.

It’s rarely the meeting organiser’s fault, whose intentions are probably good. But a handful of problems tend to routinely hamstring progress. For one thing, Atlassian found, a small group of speakers often control the conversation, edging out quieter attendees who lose the chance to contribute. Secondly, meetings often don’t move projects forward: “No decisions were made, and nobody knows what’s expected of them,” the researchers concluded. Unsurprisingly, that’s led 77% of respondents to say that all meetings do is create more meetings.

Naturally, meetings are more time-consuming than circulating emails, which means taking away time from accomplishing other, potentially more pressing tasks. Then comes what Atlassian dubs “conversational chaos,” which is when a meeting lacking an agenda goes off the rails and lapses from its lack of focus.

The accumulation of these setbacks has brought workers to the edge. Nearly 4 in 5 of Atlassian’s respondents say they struggle to get their work done because of how many meetings they’re expected to attend each week. Over half said they even have to work overtime a few days per week specifically because of “meeting overload.”

The problem isn’t just among those at the entry level, either, where bosses routinely force newbies to attend meetings. In fact, 67% of those at the director level and up report needing to work overtime. Across the board, over three quarters of workers told Atlassian meeting-heavy days leave them totally drained.

So, who benefits? Why add grist to the meetings mill? Largely, the answer might be a familiar one: Even if no one enjoys it per se, meetings persist because they’re simply what we’ve always done. But they’re nearly universally maligned—and science backs up their ineffectiveness.

A recent Yale study confirmed that Zoom meetings fail to spark the brain activity of in-person connection, which only stands to reinforce the enduring epidemic of Zoom fatigue. Some companies, like Shopify, are meeting the shifting sentiment with open arms, launching designated “no-meeting days.” At the start of the new year, infant-formula startup Bobbie cancelled all recurring meetings en masse.

Over at fintech company Block, CEO Jack Dorsey nixed meetings on Tuesdays in an effort to spur productivity. In response to the news at Block, Jeff Stephens, technology chief at analytics firm Dignariwrote on X that no-meeting days “really [need] to become standard practice. Meeting fatigue is real and not just due to the quantity of meetings. Many times it’s just a few meetings but they are sprinkled throughout the day just enough to prevent real quality work being done in the gaps.”

Clearly, plenty of easy and free changes can bring meetings into the modern era—and they’ll all undoubtedly be popular. Atlassian recommends, if a touchbase must occur, cutting down the set time from 30 to 15 minutes and circulating an agenda beforehand – what % have no agenda?

To go one step further: Consider adding a facilitator to ensure everyone stays on task and gets time to weigh in—and nobody dominates – some even suggest providing no chairs to hasten matters

And who doesn’t live for the rush of “getting 15 minutes of their day back”?

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