Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Whether it’s quickly hopping on a call during working hours or seeing a new meeting notification appear on their digital calendars, employees are spending an absurd amount of hours each week in meetings — and it’s killing their productivity.
The pandemic allowed teams the opportunity to make better use of virtual meetings and calls, helping to significantly streamline their day-to-day activities while working remotely. However, new research by Microsoft revealed that this convenience of always having team members attend online meetings is now costing them valuable hours of productivity at work.
Some employees have been found to spend nearly eight hours, or an entire workday, each week in online meetings according to Microsoft research. Over the last three years, the time employees spend on Microsoft Teams meetings and calls has increased by 192%.
The hours spent in brainstorming sessions, calls and unnecessary meetings are not only wreaking havoc on the team’s productivity, but it’s hurting companies’ bottom line performance as well. Estimates by Harvard Business Review found that nearly $37 billion in salary hours are wasted each year in the U.S. alone due to unnecessary meetings.
Yes, that “quick” 30-minute meeting could have been used more effectively, or better yet, be sent off as an email. Managers and team leaders need to consider the negative impact too many meetings are having on their team’s productivity and what they can do to make improvements.
1. Create a meeting structure framework
Meetings are often held to either brainstorm new ideas, provide team debriefings, communicate progress and information or develop new organizational strategies. While these interactions are important and needed to help drive teams towards achieving business goals, the mere urgency of these doesn’t tend to always fall within a defined meeting framework.
Creating a structured framework that helps managers, team leaders and employees better understand the core importance of each meeting can help drive down the so-called “Mere Urgency Effect” and rather allow team members more autonomy to effectively manage their time and schedules.
From the get-go, team leaders need to design a structured understanding of how any meeting will help to achieve their forward-looking goals. With a clear goal in mind and building efforts that work towards a shared meaning will ensure that meeting slots take up less of team members’ weekly schedules and discussions are more productive.
2. Assign dedicated meeting days
Not every day of the work week needs to start with a mandatory meeting or call. Yes, there are instances where teams use these time slots to quickly debrief one another or their team members about project progress; however, part of the idea of creating a meeting framework is by assigning a specific day of the week when everyone can meet up.
Instead of filling employees’ calendars with meetings or requesting to have a “quick” call before lunch to discuss something that could potentially be shared via a team’s message board will help free up more time for employees in the near and long term.
By dedicating one or two days of the week to meetings, teams can better prepare for each meeting and ensure that only the pressing matters are discussed, resolved or addressed. This would also help teams become more organized, encourage effective communication strategies and help build a more dynamic workplace network.
3. Keep meetings short
Time is one of the most valuable commodities any team needs, and it’s one of those things that you as a team leader or business owner can’t buy. The quicker you begin to think of your time as a highly valuable commodity, the better you begin to understand why spending 30 minutes to an hour discussing something in a meeting can cost your team and the business a lot of money.
Research estimates that the average meeting length is roughly 50.6 minutes. Just because there is an hour dedicated to discussing the progress of debriefing teams on something doesn’t mean that a “quick” call needs to be this long.
Holding a meeting, as already mentioned, needs to be efficient and there should be a flow. Team leaders need to raise important topics and briefly discuss any insights needed to provide better clarity, and team members should have some time to respond or ask important questions.
4. Keep meetings relevant
Keeping an agenda is more important, especially now that employees are spending half their working days in meetings that don’t necessarily contribute to their work. With this in mind, make an effort to keep to the point at all times.
Right from the start, make sure that team members are informed about the meeting topics, what will be discussed and what the takeaway needs to be from every meeting.
While there might be instances where you or someone from your team may veer off-topic, it’s important that someone running the meeting, or facilitating these meetings can effectively draw employees’ attention back to the discussion.
Keeping track of the meeting agenda will ensure that employees remain engaged, raise any questions when needed and that meeting slots are used to discuss pressing matters. Unfortunately, no employee or team member is that interested in your children’s softball game, so stick to the point at all times.
5. Be selective about meeting attendees
Not every meeting needs everyone to be present — sounds strange, but it’s true. There are multiple instances where teams may work on various projects at once without requiring their work to overlap.
Structuring meetings means considering the people that will be attending the meeting as well. There is perhaps no need for Jessica, the junior accountant, to sit in on a brainstorming session related to a client’s marketing campaign and what designers will be doing to create more engaging social media ads.
In smaller teams, it would make sense to have the majority of members present during weekly catch-up calls and meetings; however, be considerate of others’ time and how unnecessary attendance can eat up an employee’s productivity.