Do you suffer from “meeting bloat”


Before the pandemic, Phil Libin, co-founder and chief executive of mmhmm, a video communications company, averaged 9.5 actual meetings a day, typically an hour each, plus travel. During the pandemic, the number of his video meetings soared to about 14 a day.

There’s too much. So Libin reduced it to between four and five meetings a day. He says audiovisual recordings, texts and emails can be valid substitutes. “We changed everything to asynchronous. The only thing we should be doing synchronously is a conversation.

His strategy for other meetings was even simpler. “I just canceled most of them,” he says.

After the number of daily video meetings that exploded during the pandemic, Phil Libin, co-founder and CEO of mmhmm, reassessed his priorities

As employees complain of burnout and grapple with navigating hybrid work (a mix of remote and office work), some employers are trying to reduce meeting clutter. Microsoft reported a 150% increase in the time an average American worker spent on their Teams platform between September 2019 and September 2020, with a slight increase the following year. The number of meetings per person has also increased, as have meetings outside of conventional office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., leading the tech company to conclude that more people have settled into a longer workday. .

How to Cut Meetings

As part of Atom Bank’s move to a four-day week, the company tried to reduce the number of meetings, sending out a series of tips, including limiting the number and telling employees that “very often, the meeting is the starting point for moving things forward”. . Make it the last. Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer, says: “People wonder if they really need to be in a meeting. They find efficiencies.

Joe Allen, professor of organizational science at the University of Utah and co-author of Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting, reports that “meeting burnout” means that managers spend about three-quarters of their time attending or preparing for meetings. “Managers have to think, ‘Do I really need this meeting?’ And then undo it.

An overlooked problem with poorly thought out gatherings is that they snowball. “One bad meeting leads to three more meetings. Manage monologues, start on time. Allen also recommends incorporating “recovery time”, finding that people need about five minutes to recover after a good meeting, but 17 after a bad one. Allen is skeptical of the value of non-meeting days. “The other days will be slammed.”

Still, for Gihan Amarasiriwardena, co-founder of retail brand Ministry of Supply, meeting-free times have helped the company reevaluate how it operates, and he says he’s reduced meetings by an average of 32 per week in April 2020, to about 18 now. This involves alternating focus time and collaborative work, based on two types of work styles — “makers” and “manager” — a framework popularized by Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, a start-up accelerator -up.

Amarasiriwardena says, “If you’re a photographer or a designer, you’ll focus more on ‘creating’ [which requires] three o’clock head down. If you are in professional services it will be more in the ‘manager’ style [meaning more meetings].” Most jobs require a mix of the two.

Before the pandemic, the Ministry of Supply set aside Wednesday mornings for working from home, uninterrupted by meetings. It worked so well that it was extended over the whole day. “Context switching is expensive,” he says, referring to the effort required to switch between tasks and work styles. “Half an hour to do deep work is hard.”

Early in the pandemic, staff realized that Zoom had taken over. “One of our team members said we should just have a ‘creator week’ without meetings all week, unless it’s super urgent,” says Amarasiriwardena. Alternate “manager” weeks — with meetings — are used to meet customers and for individual interviews with staff.

Plan teamwork

Lockthe e-commerce company, uses a guide called Conscious culture playbook. He sets aside one day a week for internal gatherings, such as team meetings and one-on-ones. Then he asks for one to two days of external meetings, including meetings with clients or interviews with recruits, with the remaining days reserved for uninterrupted work.

This kind of planning requires strategic thinking at the top, says Henrik Stenmann, managing director of Internet Intelligence House Nordic, a digital marketing agency, which introduced a four-day week in 2017. This provided the impetus to reduce “timeouts”. . The company has shortened the default meeting booking system – one-hour meetings have become 45 minutes and half-hour meetings have dropped to 20 minutes.

He also gave everyone in the company a mandate to reject a meeting invitation if it arrived without an agenda. At meetings, all devices must fit in a box. “If you think you can do two things at the same time, there’s so much evidence that you can’t. We’re so used to having two screens, so we have a lot of bad habits,” says Stenmann.

James Macnamara, COO at Blink SEO, a digital marketing agency, is skeptical of focusing on bloat. “People can be very strict about meetings and then pour [that information sharing] in Slack and other communications. Blink favors an “online schedule” framework between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. for meetings, with a slot for internal communications at the end of each day, at 9 a.m.-9:30 a.m. and 5-5:30 p.m.

Macnamara says it can be difficult for clients to adjust to the reduced meeting culture. Blink SEO eliminated bi-weekly stand-up meetings where staff updated their peers on their work. Instead, he created opportunities for people to chat, like a book club and gaming sessions. “We can do more to get people talking naturally,” he says.

According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less – Here’s How. “There are a lot of meetings that give people the opportunity to be heard and to express themselves. If the goal is to make a tough decision, you can’t do it in 10 minutes, you have to give people space and a chance to breathe [in a longer meeting].”

Allen also recommends allowing time for meetings to preserve social niceties. “Having a few quick conversational words gets both introverts and extroverts to chime in. Extroverts will probably chime in anyway — introverts probably won’t.”


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