DISTRIBUTED: Why Meetings Should Be Few and Far Between

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” –Thomas Sowell, Author & Economist

It’s no secret that the traditional business world is meeting-obsessed. In fact, office workers spend an average of four hours in a week in meetings—yet they feel more than half that time is unproductive, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. In a Salary.com survey, nearly half of workers say meetings are the number one time-waster at the office. (If you’ve ever worked for a boss who called a meeting to discuss an upcoming meeting about the proper procedure for meetings, you know what we’re talking about.)

“Why do so many companies allow themselves to be paralyzed by schedules that are so full of meetings that no real work ever gets done?” writes Craig Jarrow, author of Time Management Ninja. “Some companies have literally put themselves out of business by locking themselves in the boardroom.”

Fewer Meetings = Higher Productivity

While many managers mistakenly believe that meetings make their team more effective, studies reveal the opposite is true. It turns out that incessant meetings aren’t only a waste of time—they also drive employee happiness and productivity levels into the ground.

According to research by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, fewer meetings can actually boost employee and organization productivity. “In some organizations horrible meetings have become an accepted way of life that is not challenged,” says Steven Rogelberg, a professor and director of organizational science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “There is a belief that the cost of doing business is bad meetings. [That is] flat out wrong. A good leader is a good steward of others’ time.”

Today, most organizations devote seven to 15 percent of their personnel budgets to meetings, Rogelberg and his colleagues reveal in a report called Wasted Time and Money in Meetings: Increasing Return on Investment. According to their research, wasted time in meetings ends up costing companies big-time in numerous ways—including the direct costs of salaries and benefits associated with participants’ time, the time lost that could be used for more productive activities, employee stress and fatigue, and job dissatisfaction and less organizational commitment.

Remote Teams Aren’t Immune

When it comes to the overuse and abuse of meetings, we can’t point the finger solely at brick-and-mortar businesses. Plenty of distributed companies are just as guilty of holding frequent time-sucking meetings—whether it’s in-person or via Skype, GoToMeeting and other online meeting tools. (Yes, even virtual meetings can be a phenomenal waste time.)

Now, we’re not trying to say distributed companies should eradicate meetings altogether. In fact, we believe there are many situations when a meeting is not only warranted but absolutely necessary. However, at Intridea we’ve found that the vast majority of issues can be handled in group chat, email or other methods. That’s why we reserve meetings for special situations, such as group problem-solving or explaining particularly complex concepts. In other words, we choose to meet rarely, but intensely.

Meet Rarely, But Intensely

You probably know what we mean when we say meet “rarely,” but the “intensely” part might be throwing you. We aren’t suggesting that you hold high-pressure meetings complete with staring contests, red-faced shouting and arm-wrestling matches. (Although that certainly would be intense.) By “intense,” we mean meetings should be concise, productive and powerful.

At Intridea, we believe an ineffective meeting is about a million times worse than no meeting at all. That’s because pointless meetings leave your employees feeling frustrated, exhausted and confused. To top it off, it causes an unnecessary interruption to their workday.

Rogelberg’s research shows that workplace meetings take a toll on many employees' well-being—particularly accomplishment-oriented workers, who tend to be highly task and goal oriented. He found that the more meetings these individuals attended, the lower their feelings of well-being at work. These highly driven employees viewed the meetings as interruptions to the tasks they set out to accomplish during the workday.

So, how can you avoid the dreaded wasted meeting? Tune into to our next blog to find out!