Are Business Meetings Going Extinct?

In the most recent But First Coffee podcast, Co-Host Jackye Clayton, who is the Vice President of Talent Acquisition and DEI at Textio, held up a mug with the message, “This meeting could have been an e-mail.” It’s a joke that many are telling these days.

Many employers are demanding workers return to the office for meetings to collaborate, brainstorm, and network. During the height of lockdown, employers hosted many virtual meetings to keep tabs on productivity and make sure employees felt connected during what was a long period of isolation for many.

Anyone looking at social media can tell that people are fatigued by meetings. In fact, the idea for this story came from a social media debate regarding the worth of meetings.

Burned out employees have been quitting in record numbers during this Great Resignation. Meetings are not the only thing causing stress, but they certainly contribute to it. In the book, Bring Your Human to Work, which is on the HR Exchange Network’s summer reading list, author Erica Keswin, reports that there are 36 million meetings per day in the United States. American employers waste $37 billion on unproductive meetings. In addition, she writes that executives spend 23 hours per work week in meetings.

Cancel the Meetings
Suddenly, as HR leaders are taking charge of workplace transformation and reconsidering the old ways of doing things, they are wondering out loud about whether meetings are necessary. In fact, Salesforce shared that it is experimenting with “async weeks,” which means Salesforce employees cancel all meetings for one week.

Canceling meetings is not as easy as it sounds. At Salesforce, teams may prepare for a month or more for async weeks. They still communicate and provide updates to one another. They just might leverage technology instead of having meetings. Of course, they make exceptions for critical business issues, training, and customer meetings.

The goal, according to the Salesforce blog, is to find better ways to work and “give employees more control over their workday.” Several divisions in the company are now planning quarterly async weeks.

Some are not as convinced. They said they felt a bit disconnected and found it harder to stay on task without having meetings. In social media discussions, some people defend having meetings as a way of perpetuating the workplace culture, especially in organizations that are all or nearly all remote.

How to Make Meetings More Productive
Even Keswin admits in her book that people like meetings. Her reasoning is that humans seek connection. However, she also suggests that there are other ways to approach meetings. Some of the examples she cites have managers starting meetings by sharing their mission statements. Others launch into meetings by having wellbeing check-ins, where everyone shares how they are feeling that day.

To avoid distractions, people should ditch their devices at the door, writes Keswin. Obviously, this is complicated if employees are working remotely and there is no one to collect devices. She also tells readers to think twice when they send out meeting invites and ensure that each planned get together features purpose, presence, and protocols. Many others have suggested having detailed agendas to keep people on task, sticking to a schedule and keeping it brief (say 30 minutes max), and carefully selecting the invitees to ensure no one’s time is wasted.

Frankly, meetings are a necessary part of getting work done. If done correctly, they can help people be productive and provide a social outlet that fosters camraderie among workers. However, there’s no doubt that many meetings could indeed be an email. HR leaders can set guidelines to help people respect the time of their colleagues and have better meetings.


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