Calling time on pointless meetings

Defined as events between two or more people that are so needless they could have been an email, bullshit meetings are not only time-consuming but they cost businesses more than we think.
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Ever been 35 minutes into an hour-long Zoom with 12 colleagues when you realize half of you haven’t said a thing and start to question why you were even invited in the first place?

That’s right, we’re talking about bullshit meetings. That’s not to say that communicating with colleagues isn’t important, or that your jobs are meaningless (read about that from late American anthropologist David Graeber), but the meeting itself is either a complete waste of most people’s time or its outcome could be reached in a more efficient way.

The number of meetings we have these days has gotten out of hand – rising 60% among US workers in 2020 alone. Remote working has a ton of benefits, sure, but for all the flexibility and efficiency it’s created, why are we still wasting so much time on calls? 

‘Don't spend 60 minutes talking about something that takes a minute or two to type,’ says Ravi Davda, CEO of digital marketing agency Rockstar Marketing. ‘Most days, I look through my calendar and ask myself whether a meeting is needed. If not, I'm not scared to purge them. Time is limited.’ 

The cost of inefficiency

Meetings cost a lot, especially if they’re not worth having. Scheduling tech firm Doodle worked out that poorly organized meetings cost the US economy nearly $400 billion in 2019 – apparently professionals waste an average of two hours each week in pointless meetings. And yet, 35% of workers say they’d still attend a meeting even if they knew it would turn out to be pointless, rather than declining. (Take a quick look at this meeting cost calculator to figure out how much your next meeting costs your business). 

But why does it happen? Have we gotten so used to working this way that it’s hard to shake the habit? Do we need constant validation for our own work from others? Or is it simply that we’re desperate for a bit of extra contact with colleagues after a turbulent 18 months? Whatever the cause, we reached out to some companies that have had enough, and have taken drastic – and unconventional – measures to stem the flow.

• Family-owned spice brand Spice Kitchen has implemented a one-meeting-a-week policy (30 minutes on a Tuesday morning), for people to share priorities and ask for help when needed. 

• PPE supplier ShieldWear has started holding Friday walking meetings for its staff who are remote full time. ‘We each visit a park nearby and join a Teams call (not video) to walk about and mention our activities for the day,’ says marketing director Tuhina Rahman. 

• Rik Courtney, CEO of social media consultancy Be More Social, has implemented a seven-minute rule for all meetings, where speakers have a time limit to get their points across. ‘It prevents blocks of an hour or two from being booked for meetings and people feeling like they have to use all of that time for the meeting,’ Rik says.

• In addition to no-call Thursdays, period products brand Ohne gets all staff to fill out a ‘how to work with me’ document so people can learn how to work better with each other according to people’s preferences. ‘Some team members prefer to work collaboratively over calls, others prefer to work asynchronously,’ explains founder Nikki Michelsen.

• Jeremy Stern, CEO of promotional compliance specialist PromoVeritas, has a couple of rules his company sticks to, such as banning all regular, weekly or monthly meetings: ’We’ve found that regular type meetings such as status meetings or project reviews may have a use at the beginning, but their effectiveness tends to tail off and no one has the heart to stop them.’ Jeremy also says no one’s allowed to be invited to a meeting unless they will make a positive difference: ‘None of this “for your information” stuff,’ he says.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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