Everyone says that meetings suck.
But in reality, the culture around meetings sucks. The more time you spend “syncing,” the less time you spend actually working — and then you start to resent work overall.
So, how do we fix that?
The company Asana had an interesting idea: It asked workers to literally clear their calendars of meetings, and then rebuild it based on how much time they actually needed to spend in meetings.
The result, according to Wired: Meeting times were cut drastically. Thirty-minute meetings became 15-minute meetings. Everyone was more productive and happier.
You can do this too. Here’s how.
First, we should say that meetings can be great and even necessary. They can build cohesion. They can help solve problems.
But when we start spending time in meetings that we don’t need to be in — once the important stuff gets done and the time starts dragging — that cohesion can devolve into detachment, distraction and resentment. A bad meeting is a meeting that abuses your time.
And there is a TON of that kind of meeting out there. You’ve seen it in the news, if not in your own life. One study found that virtual meeting times shot up 252%. As a result, experts today are full of advice for how to make meetings better. Entrepreneur publishes a ton of that: Ways to make meetings more productive, less tedious, more informative, and so on.
But what if we don’t need to make meetings better? What if we need to raise the bar on what necessitates a meeting?
When Asana researched how dull meetings impacted employees, the company learned that over half of the company had started multitasking more during meetings — that is, tuning out — as they started spending more time on Zoom.
Admit it: You do that too. I sure do. That’s partly because our brains actually start to fry (or, more accurately, spike in stress levels) when we spend all your time switching gears between conversations, according to Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab.
Why do we continue to do this if it’s a drag on everybody?
The way he sees it, the “butts-in-seats mentality” comes out of managerial anxiety. If you don’t trust your employees, then you need to see them all the time. “If you, as a manager or a founder or an executive, can figure out what's causing that fear and then solve that, you start to realize, ‘Okay, I was afraid we weren't on the same page, afraid somebody wasn't working, afraid that I was paying somebody for a job they weren't doing,’” he says.
Here’s where Asana’s research comes in handy: In the company’s experiment, it asked employees to take stock of how valuable their meetings were. Then everybody had their calendars wiped clean for two days before adding back the meetings that were truly additive.
That’s where something interesting happened: People started cutting their meeting times. As I said earlier, 30-minute meetings became 15 minutes, and those meetings were being scheduled less frequently.
“Before, you’d set a one-hour meeting, it’d run over to 80 minutes, and you could see that after 20 minutes, top-level people had already tuned out and moved on to other tasks,” said Rebecca Hinds, the company’s productivity expert, told Wired. With this new meeting cadence, people saved an average of 11 hours per month.
That’s three and a half work weeks over the course of a year.
Three and a half weeks!
Imagine getting that time back. That requires trusting people to work — and ditching the fear that’s inflating the meetings in the first place.
This won’t be easy for everyone. Justin from Yac sees this first-hand, when he tries to convince potential clients to ditch their meetings and start using his asynchronous meetings platform. Some say they just can’t do without meetings. One even said his team is on Zoom all day.
“I'm like, "You have your team on Zoom all day long? Is this an Orwellian police state? That's crazy,’” Justin recalls.
“It's the only way that I know that they're working," that manager told Justin.
“And I'm like, ‘Okay, all right. If that's the only way you know they're working, you're measuring things wrong. You're measuring input, not output,’" Justin says. In other words, that manager is measuring the time people spend working, rather than the work they produce.
This is unsustainable.
So what do we do? We can and should always be rethinking how we work, but that’s a big and messy and slow process. Let’s start simple, and Asana has shown us a way how: If we only take the meetings we need, and we spend that time judiciously, then we will cut meetings in half. We will accomplish the same amount in half the time!
Then we can spend the rest of our time actually getting things done.