Employees and employers agree unproductive meetings are a big problem. But what’s the solution? You could call a meeting to discuss the inefficiency of meetings. Or you could explore research suggesting you’d be better off canceling that meeting and sharing the following information instead.

Why meetings need to change

It’s not shocking to hear the desire for fewer meetings. But the degree to which meetings are hindering employees and employers is surprising.

  • Employees spend 24 billion hours a year in unnecessary meetings, reports the human resources association SHRM.
  • 65% of employees say meetings interfere with getting work done, notes SHRM.
  • 35% of employees lose as many as five hours a week to unproductive meetings, according to Inc. magazine.

In one study, more than 75 organizations intentionally reduced their number of meetings, and Inc. reports that every organization saw positive results. The benefits of fewer meetings included improved job satisfaction and engagement, communication, teamwork and productivity. The experiment also reduced employee stress.

According to Inc., organizations that canceled 80% of their meetings reported the best results. Successful outcomes included:

  • 74% higher productivity
  • 63% reduction in stress
  • 62% increase in job satisfaction
  • 44% improvement in engagement

While the data shows there are too many meetings, they still have their place. The trick is to understand how and when to hold them.

How to run better meetings

Research suggests meetings are most valuable when:

  • Discussing past projects and lessons learned
  • Assigning work to team members
  • Clarifying details and expectations for policies and projects
  • Providing project support to employees
  • Learning, training or bonding as a team

Once you’ve determined a meeting is essential, take the following steps to get the most out of it:

  • List your goals for the meeting.
  • Decide on the most efficient way to reach your goals.
  • Only invite colleagues who can help you reach your goals.
  • Determine metrics for meeting success. Metrics might include assigning tasks, solving a problem or celebrating achievements.
  • Shorten meetings when possible.
  • Send an agenda, notes, links and other pertinent information to all participants before the meeting. Give them time to review the material beforehand.
  • Keep the discussion on track and related to your goals.
  • Ask a colleague or use technology to track your meeting time and take notes.
  • Use the notes to send follow-up communications with assignments, due dates, new work processes, etc.

As part of your new practices, encourage employees to highlight meetings they don’t find productive or relevant.

When to schedule or eliminate meetings

Learning when to hold meetings has become even more important in today’s mix of in-person, hybrid and remote settings.

HR Executive magazine reports in-person or synchronous meetings are most beneficial for activities such as:

  • Onboarding
  • Brainstorming
  • Making time-sensitive decisions
  • Discussing urgent feedback
  • Resolving cross-team challenges
  • Building and maintaining relationships
  • Celebrating employees

It’s equally important to know when to eliminate meetings. Research suggests a good way to reduce meetings is to replace them with asynchronous communications when possible.

Asynchronous communications may occur through email, Slack, Teams and similar channels. This process is good for the one-way delivery of information.

A team’s daily or weekly update is a prime example. Instead of holding a meeting, ask your team to use a dedicated communication space to share information on current projects, upcoming work and roadblocks to success. Set a deadline, say 9 a.m., and let employees enter their information as it fits their workflows.

This asynchronous process creates a written record and allows employees to review pertinent information on their own schedules. Contrary to a meeting, colleagues in asynchronous communications can hold side chats about relevant issues without taking up time from the entire group.

Ongoing adjustments

As part of an experiment to evaluate the necessity and value of meetings, the software company TechSmith canceled all meetings for one month. That may be an extreme option, but the company reported valuable insights into which meetings should stay and which should go. Its employees also saw greater value in the meetings that remained.

Among the takeaways are being aware of different meeting preferences for departments and individuals, having flexible policies and continuing to experiment.

For more ideas on meeting improvements, talk to your benefits adviser. They can help you explore management training and technology solutions to improve meeting efficiency and processes.