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It’s impossible to tally how many meetings we have each week that — as the popular joke goes — could have been an email. 

But new research from Microsoft shows how out of hand our work calendars have gotten: Since February 2020, people are in 3 times more Microsoft Teams meetings and calls per week at work, a whopping 192% increase. The heaviest Teams users are spending close to 8 hours, or an entire workday, each week in online meetings alone.

Remote work during the pandemic, which took away opportunities for spontaneous in-office encounters, led to meeting creep — now, three years later, companies are trying to course-correct, finding ways to make in-person and virtual meetings more efficient and less frequent.

Meetings, at their core, aren’t the issue, says Colette Stallbaumer, the general manager for Microsoft 365 and the “future of work” at Microsoft. Their basic premise, to brainstorm new ideas, update employees on important happenings at the company, or involve them in decision-making, can help workers feel engaged. 

It’s when meetings are long, poorly run, and don’t have a clear purpose that they become a source of stress for employees and their managers, she explains. 

In fact, inefficient meetings are the No. 1 workplace distraction that hurts productivity, followed closely by having too many meetings, according to a Microsoft survey of 31,000 workers across the globe, which was conducted between February and March 2023.


The ‘opportunity cost’ of having too many meetings

The onslaught of meetings is exhausting workers and leaving insufficient time for “deep work,” on tasks that require a higher level of focus with no distractions, says Stallbaumer. 

Nearly two in three people, regardless if they are working remotely, in-person or on a hybrid schedule, say they struggle with having the time and energy to do their job because of meetings and email bloat, Microsoft reports. 


“There’s an opportunity cost that comes with the pressure to always be online, dealing with the influx of notifications and back-to-back meetings,” she adds.

Asked what makes meetings worthwhile, workers said their main motivation for attending meetings is receiving critical information that can help them do their jobs better as well as soliciting and giving feedback to people they work with. 


Yet more than half of people (58%) say it’s difficult to brainstorm in a virtual meeting or catch up if they joined a meeting late (57%), and that the action items following a meeting are often unclear (55%).

How companies are fighting ‘meeting fatigue’

Workers can only do so much to fight “meeting fatigue,” says Stallbaumer.

“Business leaders need to set the tone and clear expectations” around how meetings are conducted, she stresses, adding that meetings should be used to “enhance employees’ wellbeing and productivity” — not drain them.

To make meetings more efficient, Stallbaumer encourages companies to leverage recordings, email scheduling assistants, instant messaging and AI-powered transcripts so employees have more flexibility in how and when they engage with meetings.


Some companies have introduced new meeting policies in recent months to help employees reclaim time. In January, Shopify announced that it was canceling all recurring meetings with three or more people and banning all meetings on Wednesdays.

As a result, the average time employees spent in meetings dropped 33% in the first two months of 2023 alone, and Shopify expects several teams to complete 25% more projects this year compared to last year, CIO Dive reports.


A world with no meetings

Some organizations are starting to imagine a future without meetings. In July 2022, TechSmith, a software development firm based in East Lansing, Michigan, went a full month with no meetings, instead relying on asynchronous communication methods like Slack, Trello and email to work across teams. 

With meeting-free calendars, employees, who were all working from home at the time, reported a 15% increase in feeling productive, along with 85% who said they’d consider replacing future meetings with asynchronous communication. 

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The month-long experiment led to lasting changes, TechSmith CEO Wendy Hamilton told FastCompany in February. More teams are forgoing recurring meetings in favor of asynchronous updates, like circulating pre-recorded Powerpoint presentations.

To maintain the spirit of in-person collaboration, the first five minutes of synchronous meetings are reserved for optional small talk and catching up. Employees who aren’t interested in this piece can join a meeting five minutes after its official start time.


“When you have meeting bloat, no one believes meetings are important,” Hamilton said. “Now people take them a lot more seriously. There’s a lot less kind of resentment around them or question about their value, simply by trying to have fewer better ones.”

Source: CNBC


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