How to Eliminate Meetings as a Remote Team
by Justin Mitchell - CEO of Yac
If you weren’t a remote-first leader already, COVID-19 forced most businesses to adopt a remote work model. This caused an uptick in meetings (a 13% increase), longer workdays, and more check-ins throughout the day.
It makes sense when you think about it. With technology like Zoom and blurred boundaries in a remote environment (especially if you’re new to it), you can easily book meetings on the go for any reason (casual or otherwise). This explains why there was an 18% increase in the number of meetings booked with five minutes' notice.
New habits like this, and the uptick in meetings in general, can lead to Zoom fatigue, burnout, less time for deep work, miscommunication, and ultimately tons of wasted time.
In this article, we’ll share why eliminating meetings can help boost productivity, and how founders and business owners can strategically reduce meetings to improve your remote culture.
Why eliminating meetings can boost team productivity (both remote and on-site)
In his book “The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance”, Professor Steven Rogelberg reports that there are 55 million meetings per day and half of them are a waste of time.
He writes that psychologically, organizers find the meetings were largely productive, while everybody else is left feeling frustrated.
Let’s dig into why:
- Meetings can be distracting: Meetings force your team to pause what they’re doing and shift contexts. After being interrupted, studies show that once we return to the task at hand, we work faster to get it done, which leads to increased stress and frustration.
- Many meetings aren’t fulfilling: Swamped calendars and endless check-ins are overwhelming, and not what employees signed up for. It’s more fulfilling to actually do the work they were hired to do instead of talking about it all day long.
- Most meetings are inefficient: Were you trained on how to run efficient meetings? Don’t worry, most people aren’t. This, of course, results in badly run meetings that waste time. Harvard Business Review found that 71% of people said meetings are unproductive. There are ways to fix this, but also, not every meeting is necessary (more on these points below).
- Meetings cause employees to be ‘always on’: Endless meetings leave little time for deep work. As mentioned above, this means that when your team finally does get focused, they may feel more stressed and frustrated due to nonstop context-switching. This is what leads to burnout, which is currently rampant and kills productivity and wellbeing.
- Meetings aren’t inclusive: Not every person that works for you is going to feel comfortable in a meeting. Speaking in front of a large group in real-time doesn’t account for every personality type. Not to mention, if you run a distributed team or a hybrid work model, people in different time zones or remote workers may get left out of ad-hoc meetings. This isn’t great for team morale and can cause unnecessary tension.
It’s pretty clear that meetings have a dark side. But not every meeting is pointless. Meetings, as with most things in life, are a balancing act. To get them right, you need a plan, some trial and error, introspection, and optimization.
How founders can strategically reduce meetings (and still run necessary ones effectively)
First, you need to know which meetings are a waste of time so you can cut them out of your schedule. Then, for those that have a place, understand how to strategically run them.
Let’s get into it.
Identify which meetings are a waste of time
To understand how employees feel about meetings, you need to ask them.
Survey your team to understand how meetings are perceived, and think hard about the purpose of the meetings you run. This will help you understand which meetings have:
- Agenda’s that lack purpose, such as a weekly team meeting where nobody is acting as a leader and everybody is sharing client stories that result in one long tangent. Is this really worth 30-60 minutes out of everybody’s workday? This bonding is super important, but can happen during virtual coffee or team building off-site and doesn’t need a carveout in the workday.
- No problems to solve, for example, checking in during the middle of a project where everybody shares status updates but nobody has any actual questions or needs. If everybody is getting their work done in a timely manner and has everything they need, does your entire team really need to get together to report “all good here”? Likely not.
- People problems, as in not everybody that is at the meeting actually needs to be involved in the meeting. This most often crops up when an entire team comes together (sales reps, developers, marketers, customer support, etc.) and 90% of the meeting is spent in a back-and-forth between a select few (e.g. the developer and the customer support rep about a product bug). Surely this takeaway (if important) could be sent teamwide post-meeting, and everybody could have saved time as a result.
- Synchronous problems, as in the information could be shared asynchronously. As a founder, you may actually have a reason to stay in the know on status updates. You need to ensure everything is running smoothly and may have some new insights to share based on recent stakeholder conversations only you are privy to. But you can share that information and get responses asynchronously rather than blocking out time to catch up. And, your team members can do the same.
Let’s explore how asynchronous communication can help you solve some of these meeting problems.
Run necessary meetings more efficiently
Once you know which meetings are unproductive, figure out how to tweak them so they don’t waste time. Or, eliminate them completely and replace them with alternative methods.
To do this, use technology to enable more productive meetings. Asynchronous communication tools like Yac allow you to share voice and video messages so you can easily share status updates, thoughts, questions, demonstrations, and much more without losing the human element of a meeting.
That’s because voice communication allows you to capture the nuance of what somebody is saying, which leads to less misunderstanding, miscommunication, and back and forth loops.
It also takes the pressure off of responding in real-time (i.e. synchronously), as we do in meetings. When people are more comfortable and have the time to develop a fully fleshed-out response, it will, in turn, decrease miscommunication.
Catching a theme? How often in a meeting does a member of your team say, “let me look into that and circle back”. Why not simply ask them the question asynchronously and give them the appropriate time to send a comprehensive answer asynchronously? Ask once, answer once, save time.
Key takeaways to eliminating meetings and boosting productivity
Most meetings are overscheduled, inefficient, and simply a waste of time. That said, relationship-building and high-level decision-making meetings do have a time and place. Still, when running those, limit the number of attendees, come with an agenda in hand, strive for decisions and outcomes, and move follow-up communication to an asynchronous approach.
For meetings that get the chop, use asynchronous tools to replace check-ins, status updates, brainstorming, feedback, and most any collaboration. This way, there’s less context-switching, less miscommunication, less burnout, more productivity, more focused work, and ultimately a happier workforce.