The power of less meetings in remote work

Russ Halilov
January 31, 2023

Unnecessary meetings are a bug of modern work-culture. On average, organisations could save $25,000 per employee per year by getting rid of “unnecessary” meetings attendance.

The leaders of the most innovative companies like GitLab and Shopify have already recognised this issue and told their employees “to just say NO to meetings”.

This might sound radical but it’s estimated that for companies of 100 people cutting unnecessary meetings would save nearly 2.5M each year and for companies of 5000 that savings raise to over 100M.

The problem is that even though most meetings aren't necessary, there are always 5-10 valuable minutes found in each one. So you waste 25-50 minutes just for the small amount of time that actually matters to your work. That's a significant loss. It is alarming to see that this problem is becoming increasingly prevalent. Research conducted by Microsoft reveals that the frequency of weekly meetings has surged by 153% since 2020.

As a C-level executive, you may have the power to decline meetings, but your team may not. Polite meeting culture cost companies $25k per employee per year and undermines team productivity.

Why are employees hesitant to decline or skip meetings?

We asked more than 300 employees about their perception of meetings based on their current experience. The following percentage of employees agreed with these statements:

47% - I am hesitant to decline meetings because I do not want to upset or offend the meeting organizer.
45% - I am hesitant to decline meetings because my coworkers will think I am not engaged in my work.
39% - If I skipped a meeting, I would hate to bother a coworker to help bring me up to speed

Employees generally do not feel comfortable declining meetings if it is up to their discretion.

So what can we do?

To improve productivity and maintain communication, it's essential to shift the current meeting culture.

Four steps to achieve this are:

  1. Cancel unnecessary meetings

Meetings should have clear objectives and adequate preparation. Postpone or cancel meetings that don't meet these criteria. Cancelling quickly is not a failure, but a sign of leadership. No one is joining your company to sit in meetings.

Recurring meetings should be cancelled when their purpose is served. Cancellation is not an insult, but a time-saver. After Spotify reviewed their recurring meetings, they had to delete 10,000 events which equates to approximately 76,500+ hours of meetings.

  1. All meetings must have an agenda, and summary with action points.

It’s easier to make meetings option when each one has an agenda. This way, attendees can submit input and review outcomes at their own convenience. The organizer is responsible for documenting the outcome, which serves as a filter for determining if a meeting is truly necessary and keeps the number of meetings in check.

Here is a template of meeting agenda which is used by GitLab internally. You can copy it and use in your organisation.

  1. Record your meetings.

Effective meetings are for setting priorities and making decisions. Recording meetings allows team members to participate and have their input, even if they were not present during the virtual meeting. Having access to meeting recordings makes decision-making more transparent at scale and company knowledge more easily accessible. Team members can review past meetings, understand what was discussed and take appropriate actions. It’s advisable to record all the meetings with 3+ participants.

There are some other type of meetings that always should be recorded: executive communications, onboarding, trainings and knowledge sharing sessions.

  1. Encourage async communication.

The best part about async communication is that no one has to rearrange their schedule to communicate. You can answer questions on your own time. If you work across time wide zones, it can be a nightmare to schedule a meeting for the whole team. Asynchronous communication includes anything that doesn’t happen simultaneously in real-time. This includes the following.

  • Emails
  • Slack
  • Video messages

Video messaging is relatively new and the most powerful among all of them. It’s hard and time consuming to explain the full context in text. A 60-second screen recording allows for a quicker explanation, as video messages effectively capture tone, body language, facial expressions, and more.