Learn how to spot unnecessary meetings, why you should get rid of them, and 8 steps to ensure you only hold valuable meetings.
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Imagine needing to schedule a call every time you wanted to chat with your friends. Or having to set up a formal meeting to make a simple decision, like where to meet for a coffee at the weekend. Checking their availability, syncing your calendars, and coordinating a time would feel pretty forced, as well as ruin spontaneity.
Of course, meeting with your coworkers isn’t the same as having a spontaneous catch-up with friends or family. However, if you always default to meetings for every decision or communication, you could be limiting your team’s ability to get all their work done and be productive. That’s because constantly pulling people into meetings breaks up their day and draws them out of their focus work.
You need to know how to identify unnecessary meetings so you can cancel them and give people back more time for focus work. In this article, we’ll cover how to identify unnecessary meetings, explain why you should cut down on the number of them, and give you eight strategies to reduce unnecessary ones.
Have fewer, more productive meetings.
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How to identify unnecessary meetings
It’s sometimes pretty clear which meetings are unnecessary, but inertia means they’re often easier to keep on the calendar than to cancel. If you don’t think critically about which meetings are actually important, chances are you’ll keep holding unnecessary ones.
Brian Border, VP of Consumer Marketing Strategy at Internet Brands, emphasizes the importance of “critically thinking about where you and your team are spending your time.” Take the following steps to examine the meetings you currently hold and identify which are unnecessary (so you can get rid of them for good).
A meeting without an agenda means it lacks direction and clarity about the purpose or goals of the call. As a result, the meeting can quickly fall off course or take an unrelated direction, meaning it probably didn’t have to happen in the first place.
More listeners than contributors
A meeting with more listeners than contributors means that the majority of attendees could have probably just watched a recording or caught up on meeting minutes. If there are three people talking in your meeting and 15 just listening, it probably doesn’t have to be a meeting.
Team members aren't engaged and contributing
If you host meetings where attendance is mandatory for everyone, maybe not all of them actually need to be there. When all the material isn’t relevant to all attendees, or they only get value from a fraction of it, that negatively impacts engagement and participation.
It could be an email
Every time you see a call blocked off on your calendar, ask yourself: “Could this meeting be an email?” Even if the answer is “no,” perhaps the meeting could be held async, or the majority of attendees could catch up on the recording on their own time.
Some benefits of reducing unnecessary meetings
Having fewer meetings frees up time for focus work, which can make people more productive and strategic. Additionally, when they do meet, they know it’s for meaningful work.
Here’s more on why you should try to reduce unnecessary meetings.
Reducing the number of meetings your people have gives them more control over their calendar and schedule. This helps them be more productive, empowering them to make the best use of their time to get their work done. For example, a Harvard Business Review study found that employee productivity is 71% higher when meetings are reduced by 40%.
Don’t forget that productivity directly affects profitability, with meetings costing companies between $43,008-$56,448 per manager every year. Shopify, for example, has rolled out a meeting cost calculator for its employees to estimate the cost of their meetings. This helps them prioritize valuable ones and minimize wasted time, money, and resources on unnecessary ones.
Lets you get more done async
All the time your employees spend in a meeting is time they can’t spend getting their work done. There are plenty of benefits of asynchronous work, ranging from better collaboration to more focused, productive teams.
However, async work doesn’t mean no collaboration with others. Switchboard is an async-first collaboration platform with persistent virtual rooms that save your works. This enables teams to work side by side on anything during meetings or async between them while keeping everything organized in one place.
Ability to focus and achieve flow state
Expert Diane Allen identifies flow as "an optimal state of mind where we feel our best and we perform our best." By reducing unnecessary meetings, you give your employees the space they need to focus and achieve flow state at work, since they’re not constantly interrupted by distractions, like having to hop on a call.
Creating this space for focus and deep work in their days helps your people be more productive, creative, and innovative. This can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction.
More engaged employees
According to Border, another benefit of not holding as many meetings is that “the meetings you do have will be run more efficiently, as well as create greater engagement, greater conversation, and greater discussion among the people who are still left in the meeting.”
“It's easy to hide when you're in a 20 or 25-person meeting. It's not too easy to hide in a five-person meeting,” says Border. When you hold fewer meetings, your employees will know that when they do attend one, it’s actually important for them to be there. This motivates them to engage in and contribute to the conversation.
8 strategies for reducing unnecessary meetings
Asking yourself “Could this meeting be an email?” will only get you so far. You need to take strategic action to cut down on the number of meetings you hold. However, don’t feel like you need to change everything overnight.
Startup Marketing Consultant Elliott Brown recommends that organizations with established operations reduce meetings by taking baby steps. “You could, for example, find ways to make meetings shorter,” he says. “Then look for meetings you can cancel here and there. Then, establish meeting-free days.”
Additionally, don’t feel like you need to scrap every meeting on your calendar. “The most important type of meetings are the ones that build interpersonal relationships and alignment,” says Brown. “If you do that well, you can get to the point where the ‘work’ part of work doesn’t require everyone to be on the same video call together.”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at eight strategies that will help you reduce unnecessary meetings in your organization.
1. Audit recurring meetings and collect feedback
The first step to reducing unnecessary meetings is closely examining the meetings your team holds regularly, as they may not actually be beneficial or useful. To avoid falling into the force of habit when organizing your meetings, take time to audit your recurring meetings.
Border recommends that “when creating recurring meetings, create them with the mindset that, say, at the three-month mark, you’ll take a step back and look at the meeting to see if you’re getting sufficient value out of it.” Then, you can decide whether it’s worth your team’s time or that communication can be done async.
Similarly, ask your employees for feedback about the meetings they attend. This gives you direct insights from your team on how to improve your meetings and which ones can be canceled. You can do this by holding your meetings on a platform like Switchboard that allows you to conduct polls right inside your meetings. That way, you can run a survey at the end of your call asking your team members questions like, “on a scale from 1 to 5, how relevant was this meeting for you?”
2. Cancel meetings without a clear agenda
One of the basic tips for running effective meetings is having an agenda. However, according to Fellow’s “The Future of Meetings” Report, some of the biggest issues employees have with meetings are going off topic, lack of preparation, no clear takeaways, and time management–all of which could be prevented if the meeting had a clear agenda.
Next time you see a meeting scheduled on your calendar that doesn’t have an agenda, reach out to the organizer to ask whether it actually needs to happen at all. It may be the case that whoever organized the meeting simply forgot to create an agenda, or perhaps they don’t have a specific agenda planned at all.
Similarly, you should empower your employees to decline meetings that don’t have an agenda or don’t seem to move projects forward in a meaningful way. This will help you weed out which meetings will be productive and which may end up being a time suck.
Pro tip: When you run your meetings in Switchboard, all meeting participants can hop into the room and work on the agenda async, adding their talking points and questions ahead of time. That way, everyone knows what the meeting will cover before it starts, and you ensure everyone gets to contribute.
3. Introduce meeting-free days
When your people have a meeting or two every day of the week, it limits their ability to focus and enter a flow state. Meeting-free days are a great way to give your team uninterrupted focus time.
Give your employees the ability to block out not just time chunks, but full days on their calendar they can devote solely to focus work where they won’t have any calls. The benefits of implementing this approach are twofold: Your people get more time for deep focus work, and your team has to be more intentional about the meetings they schedule, given everyone’s calendar is more limited.
4. Give people permission not to attend
Sometimes a meeting is necessary, but not necessary for everyone. Before you invite tons of people to your calls, think about who they’re actually relevant for.
For example, your product team may run a weekly design review that brings together the project managers, product owners, UX designers, and software engineers. However, your employees may come to find that in this call, your designers are doing most of the talking while your engineers usually sit back and listen.
You could make this meeting optional for your engineers, sharing the recording or meeting minutes with them to refer to as they go about implementing the design. This gives them more time in their day to dedicate to the tasks they need to get done, allowing them to organize their workload however they prefer.
5. Improve documentation
If you’re going to give employees permission to not attend calls, that means you have to make sure you properly document your meetings. While recordings are a good idea, that’s not always the most effective way to catch people up.
Over half of people still record meeting notes individually, so you need to make sure your team has one source of truth for all your meeting minutes and action items. We recommend using an AI meeting manager tool like Fireflies.ai or Airgram for automated meeting notes, summaries, and minutes.
Another way to improve documentation is by holding your meetings on a platform that saves all your files and notes, like Switchboard. That way, your employees can hop into a meeting room if they weren’t on the call to review any documents, notes, or minutes to get up to speed. They can also get Switchboard AI to summarize it all to save time.
6. Track time spent on meetings
Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about big brother-style time tracking to see what your employees are up to every minute of the day. However, analyzing time spent in meetings can help you pinpoint who’s spending too much time on calls. For example, you may find it’s your mid-level managers who need to reduce their meeting load, or your marketing team is spending way too much time going back and forth with sales.
While nobody loves time tracking, using it for this purpose pays off: The Harvard Business Review study we mentioned found that when meetings declined by 80%, employees’ perceptions of being micromanaged decreased by 74%, making them feel more valued, trusted, and engaged.
7. Shorten meeting times
The average meeting lasts 50 minutes and the average employee spends over 20 hours per week in meetings. That means that cutting down on meeting times can make them more efficient and less of a waste of time. Plus, shorter meetings help you keep employees more engaged.
In Asana’s “Meeting Doomsday” experiment, the company didn’t just outright cancel all their existing meetings, but rather shrunk some of them. Some hour-long meetings became 45-minute calls, and 30-minute meetings were cut in half. This approach gave employees 11 hours back per month without having to get rid of meetings altogether.
By trying this out at your organization, you may find that your weekly team meeting can be done in a half hour instead of a full hour. Or your 1:1s can be quick 15-minute catch-ups instead of 30-minute calls.
8. Share materials in a Switchboard room async instead
One of the best alternatives to meetings is async work, but you can’t empower your people to switch to asynchronous meetings and workflows if they don’t have the right tools. Instead of conducting video calls in one place and storing your materials in another, keep everything together in a Switchboard room.
Switchboard saves all your files after every session, so you never need to download anything or repopulate the room again. That means you always know where to find the information you need for a specific project, even between meetings, and anyone can hop into the host-free rooms and work async on their own schedule.
For example, instead of holding status update meetings every two weeks, you can have your people leave their updates in a note in a Switchboard room, along with any documents their team members should catch up on. Any crucial or urgent matters can be communicated via Slack or whatever messaging tool you use, ensuring everyone’s tuned into what’s happening without having to block out an hour on their calendar every week.
Reduce unnecessary meetings and get happier, more productive teams
What actually annoys employees most about meetings? When they’re not necessary. Letting redundant or unproductive meetings continue is frustrating for employees—and it doesn’t help everyone make the most of their time.
From daily stand-ups to weekly check-ins, take inventory of all the meetings that tie your people up each week. Then, see where you could go async and give people more time back in their day to focus
To empower them to work more async, use Switchboard to organize everything by project in persistent rooms. This lets people work side by side on anything or make progress on their own time. You can also hold the meetings that do need to happen there and communicate in context with everything at your fingertips.
Have fewer, more productive meetings.
Switchboard’s persistent rooms let you work side by side or async—so you can cancel more meetings and make the ones you do have more valuable.
Sign up free
Frequently asked questions about reducing unnecessary meetings
What are unnecessary meetings?
Unnecessary meetings are calls that lack a clear purpose, agenda, or relevance to participants. They can be unproductive, frustrating, and contribute to a decrease in overall work efficiency. In order to keep your people engaged and productive, you should aim to reduce unnecessary meetings at your organization.
What happens when you have unnecessary meetings?
When you have unnecessary meetings, they eat up your organization’s time and resources without actually helping your people get their work done or make better decisions. They often result in lower engagement from employees, a decreased ability to focus, and can negatively impact productivity.
How do you solve the problem of too many meetings?
You can solve the problem of too many meetings by taking an audit of the meetings you currently hold and establishing which are truly necessary and which can be taken async. Then, use a visual collaboration platform like Switchboard that helps your people work better async and allows you to hold fewer meetings.