Have you ever said, “It’s 4:00 p.m. and I’ve accomplished nothing today”? Or maybe, “My afternoon meetings were canceled, so I can do actual work today”? And we’ve all heard, “This meeting could have been an email”.
Perhaps you’ve been in this scenario: You’re working on a project but stopped to hop on a meeting. That meeting is followed by another, then another. Finally, you get a 30-minute break between meetings but it’s not enough time to jump back into the project. Before you know it, the day’s over and your deeper-focus work is sitting there, unfinished. So now you have two choices: 1) finish it that evening or early the next morning (when you’re not distracted by a meeting) or 2) delay the project until you have uninterrupted time.
If the above sounds familiar, you’re not alone. One study even found that meetings are keeping 65% of us from getting our work done.
Now, I believe meetings – rather, effective meetings – are essential to every workplace. Effective meetings foster innovation, generate new ideas and concepts, and, especially in remote-first workplaces, are crucial for teamwork and productivity. I’d also argue that meetings are an efficient way to establish and align strategies as well as assess progress and share quick updates.
But poorly planned meetings, on the other hand, can be a major source of distraction and lost productivity. You’ve likely seen the headlines about studies like this one linking more meetings to lower productivity (and often lower employee satisfaction). And research shows we’re spending more and more time sitting in than ever. In fact, one report from Microsoft shows since February 2020, the average Teams user saw a 153% increase in the number of weekly meetings and a whopping 252% increase in time spent in weekly meetings. And, when we’re not in meetings, we spend four hours a week prepping for them.
This begs the question – if we’re always in meetings, prepping for meetings, or waiting for the next meeting to start, how and when is work actually getting done?
Here at Wheels Up, one of our goals is to avoid employee burnout – at all costs. As a distributed-by-design organization, we pride ourselves on fostering a flexible and asynchronous work culture and atmosphere. But towards the end of 2022, something felt a bit off. After internal team discussions, we figured out – we were feeling the impact of a heavy meeting schedule and a meeting schedule that felt, well, sporadic. Often, team members went from meeting to meeting without windows of time to do deep work, leading to that icky feeling of – “I didn’t get anything accomplished today” or working late into the evening or early mornings to finish a project.
So, with the start of a new year, we felt it was the perfect time to reevaluate our company meeting cadence and structure and find ways to make meetings more effective and efficient.
First, we defined what an effective meeting looks like. We believe effective meetings should:
Encourage creative thinking and collaboration among team members
Transform individual ideas into practical and executable solutions
Clearly outline common objectives and deadlines, allowing each person to understand their part in achieving them
Next, we looked at our internal and external meetings (with a special focus on recurring meetings) to see where we could improve the meeting process. Here’s what we did:
Evaluate Meeting Cadences and Length Previously, we had a weekly thirty- to sixty-minute (depending on scope) update meeting for each client. We realized quickly that this is often in excess of what was necessary for the project. We’re now moving to a bi-weekly meeting of thirty, forty-five, or fifty-five minutes (again, depending on scope). This allows both Wheels Up and our clients time back, as well as give deeper focus during the time we’re meeting.
Batch Meetings to Allow for More Uninterrupted Time Additionally, we moved recurring meetings to certain days/hours so meetings are grouped together on our calendars. Internal meetings are held on Monday, for example, timeblocked between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. ET. Rotating external meetings are held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. ET. By doing this, our team has two days dedicated to deep work – Thursday and Friday – and blocks of time before and after meetings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for other items. On Thursday and Friday, the team may still meet internally or for smaller ad-hoc meetings with clients, but that’s determined by team member availability and need – allowing our team members to manage their own schedules (making us one step closer to a truly asynchronous work culture).
Invite Necessary Attendees Only We’re being thoughtful this year on the number of meeting attendees. Each attendee will have a defined role, purpose, or specific knowledge set in the meeting. For some calls, we may have a team member only join a portion of the call. For members not on the call, attendees will update internal teams via Slack, Asana, and other collaboration tools we use within Wheels Up.
Create New Meeting Agenda/Notes/Process Documents We’re rolling out new processes internally and externally that make more effective use of our collaboration tools. We think this will help not only our internal team share information – but also give our clients a quick dashboard-style view of information on progress, sprints, and other pertinent information. Additionally, we’ll use the same document to prepare for meetings and post-meeting follow up, leading to less back and forth and reduced document fatigue.
If you're looking to improve your own organization's meetings, I’d recommend starting with an evaluation of your current meeting practices. Analyze the length and frequency of your meetings (especially recurring meetings). Ensure objectives and deliverables for the meetings are clear and that the right participants are selected. And finally, collect feedback and input from attendees and adjust accordingly.
I’m excited to implement these changes and evolve our meeting strategy in 2023. Our goal is to make meetings more efficient and effective and to provide our team with more uninterrupted time to focus on deep work as well as freedom and implied trust to execute and accomplish tasks on their own timelines. We believe these changes will lead to higher job satisfaction and better outcomes for our clients.
If your organization is (or you are) taking steps to make meetings more effective, I’d love to hear from you. Please reply to this email or grab time on my calendar.