How to stop endless meetings – and stay connected

They suck up time and impact mental health – but how many meetings are 'too many'?

How to stop endless meetings – and stay connected

As you open up your desktop calendar on a Monday morning and see meetings booked for the whole week ahead, the stress in your body starts to rise – even for HR leaders. When will you find time to start that report? Let alone finish it. How can you squeeze in two hours to write a detailed brief that a colleague has been waiting on for a week? Where will you find the time to read through that research document that has been sitting in your inbox for a fortnight now?

One company, Twilio, has an innovative solution to the problem – no meeting week. Entitled ‘Think Week’, the global initiative allows employees around the globe to focus on their core tasks without being interrupted with time consuming, and often unnecessary, internal meetings.

“We started ‘Think Week’ because early in the pandemic, the company realised everyone was ‘always on’,” Christy Lake, chief people officer, Twilio, said.

“Our employees told us that building flexibility into the way they work is one of the most important things we can provide as an employer.

“Think Week offers up some moments in the day for our employees to unplug and step away and reflect on personal and professional goals rather than just getting stuff done.”

Worldwide research has shown that meetings scheduled throughout the day interrupt workflow, decreases productivity and causes employees more stress.

The advent of meetings has risen substantially in the past three years as employees flocked to working from home and have been reluctant to return to the office.

Needy middle-managers schedule various meetings throughout the day in order to keep a watchful eye on their colleagues, which often does nothing more than repeat information already gleaned from earlier meetings and go through work status updates.

“Besides assessing individual and team progress, ‘Think Week’ at Twilio is a great time to work on mid-year performance reviews, provide feedback to team members, or take an online learning course to strengthen a skill set or address an area of opportunity,” Lake said.

“Beyond doing the deeper focused work, ‘Think Week’ is also an excellent time to find balance in your life, whether that comes in the form of a midday nap, an extra-long dog walk, or a family activity. The hope is that some of the findings of ‘Think Week’ become permanent practices for our employees to pause and reflect during every work week.”

Focusing on what is important at work is imperative to achieving objectives and completing tasks. Allowing individuals deep thought and four to five hour blocks during the day uninterrupted can only benefit the organisation in the long run.

“Companies can increase the focus and, therefore, the productivity of their employees by having at least one day a week without meetings,” Simon Bacher, co-founder at Ling, said. “According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, 182 senior managers had this to say: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work;  71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient,  64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking and 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

“At our company, we've found these numbers to be true, especially the third one. Every time we attend a meeting, we're being forced to stop our natural workflow and rhythm. Studies show it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track after we've been distracted. So, if we have two to three meetings a day, that's 46-69 minutes of our day spent trying to refocus our brains on tasks.”

Holding meetings in blocks, say in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm, with each meeting not running for more than 45 minutes, will benefit employees significantly. Keeping meetings on point, not drifting off to waffle on about someone’s personal life or mindless gossip, will enable your work colleagues to stay attentive and contribute positively.

“We recently made this change at Ling,” Bacher said. “Instead of scheduling meetings anytime we saw fit, we try to schedule all recurring meetings on Fridays. That does mean Fridays can be busy, but we found that it's better than having meetings throughout the entire week.”

Companies can improve workflow and efficiency, as well as employees mental health, by allowing them to do the job they were employed to do without constant unnecessary meeting interruptions.

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