As remote work has risen, so too have remote meetings. And we’re not just replacing in-person meetings with remote ones: we’re spending more time in meetings overall.
Compared to February 2020, workers now spend 25% more time in meetings according to data and polls by Reclaim.ai. The same study found that our move to remote work has increased the length of the average workday from under 9 hours to over 10.
Research by Microsoft supports this, citing the triple peak day as a new norm. Rather than two periods of work productivity before and after lunch, many knowledge workers now log on for a third peak between 6 and 8 pm.
More work productivity peaks mean increased productivity, right? Not necessarily. Multiple studies suggest that all these extra meetings are simply spreading our tasks further across the workday.
The result: more hours spent producing the same amount of work, or less.
Why are we having more remote meetings, anyway?
To understand the remote meeting problem, it’s important to look at why we’re having more meetings in the first place.
At a glance, the issue seems to be synchronous work culture held over from the days of commuting to the office. When the whole team is present from 9-5, it’s reasonable to schedule meetings within that time frame.
Working from home comes with changes, however. Remote work means employees may work in different time zones and have conflicting schedules. For some teams, that results in multiple meetings in order to touch base with everyone.
Then there’s the issue of limited visibility.
“Supervising employees in an office environment is comfortable, easier and visual,” says Liz Petersen , quality manager at SHRM. “When staff are in the office, you have the ‘passerby effect,’ where a supervisor can visually assess whether employees are being productive.”
When staff work from home, the passerby effect disappears. This leaves supervisors wondering how much work is getting done—and scheduling meetings to find out.
Employees now have over three times as many one-on-one meetings as before the pandemic, according to Reclaim.ai’s research. This signals a big push to touch base on the individual level, or “check in”, more often.
It’s an effort to solve the visibility problem. Unfortunately, it’s creating a distraction problem.
More meetings, more distractions.
Canadian researcher Linda Duxbury found that 70% of the workforce have worked evenings and weekends in the last two years. Despite this, their work output remains the same as pre-2020 levels.
Duxbury isn’t the only person to notice this trend.
- At one large Asian IT company, employees in 2021 spent 18% more time working outside of business hours. Yet, their work output had declined by as much as 19% .
- “People have 250 percent more meetings every day than they did before the pandemic,” according to Mary Czerwinski , research manager at Microsoft. “That means everything else—like coding and email and writing—is being pushed later.”
- Webex data reveals that the vast majority, 93% , of hybrid workers spend more than two hours in remote meetings each day. Their top challenges? Finding work-life balance and preventing burnout.
The loss of remote work productivity and time go hand in hand. We lose an hour and a half of work each day to inefficient communication and collaboration. Unnecessary meetings are a part of that.
All of that lost time and productivity, of course, affects our bottom lines as well.
Career app Zippia estimates that $37 billion is lost each year to unproductive meetings. The same study found that employees feel overwhelmed and unable to complete work due to meetings.
“Our late-night mini workdays are not just an expression of benign flexibility,” Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic . “They’re also the consequence of inflexible managers filling the day with so many meetings that we have to add a ‘worknight’ to do our job.”
Remote teams can communicate and collaborate more efficiently.
Okay, employees are working longer hours to produce less work because of remote meetings. What do we do about it?
The first step is to audit your current meetings. You need to know:
- How many meetings you’re actually having
- How long meetings are
- Who is spending the most time in meetings
Without this data, you don’t know how big your meeting problem is. Use digital work analytics tools like Produce8 to audit your Zoom or Teams usage and get true visibility into how much time your team really spends in remote meetings.
With a clearer picture of where meetings impact workflow the most, you can brainstorm ways to reduce and measure that impact. Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Have fewer meetings.
This seems obvious but is worth stating. How many of your remote meetings are really necessary? Most status meetings can be done away with, for example. Simply replace them with an email, messaging platforms like Slack, or a regular report.
2. Have shorter meetings.
“Is the meeting schedule for the duration you need or the duration you always set meetings for?” asks Job van der Voort . The Remote CEO says he’s been avoiding meetings for a decade. It’s a valid question for those necessary meetings you can’t convert into email or other formats. “Half the meeting time regardless and try to make it work. Really, this works for almost any meeting,” van der Voort insists.
3. Limit when meetings can be scheduled.
No Meeting Fridays and Quiet Hours are increasingly popular practices for remote teams. Reducing the amount of available meeting time makes it more valuable and helps team members reconsider the necessity of a meeting. Additionally, it ensures they have weekly and/or daily uninterrupted time to work.
4. Have high meeting standards.
Part of adjusting the remote meeting culture at your organization will include defining what justifies holding a meeting. Demand that meetings have clear objectives and agendas before they are scheduled. Use remote meeting software that allows all attendees to edit or annotate the agenda with clarifying questions or relevant information. Ensure that only necessary people are asked to attend each meeting. This will streamline remote meetings as much as possible.
5. Embrace asynchronous work.
Much of the problems of remote meetings boil down to overreliance on synchronous work. To combat this, it’s time to get serious about making asynchronous work a part of your organization’s culture.
Record videos to share instead of demanding everyone be present at the same time for a presentation. When synchronous meetings are absolutely necessary, record those for anyone who can’t make it. Encourage the use of other communication channels to share information.
6. Use technology to your advantage.
A wealth of remote meeting software and tools exist to streamline and enhance your organization’s meetings. From note-taking software to dedicated desktop hardware, you’re sure to be surprised by the options out there.
Tools like Produce8 don’t just help you identify areas of improvement in your meeting schedule. They also help you measure the results of any actions you take. Try conducting a work pattern analysis or surveying your team so you can schedule meetings around your people’s most productive times.
If someone’s magic productivity hour is 10 am and you’re constantly booking meetings at that time, you’re seriously impairing their ability to do their best work. By looking at overlapping quiet times across your team, you can identify the best slots for scheduling meetings with them.
Even if you don’t find a time that works for everyone, you’ll be more aware of the team members who regularly compromise their productive time for the greater good.
Improve Your Remote Meeting Culture and Reclaim Work Productivity
Ultimately, addressing remote meeting culture will require making meaningful changes in the way your team works and collaborates.
To do that you’ll want accurate insights into the unique issues your team faces when it comes to remote work productivity.
That may involve not just remote meetings, but other ways your team connects and works as well.
The more visibility your team can gain into all the ways they use and share technology, the more you can re-create the passerby effect lost in the move to remote work.
Produce8 helps teams do exactly that. After agreeing to share only the usage information of platforms relevant to their goals, team members get detailed insights into what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to getting things done.
With accurate measurements and visibility into areas of improvement, you can understand the true current state of work at your organization—not just what team members are relaying. From there, you can make changes and monitor their impacts over time.
Recover an average of an hour a day per person by rethinking meetings. Better collaboration is just a few adjustments away.