In Pursuit of Profit
Read our expert article below or sign up to get articles sent to your inbox.
It typically takes age and perspective to appreciate the true value of time and reorient ourselves to using our time more wisely.
In business, time measures efficiency, productivity, and the amount of human capital needed to operate a business. There seems to be a never-ending quest to find that next tool which will save and costs. From optimizing workflows, to new software solutions, and now how AI can be implemented, businesses are trying to free up time by removing mundane tasks from the workload. These tools aren’t really “time savers,” but instead seek to shift how time can be spent toward higher skill tasks that can add more value to the bottom line.
As businesses look to cut costs and streamline their operations, one area has often escaped the scrutiny it deserves - the time cost of meetings.
The Cost of Meetings
A common refrain among employees and managers is that they are stuck attending too many time-wasting meetings. Otter.ai partnered with Dr. Steven G. Rogelberg, Professor of Organizational Science, Management at UNC Charlotte to evaluate the cost of “unnecessary” meetings.
Their study had a lot of great takeaways, but maybe the most interesting insight is how much time is spent in meetings. On average 18 hours per week are spent in meetings, with managers spending over 22 hours a week! Of those meetings, attendees felt that 1/3 were unnecessary and could have been skipped if they were kept in the loop.
Reducing unnecessary meeting attendance would not only reduce strain on employees and increase organizational productivity, but it would also help companies drastically cut costs.
Most notably, the study found that:
In a similar vein, according to research by Microsoft on Microsoft 365 usage, the average employee spends 57% of their time communicating in meetings, email, and chat and only 43% creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. This is not a new phenomenon. The amount of time spent in meetings and communication has been steadily increasing over the years, leaving less time to complete focused productive work. With the rise of remote and hybrid work from the pandemic, the number of meetings accelerated as managers attempted to offset the loss of informal communication that was available when everyone shared the same office space.
There is still a struggle to find an equilibrium, but some organizations like Shopify have taken things a step further. Early in 2023, a Bloomberg article reported on how Shopify was telling employees to “just say no to meetings.” While an overstatement, since meetings weren’t completely eliminated, Shopify did report eliminating over 322,000 hours of meetings (the time equivalent of 150 employees) and set stricter guidelines around what meetings were acceptable and when they should happen.
If we are being honest, meeting are a necessity. They build team cohesion, disseminate information, provide a forum for input, and help solve problems. When it gets down to it, meetings aren’t really the problem – bad meetings are.
How to Turn Bad Meetings into Better Ones
1.Do The Pre-Work and Have A Facilitator
Meetings shouldn’t be mindlessly created. When someone says a meeting is a worthless, they usually don’t understand the purpose of the meeting. A properly structured meeting should be able to combat this problem and can be accomplished by using a meeting facilitator. The facilitator guides the process, engaging participation, and promoting desired outcomes. They will be responsible for ensuring the meeting purpose and objectives are clear. An agenda is a start and verbally stating the purpose and objectives at the beginning of a meeting will further reinforce the message. Any materials should be sent in advance and highlight the preparation needed by participants. The facilitator should also consider the best ways to engage the participants. Should it be a group discussion, white board exercise, or just presenting information? This requires a knowledge of who will be attending and what will work the best for the meeting objective.
2.Relevant Attendance Only
It is easy to invite anyone and everyone connected to a project, but that is lazy and leads to bloated meetings that waste time. Limit it to those that are truly necessary. Smaller meetings are more focused and productive. It also has the benefit of keeping the meeting from easily being pulled off topic. If there are employees where it is difficult to decide if they should attend, consider adding them as “optional” attendees with management guidance that they can self-select to opt in or out. Giving them agency means they can find a balance that allows them to accomplish their other responsibilities and avoid meetings that don’t benefit them. Often it is managers who tend to think they need to pull everyone into a meeting because it is convenient for them, instead of having smaller and more focused check-in sessions.
There should be strict start and end times. This encourages everyone to stay on topic and avoid tangents. This tends to create a sense of urgency, shows that people’s time is to be respected, and encourages attendees to come prepared.
Condensing material to shorter time frame does take more preparation. As the entertaining saying goes, “if you want me to speak two minutes, give me two weeks notification. If you want me to speak five minutes, I will need a week. If you want me to talk all day, here I am.”
“Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers
We’ve all had the meeting then went off the rails or used up the allotted time but didn’t accomplish the meeting objectives. In a recent presentation, I listened to Darrell Littleberry describe four meeting participants you need to watch out for:
The Derailer brings in unrelated topics to steer the meeting off track.
The Downer spews counterproductive energy that highlights only the negatives.
The Pirate hijacks any meeting they’re in to take it in the direction they want to go.
The Rambler starts talking and you can’t get them to stop.
Each of these nightmare participants are going to require some finesse to deal with. You are going to have to let them participate in the meeting and respectfully listen. However, there are limits. They will need to be reined in after an appropriate amount of time so that you don’t end up in meeting hell.
Here are a few commonsense tips from Darrell:
The Derailer will need to be interrupted (politely) and redirected back on topic.
The Downer is going to require verbal balancing. This requires acknowledging their point, but then pivots to highlighting the positives or solutions that need to be addressed.
The Pirate likely requires a pre-meeting to figure out their objectives and concerns so that you can deal with them in advance and not during the meeting.
The Rambler needs to be given some time to show that their participation is valued but will need to be reeled in by interrupting and redirecting after a reasonable amount of time.
You want participants to leave a meeting clear on what was decided, actions to take, and who is responsible. To do this you need to set clear objectives at the beginning of the meeting. You can do this by stating what the meeting’s purpose is at the outset of the meeting. Are you sharing information, listening to concerns, or brainstorming solutions. The desired outcomes will vary based on the purpose. Make sure you leave time at the end of the meeting to clarify the meeting outcomes and deliverables with participants. Post-meeting summary communication is helpful for participants to refer back to. Remember, you may need to loop in nonattenders on meeting outcomes.
6.Limit the Number and Cadence
Meetings can be exhausting, and many times are scheduled back-to-back with little time for breaks and recharging. They are also distracting and leave little time to accomplish other important tasks. This can lead to the feeling that nothing was accomplished during the day. Consider taking the Shopify approach and raise the standards on what necessitates a meeting. You’ll likely find that many meetings aren’t as necessary as they seem. Standing meetings should also be evaluated frequently for what is being accomplished. If the only purpose of the meeting is to help a manager keep up to date on what their team is doing, there may be better ways to accomplish it.
Following these meeting-related tips can save you and your team time and allow everyone to focus on getting the work done.
In the outsourced accounting field, we’ve found that while brief check-in meetings are necessary, many meetings that would have been on an employee’s plate end up being eliminated. This allows our consultants to focus on doing the work and can sometime cut in half the amount of time it takes to accomplish the same accounting deliverables.
When you need accounting services that are focused on your financial needs, reach out to us! We have a team of experienced accountants that can help your business get the work done. Whether you need to do more accurate reporting, upgrade your accounting system, or find additional support for daily accounting activities, we have the right team in place to meet your needs. Contact us today to find out more!
About the Author
Jason McGill – ASP Oregon & Southwest Washington Practice Leader
Jason is a dynamic accounting and finance manager with strong nonprofit leadership and 15 years of experience. He started out in public accounting at a firm specializing in nonprofit work before transitioning to work directly with nonprofits. He is well versed in analyzing data, implementing internal controls, audit preparation, supporting complex accounting issues, and preparing financial statements.
Jason holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting and Finance from Walla Walla University, and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance from California State University San Bernardino. He also holds a CPA license in the state of Oregon.