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Too Many Meetings? Survey Finds Scope of Meeting Fatigue a Myth

We surveyed more than 250 U.S. full-time employees on their meeting habits. While most say they don't have too many meetings, employees admit they aren’t always engaged and active participants in the meetings they attend.

It’s no secret that work meetings have been deemed the enemy of productivity. The media, academics, and workplace critics alike have diagnosed the overall workforce with a bad case of “meeting fatigue.” As The New York Times’ “Meet is Murder” feature highlights, meetings are often perceived as wasteful vacuums that deplete productivity, employee morale and overall engagement.

Though meetings seem to foster a negative sentiment in the workplace, West’s Unified Communications Services wanted to get a second opinion. To determine if employees are in fact overburdened by status updates and client calls, we surveyed more than 250 U.S. full-time employees about their meeting habits, preferred formats and engagement. Here’s a look at what we found, and some tips for beating meeting fatigue:

Long Live Work Meetings

Meetings can be a waste of time and resources, but our findings show that most employees are not drowning in meetings just yet. In fact, the majority of employees in our survey typically attend just one meeting per day, on average – 69 percent of employees attend five or fewer meetings per week while 31 percent attend six or more.

It may be a step in the right direction that meetings are becoming more infrequent, but our data shows they’re still not always organized. Case in point: agendas aren’t exactly the norm – only 37 percent of employees say there’s always a set agenda for work meetings. Without an agenda or clear goal, many meetings quickly drift off the rails.

Yet most employees would never dream of a world without meetings: 86 percent feel they’re necessary. Of those who value meetings, 42 percent think they are necessary to achieving results, while 44 percent think they can achieve positive results without attending as many meetings as they do. Digging into how meeting perception differs by job levels, we found that half of managers believe meetings are critical to accomplishing their work versus 36 percent of specialists who feel the same.

Are business meetings necessary?

More Meetings, Less Engagement

Perhaps due to the mismanaged and unnecessary nature of some meetings, employees aren’t always engaged and active participants. Only 36 percent of workers report that they actively contribute in all meetings they attend. Similarly, over half (55 percent) of employees attend 1-3 meetings per week where they don’t contribute to the discussion – suggesting that some organizations live by an “everyone’s invited” mantra. We’ve all endured pointless meetings, and there’s no greater time-suck than sitting in an hour-long session when you’re not contributing. Since time is the major cost associated with meetings, organizers must be more judicious with invites.

We were also curious to see how meeting engagement differs across groups. While 43 percent of women say they’re active members of every meeting they attend, a smaller group of men (32 percent) report the same sentiment. Our data also suggests that quantity might impact meeting quality – 43 percent of sporadic meeting-goers (who have five or fewer meetings per week) actively participate in all of their meetings, compared to just 21 percent of frequent meeting-goers (who have more than six meetings in a week). One solution: only attend meetings where your presence will add value to the conversation and you’re confident goals will be achieved.

Business Meeting Engagement

Why Meeting Type Matters

Employees most frequently attend in-person meetings, followed up by audio conferences then video conferences. Perhaps given the level of familiarity with each format, employees’ meeting type preferences align identically with those they participate in most. Despite preferring audio to video, employees still associate more specific benefits with video calls, likely because of the intimate nature of these types of meetings.

Overall however, in person meetings rank higher than video and audio in terms of being productive, well planned and well run – hinting that many employees have yet to develop a comfort level with the technology (even though its benefits are palpable). Until employees have more exposure to and training on conducting video and audio calls, their bias towards in-person meetings may persist.

Interestingly, the more meetings an employee attends, the more likely they are to prefer audio and video meetings (and find them productive):

Frequent vs Sporadic Meetings

Is Veering Off Topic Really So Bad? 

Given their visual and physical components, in-person and video meetings are most likely to stay on topic, which is great feedback for managers looking to decide which type of meetings to schedule. And though every meeting has at least one participant who derails the conversation, what are the real consequences of drifting from the agenda? Over half (51 percent) of employees say that when a meeting goes off topic, it typically runs over the scheduled time – but they still manage to accomplish everything on the agenda. In contrast, 18 percent of employees who have experienced side conversations say the meeting ends on time but they’re unable to complete the agenda. A quarter of respondents are master time managers – their off-topic meetings end on time and they manage to discuss everything on the agenda.

Irrelevant conversations can inhibit meeting progress, but can also lead to great ideas. The best and most creative business ideas often stem from group discussions, so meeting leaders should pay attention to these themes while moving the set agenda forward. It’s always a good practice to designate a note taker so you can revisit these ideas in a future brainstorm.

Working With Telecommuters

Hybrid meetings – where multiple participants are together in the same conference room while others dial in from remote locations – are increasingly common for today’s workforce. We found that where you are (in the room, on the line or on the screen) can have a notable impact on your overall meeting experience.

Forty-three percent of employees say they’re an active and engaged participant when they dial into a work meeting where everyone else is in the same room. But the other 57 percent feel like they’re forgotten about when dialing in remotely. Of this group, 32 percent say they become passive listeners while 23 percent feel they have to interrupt the conversation in order to participate.

However, hesitations to contribute may have more to do with comfort level and experience than anything else. For instance, 39 percent of specialists say that when they dial into a call where everyone else is together, they become passive listeners versus just 23 percent of managers. Perhaps because they often lead meetings and decision-making discussions, 48 percent of managers feel they’re an active participant in these situations versus 37 percent of specialists.

Do Meetings with Remote Workers Help?

Interestingly, 60 percent of employees feel they actively involve remote participants when they’re on the other side of the line. But 30 percent do admit to being surprised when remote participants speak up (on account of forgetting they dialed in).

A simple remedy to this surprise would be a visual meeting dashboard that shows you who is on the call and who is speaking at any give time - features that come with West's Unified Meeting 5. Another feature that keeps you aware of your virtual meeting surroundings is the new Dolby Audio feature available from West. It enhances audio clarity and assigns virtual seats for everyone on the call so it sounds like everyone is in the same room.

How to Give Meetings a Face Lift

Although almost half of employees feel they attend more meetings than they really need to, most workers aren’t clamoring for empty calendars – and that won’t change any time soon. It’s impossible to get rid of meetings all together, and as the data shows, they’re critical to getting the job done and interfacing with the right people to do it.

We have already covered the topic of making meetings more productive on the West UC Blog with posts like 10 Tips for More Effective Meetings and 7 Ways Happy Leaders Run More Effective Meetings. But, there are several ways that organizations and business leaders can rid the negative stereotypes associated with meetings (and sway meeting skeptics to rethink their perceptions):

  • Make agendas a true standard. If you don’t have enough content to fill in an agenda, scratch the meeting altogether. This goes for meetings of all types – from regular status calls to sales meetings. It will save participants time and in the end, result in a more productive workday.
  • Don’t rely on the blanket invite. Most meeting organizers simply issue one invite to all attendees, regardless of whether the entire meeting pertains to them. Meeting moderators should review the agenda and send invites accordingly to ensure attendees’ time isn’t wasted.
  • Provide more education and training. This goes for remote and non-remote employees. To prevent the fear and uncertainty around video calls (which are confirmed to be more productive than audio-only), organizations should offer regular, mandatory etiquette training, especially for specialist-level employees. This will help individuals raise their comfort level and improve efficiency when using video conferencing, and also encourage more active participation from remote employees during hybrid meetings.

More Meeting Tips

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