Meetings are the No. 1 barrier to productivity, workers say

Dive Brief:

  • Excessive meetings are more than an annoyance, an Atlassian study of 5,000 workers across four continents found: They’re a bigger drain on productivity than lack of motivation, unclear goals or responsibilities, unclear collaboration expectations and other roadblocks. 
  • Nearly 4 in 5 workers said they’re expected to attend so many meetings, it’s hard to get work done. Adding to the frustration, a little over half of workers said they leave meetings without a clear idea of what to do next, and 77% said meetings just result in follow-up meetings. Half said they regularly needed to work overtime to make up for time spent in meetings.
  • Workers reported that more effective meetings had an agenda. And most said a 30-minute meeting’s goals could usually be accomplished in half the time, suggesting shorter meetings may be better.

Dive Insight:

Hating meetings is so normalized, it’s become a trope — yet Atlassian’s data shows too few workplaces have taken the steps necessary to address the problem of excessive, ineffective meetings.

Among the problems, workers told Atlassian that a select few people often dominate meetings, meetings are often used to simply disseminate information (“could have been an email”), they often lack a clear goal or purpose, and they’re ineffective even for social aims, like collaborating with colleagues, brainstorming and decision-making.

Meetings can be better, experts say. For one, employees should be empowered to decline meetings at which their presence is not necessary or for which they lack the bandwidth to both attend and complete their work. But as one humorous, viral TikTok video makes clear, meeting hosts should also be trained to accept these declines with grace, rather than as invitations to reschedule.

In addition to including an agenda and cutting down scheduled time, Atlassian recommended that a facilitator help ensure more voices are heard by course-correcting when a few people tend to dominate. Other tactics include sharing goals and discussion topics ahead of time, so employees — especially more introverted workers — have a chance to think through their ideas and responses.

Finally, to address productivity, Atlassian recommended that employees be encouraged to block time on their calendars — not just for appointments and other outside commitments, but also for “deep work” and, separately, for responding to messages.

A 2022 report by project management platform Asana also pointed to the productivity drain caused by excessive notifications, and psychologists have likewise explored the neural costs of switching tasks.