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How to Reduce Unnecessary Meetings: 8 Tips

Reducing unnecessary meetings will help your team increase productivity and lower human capital costs! See 8 tips here.

By Alexandria Hewko  •   September 11, 2023  •   8 min read

There’s a commonly known principle called the Pareto Principle that states about 20% of your activities draw in about 80% of your results. The meaning behind the principle is to look for the most fruitful areas and ensure you can spend more time there to be the most productive—and you should also cut out everything else that’s not as rewarding. At work, your day likely has a few key meetings that are important to your role and likely a lot of unnecessary meetings. Learning how to identify and reduce those unnecessary meetings for your team can help you get to your results faster! 

What is an unnecessary meeting?

Have you ever been on a call and thought, “This could have been an email”? That’s an unnecessary meeting. In other words, an unnecessary meeting is any call or conversation where the meeting topic is undefined, you’re confused about the goals expected from the discussion, or you know you won’t have the answers expected during the call. These can feel like a waste of time, especially if these meetings are taking time away from high-priority tasks on your plate that have clear goals and results tied to them.

Run efficient meetings, come to a decision, and get back to work

Level up your meeting habits to boost engagement and productivity with a collaborative meeting agenda. Try a tool like Fellow!

Benefits of reducing unnecessary meetings

Reduces meeting costs 

Did you know that meetings have a cost to them? The easiest way to determine how much your meetings are impacting your budget is by adding up the hourly salaries of each attendee multiplied by how long the meeting time is. You can get started reducing your meeting’s costs through software that automatically organizes, tracks, and notifies you of time spent on the call.

Calculate the cost of your meetings with our built-in meeting cost calculator as part of Fellow’s new Meeting Guidelines. Fellow estimates the cost of your meeting directly in Google Calendar, so you can right-size every meeting.

Improves time management 

Employees with a lot of meetings on their plates might struggle with time management as they have less time to dedicate to preparation, prioritization, and reviewing goals. Removing any unnecessary meetings from their schedules gives more calendar time for team members to prepare meeting goals in advance, which allows calls to end on time and with the necessary actions completed!

Increases employee productivity

As a manager, you can proactively increase employee productivity by ensuring that your workers aren’t getting burnt out on meetings that don’t really matter. Additionally, you’ll help them earn back time in their calendars for high-priority tasks, deep-focus work, and wellness breaks to recharge! 

Keeps momentum going

Unnecessary meetings don’t drive a lot of engagement or results, which makes employees feel unmotivated, tired, and flat-out uninterested in attending. After attending an unnecessary meeting, it can be hard for employees to get their energy back up for more important tasks. Luckily, you can avoid this by encouraging them to only focus on calls that get them excited and move their projects forward! 

Signs your meetings are unnecessary 

Meetings have no agendas

Meeting agendas are an important element in any call, and you should be receiving them from the meeting host at least one business day in advance of the meeting. If you’re not receiving them at all, this is a warning sign that your meeting risks the conversation veering off into a direction that isn’t relevant or purposeful to your ongoing projects. Not sure where to start? Check out Fellow’s meeting agenda templates

Meetings have no purpose

The meeting’s purpose allows you to prepare for the call and know that the topic is actually relevant to your work. It’s common for colleagues to want to set up time together to sync, for example, but it’s important to be very clear about what exactly you’re syncing up on and the results that will come from this alignment. If you ask the meeting host about the purpose and they’re unsure or provide a generic, “let’s see when we get there” response, then it’s best to assume the meeting has no purpose. 

Meetings are too long

Your time is valuable, and meetings don’t need to take up a lot of it! Any meeting over an hour long should either be shortened into a more efficient structure or broken up into smaller, more digestible timeframes. Extra long meetings risk participants losing focus, which negatively impacts your ability to drive the needed results from the call. 

Meetings lack participation and engagement

If team members are struggling to be engaged in the call, it’s possible that they feel like the meeting topic isn’t relevant to them. Which, in that case, means those colleagues (and you) are attending an unnecessary meeting. Luckily, there are plenty of virtual meeting engagement tools (like Fellow) to measure how active your participants are! 

Meetings lack next steps or clarity 

The overarching value of meetings is that they help teams collaborate on some result, whether that be a plan, approved budget, or brainstormed list of ideas, for example. If your meetings aren’t turning up any results, it might be because attendees don’t know what result to strive for or there are no goals to meet at all. 

8 ways to reduce unnecessary meetings

1Implement meeting-free days

While they weren’t the first to do it, Shopify made a splash in the news when they shared the value of meeting-free days for their company. The purpose of doing so was to help employees reclaim time in their calendars for deep-focus work. Having an entire day to dedicate to tedious admin tasks or critical strategic planning is very valuable—especially for roles that normally have their days consumed with back-to-back meetings.

The best and easiest way to implement a no meeting day is by using a tool that has the functionality already baked in. As part of the Meeting Guidelines feature set, Fellow enables company leaders to set a no meeting day for their organization, so that any time someone tries to schedule a meeting on that day, they will be automatically prompted to find another time.

2Cancel meetings without an agenda

If there’s no meeting agenda, there’s a high chance the call will go off topic or over time or will fail to meet its goals. In episode 47 of Fellow’s Supermanagers podcast, Ross Mayfield, the Product Lead of Apps and Integrations at Zoom, highlights that having agendas also shows respect for other people’s time, saying, 

You need to be conscious that every meeting is a massive tax on people’s time. You need to ask the question, ‘Should this meeting exist? Do we have the right people in attendance? Do we have a plan for how we’re going to be communicating with people that are not in attendance? Do we have an agenda?’”

Another way to save time is to leverage Fellow’s Time Saver automation, which identifies meetings with no agenda and automatically cancels them! 

3Have a clear meeting purpose

The meeting purpose needs to be defined when the meeting is scheduled. Doing so ensures that you have agreement from all of the meeting attendees about the value and goals of the meeting. On one hand, defining the meeting purpose from the get-go also allows attendees to opt-out if they think the call’s purpose is not relevant to them; on the other hand, it might signal that an additional stakeholder needs to jump into that conversation.

Fellow helps ensure every meeting has a clear purpose. With the Meeting Guidelines feature set, when a meeting is being created, meeting organizers are prompted to add a meeting purpose to the description of the meeting, to help boost meeting engagement.

4Leverage asynchronous meetings 

Asynchronous meetings are great for any team that has a hard time attending the same call due to employees working in multiple time zones or with conflicting schedules. Instead of setting a dedicated time for all attendees to join the call, meeting hosts can leverage an asynchronous meeting in a shared collaboration space like Fellow. The host still prepares a meeting purpose and agenda in advance and then offers a wide time range (like one working day) for team members to add notes, comments, decisions, and action items to the collaboration space. Participants will get notified of engagement, and the meeting host sends a summary of the meeting at the end of the asynchronous meeting window.

5Evaluate your recurring meetings

Another thing that Shopify did when rehauling their meeting time was eliminating recurring meetings. Team members will often attend recurring meetings week after week, even if there is no purpose, because they feel they’ve committed to that time. It’s worthwhile to review all of your meetings, regardless of how frequently they recur, to see if they should be kept, eliminated, or have the frequency adjusted.

Setting an end date for your recurring meetings helps ensure that you evaluate your meeting needs on a regular basis. You can enable thoughtful meeting creation with Fellow’s Meeting Guidelines, which are baked-in to the tool to ensure recurring meetings are finite. When a recurring meeting that has no end is being made, the meeting organizer is prompted to add an end date.

6Collect meeting analytics 

Meeting analytics are exactly what they sound like: an insightful report into how you and your team spend your time in meetings together. It’s a great way to see how much time each employee is spending in meetings, how many action items are completed, and which calls drive the most results. This is so helpful for measuring meeting return on investment (ROI), and you can collect meeting analytics for your team automatically when using Fellow! 

7Ask for meeting feedback

If you’re overseeing a team, you might not have full clarity into knowing which meetings are actually productive versus which are unnecessary. The fastest way to do this is to start collecting meeting feedback with Fellow! After each call, distribute a short form to your attendees. This will help you see which meetings to remove completely and which ones to optimize to get more value out of in the future.

8Get comfortable declining meetings

At first, it’s uncomfortable declining unnecessary meetings, but it’s one of the fastest ways to make your calendar more productive and fulfilling. A great tip from Caroline Castrillon, Career and Leadership Coach, is to, 

First, look at the topics being discussed. If you are only needed for the first 15 minutes, then let the organizer know that you will drop off after your part is finished. Or, if the agenda isn’t relevant to your area of expertise, politely decline.”

Parting advice

Reducing unnecessary meetings has a lot of benefits—like cost savings, an increase in deep focus time, and an increase in employee engagement. But it’s easy to forget about these benefits if you’re not regularly reviewing your team’s meetings to actually see how many fruitful vs. unnecessary meetings are in their schedules. As a best practice, try to conduct a meeting audit every few months or when you feel like workloads are getting a bit overloaded. Fellow can also help you automatically reduce unnecessary meetings by removing those without an agenda and providing you with a dashboard of meeting analytics!

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