Meetings can be incredibly useful, but they can also be a huge time drain. If you find yourself struggling with remote meeting overload, it’s not your fault—it’s the way most companies structure their meetings.
Meeting overload is an epidemic plaguing remote workers across the world. While there’s no one-size-fits-all cure, we’ve compiled some tips and tricks to help reduce meeting overload for you and your team.
What is Remote Meeting Overload?
Remote meeting overload occurs when you have too many meetings on your calendar when working remotely. To put things into perspective here’s what happens when there aren’t enough meetings in your schedule: you get time to focus on the tasks at hand and execute them efficiently and effectively. Conversely, when there are too many unnecessary meetings on your calendar, it becomes harder for employees to get their work done because they’re frequently context-switching.
If this sounds familiar—and if you’ve found yourself feeling overwhelmed by long meeting agendas—you’re not alone.
Before you go blaming yourself for being lazy or ineffective at managing your time, take note; remote meeting overload is usually not an individual problem. Rather than putting all the blame on the employer or yourself, address the underlying issues contributing to the overall problem first—then figure out how everyone can pitch in together so they don’t get stuck dealing with these issues over and over.
The Common Psychological Pitfalls that lead to Remote Meeting Overload
Overschedule Meetings to Seem Productive
The problem is that meetings are not actually productive. They suck up your time and energy, and they don’t always result in actionable outcomes.
So why do we keep doing them? Because we feel like we have to! We’ve been conditioned to think that if an hour of our time isn’t accounted for, it’s wasted—even if the meeting is a total bust.
Attend More Meetings to Avoid FOMO on Meetings
Meetings can be a necessary evil. They’re often necessary because they allow for the exchange of ideas, which is key to generating new ones. We tend to attend more meetings than we need to, because of the fear of missing out on important meetings. We are afraid that if we don’t attend a meeting, we will not be informed about what is going on in the company. This causes us to attend more meetings than necessary even at the cost of wasting our time.
For the Sense of Belonging
We want to feel like we’re part of the team and connected to what’s going on in the office, so we feel the need to check in to every meeting even if it’s not required.
To Feel Valued
We don’t want our remote colleagues to think they’re not valued by the company, so we feel compelled to attend every meeting just so they know they’re appreciated.
The “Busyness” Trap
When we aren’t in the same room with our coworkers and bosses (or even just other humans), it’s easy for us to feel like no one notices when we’re working hard or doing good work. Sometimes we often end up attending more meetings to make our colleagues and employers notice the work we put in and presence.
Leaders Schedule Meetings Whenever it’s Convenient for Them
Sometimes managers would schedule meetings without considering the needs of their employees and when it’s convenient for them. This often leads to frustration in employees. Leaders should schedule meetings in a way that is most convenient for their teams. This means:
- Scheduling meetings at times and locations that are easy for the majority of the team to attend
- Considering time zones and work hours when scheduling meetings for distributed teams
- Keeping in mind that people may have family obligations on certain days, such as weekends or holidays
How has COVID-19 Affected Employees’ Attitudes Toward Meetings?
As you’re probably aware, COVID-19 has affected employees’ attitudes toward meetings in a number of ways. While the virus is still spreading and many companies have been forced to limit or cancel all meetings, there are still a few reasons why you can’t go cold turkey on the meeting model.
Meetings are a part of every employee’s day-to-day life. However, with the introduction of COVID-19, they have become more challenging and difficult to conduct. Some employees have found it hard to balance their work and personal life. Some employees have found it hard to maintain their health and well-being.
Some employers have found to double their meeting time. Micromanaged teams have meetings after meetings to ensure that timelines are met and remote employees are “reigned” in. This has increased ever since the pandemic.
On the other hand, for people in some businesses, eliminating unnecessary meetings to reduce burnout has become critical. Constant face time can be exhausting for employees who are just looking to maximize productivity. And truly distributed teams focus on asynchronous communication through Slack for instance and minimizing meetings. Therefore such businesses also have meeting-free days to reduce context switching.
What to Do to Avoid the Remote Meeting Overload?
You don’t have to be a business analyst or work for a startup to know that meetings are necessary for modern life. But they can also be incredibly time-consuming and disruptive. If you find yourself staring at your calendar in despair at the number of meetings scheduled for any given week, take heart: there are steps you can take to reduce remote meeting overload.
Let’s start by looking at why meetings are so pervasive and problematic in the first place. The problem isn’t necessarily what we’re doing during them; it’s how often they happen (and how long they last) that really matter.
Even though most meetings include some sort of agenda or action items listed as part of their structure—to ensure decisions are made and follow-through occurs—they often fail miserably at this unless special efforts are made beforehand to get everyone out the door on time.
When it Comes to Team Meetings, Keep them Short and Sweet
Please, for the love of all that is good and decent, keep your team meetings to a minimum. The longer you spend on them, the more time your employees will spend wasting away in their cubicles. In fact, it’s better to keep such things as short as possible. A brief 30-minute meeting at the beginning of each workday will help avoid information overload. However, if you think the same can be achieved in less than 30 minutes that works too.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have any long-term projects or goals though – just keep them separate from any regular meetings where you discuss ongoing work issues.
Encourage Your Team to Take Breaks Between Different Meetings
It may seem counterintuitive, but encouraging your team members to take breaks between their busy schedules of meetings will help them be more productive and creative in the long run. Constant meetings can potentially cause burnout and stress.
William S. Helton, Ph.D., a professor of human factors and applied cognition at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and colleagues showed that short breaks can improve attention.
The same study goes on to say that much like regular exercise and sleep, work breaks function both as prevention and intervention, Fritz says. “Taking regular breaks helps us to be more resilient when stressors arise, and they function as an intervention to help us deal with the daily grind.”
To avoid meeting overload, try to stay focused on the agenda. It’s easy to get distracted by tangents and side conversations, but it’s important to keep everything on point.
If you find yourself veering off course, try asking people what they think of a proposed change or action item in your meeting and getting their thoughts on it before moving forward.
Mention the Need for Breaks in Advance
If you’re scheduling a meeting with people who are far away, be sure to let them know about the need for breaks. You can ask them if their schedule allows for it and give them the option to take a break or continue without one. If you’re working with people who are in different time zones, consider scheduling your meetings during non-peak hours so they don’t have to stay up late or wake up early.
If someone is unavailable to attend your virtual meeting but it’s important that they still participate (for example, they’re on vacation or out sick), try using screen sharing or video conferencing so everyone can see each other and talk at once—it’ll feel like a face-to-face meeting. You can record your meetings and share them with employees who may have missed out on them.
If someone is unavailable because of an emergency situation then reschedule your meeting for another time when everyone can participate.
Encourage Participants to Take their Notes
If you have a lot to say, don’t be afraid to ask everyone in the meeting to take notes. This allows you to focus on your message rather than scrambling to recall everything while trying to keep up with the pace of the meeting.
Invest in a Time Tracking Software
With so many meetings on the schedule, it makes sense to invest in a time tracking tool that helps you meet for only a required time period. Set time limits on all meetings, so you can avoid getting stuck in one that goes on too long and cuts into other important tasks or projects.
AttendanceBot is one such time-tracking software that tracks the time employees spend on tasks and projects. It helps employees and employers see where the team spends their time. It can also track time off taken and time spent at work to flag employees who may be nearing burnout.
Before the Meeting, Ask Yourself:
To avoid the unnecessary meeting load, ask yourself:
- Is this meeting necessary?
- Can this topic better be discussed on a lengthy Slack discussion or an email thread instead?
- Who should be participating in this meeting and who can be excluded?
Can Another Communication Method Work Instead?
There are plenty of alternative methods for remote meetings, whether you’re looking for something more formal or a little more casual. Here are some options:
- Text messages
- Phone calls (if your company allows it)
- Slack, G Suite, and Microsoft Teams (for chat rooms)
What Are Some Tools That Help with Overcoming Meeting Overload?
There are a number of tools that can help you overcome remote meeting overload. One of the most popular is Google Calendar, which allows you to schedule meetings and events in advance. You can set multiple calendars for different time zones, so if a meeting falls on the same day as your regular work hours (or if it’s related), you’ll be able to use this feature. The other advantage here is that setting up recurring meetings with certain dates and times, it makes sure that they don’t get missed—which means less stress.
Another way to prevent overload is by using Microsoft Teams or Zoom collaboration software; both products allow users from around the world to collaborate together via video calls or text messages.
It’s important to remember that it isn’t just employees who need a break from meetings. Managers and leaders should be careful not to overdo it with their own schedules, either. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the number of meetings you have to attend each week or month, try taking a step back from them for a little while and see how much more productive your life becomes when you’re not bogged down.