May 2022
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TD Magazine

Break Free of Meetings

Monday, May 2, 2022

Instituting days without meetings can rid employees of undue stress to accomplish more.

Higher productivity, stronger communication and cooperation, better job satisfaction—what employer wouldn't leap at an opportunity to improve company culture in those ways? They can do that by introducing one or more meeting-free days a week, point out Ben Laker, Vijay Pereira, Pawan Budhwar, and Ashish Malik in the MIT Sloan Management Review article "The Surprising Impact of Meeting-Free Days."

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Meeting overload is high. According to the results of a survey that communications company FischTank conducted, 44 percent of the 685 surveyed office workers have two to three meetings scheduled a day. Software company Otter.ai reports in the article "Shocking Meeting Statistics in 2021 That Will Take You by Surprise" that 11 million meetings are held each day and 55 million per week. That accounts for 15 percent of an organization's time spent in meetings.

To counteract the meeting fatigue, some companies are moving to meeting-free days. Laker and colleagues surveyed 76 global companies, each with more than 1,000 employees, that had introduced one to five such days per week in the past year. They also took pulse surveys and reviewed employee stress data and found an immense upside to employers moving to even one meeting-free day: a 45 percent increase in communication, a 35 percent rise in productivity, a 28 percent bump in engagement, and a 26 percent drop in employees' stress. The benefits, they note, peaked around three meeting-free days a week, though the benefits remained strong within companies that abandoned meetings entirely.

While the trend is somewhat self-explanatory, going meeting-free exists on a spectrum depending on company style. Some have embraced just one dedicated meeting-less day a week, while others have instituted three or more. On a smaller scale, some have cordoned off certain time blocks within days when no meetings are allowed. In most cases, the no-meeting policies extended beyond team get-togethers to one-on-one sessions.

To get started, software company Justworks recommends in an article to first communicate with employees and explain the reasoning behind the approach. Laker and colleagues also advise embracing the informal conversations that come via message boards and direct-messaging platforms. Those can provide a social outlet. They also, along with Justworks, note the importance of running efficient meetings, with clear agendas and post-meeting follow-ups to ensure business continuity and to make effective use of time.

About the Author

I'm a developmental editor at ATD Press, working primarily with books. I joined the ATD team in December 2014. I review manuscripts and team up with authors to produce well-written and well-developed books. Before ATD, I worked as a jack-of-all-trades editor for a small editing and design firm in DC. with a focus on economic and development reports. I have a master's in publishing from George Washington University.

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