HR tech Number of the Week: virtual meetings

Employees are spending more than half of their workweeks in meetings, according to a new report. What that means for HR leaders.
By: | November 5, 2021

If you think you’re drowning in Zoom meetings, you’re not alone. According to a trend report conducted by meeting assistant solution provider Reclaim.Ai, the average professional is now spending an additional 6.7 hours in meetings each week, or 65% of their entire workweek, jumping from 26.3 hours in February 2020 to 32.9 hours in October 2021. This is a 25.3% increase in weekly meeting time.

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These aren’t the only grim facts unearthed by the report. The number of one-on-one meetings has more than tripled, growing 309% from 1.4 hours to 5.9 hours a week. And employees can’t keep up with the runaway meetings: Professionals are rescheduling 42% of their one-on-one meetings and canceling 30% of their overall meetings every week to try to keep up with the increased meeting demands.

What does this mean for HR leaders?

Simply put, HR and business leaders need to start taking meeting fatigue seriously as a retention risk for their employees, says Henry Shapiro, co-founder of Reclaim.Ai. Employees had already been struggling with too many meetings and not enough time for themselves before the pandemic, and things have only gotten worse, he says.

Related: Why ‘culture through Zoom’ wasn’t a barrier for this company

The explosive growth in meetings means that employees often do not have adequate time to accomplish their job tasks and meet deadlines like they once had before remote work became the norm. 

“Given that the average employee in our data has more than 50% of their workweek dedicated to meetings, it’s just not realistic to expect that workers can get their work done in the remaining time,” says Shapiro.

The excessive meetings also steal time from workers before the Zoom or Microsoft Teams camera turns on, as employees often have to prep for the meetings and respond to emails or chats about them. Shapiro says clients often express exasperation with having to do their important work in the evenings and on weekends, which is a direct result of having too many meetings.

So, how to avoid the “This could have been an e-mail” trap? Managers of all stripes need to sharpen their remote meeting plans to regain control of these time drains, says Shapiro. 

Related: 10 things Microsoft has learned about successful hybrid work

“I would start with every department leader making a list of all the recurring meetings that exist, [like] one-on-ones, team meetings, status meetings and so on. The first challenge that organizations have, especially as they grow, is duplication and redundancy of recurring meetings,” he says.

After documenting their recurring meetings, managers must compress that list, advises Shapiro. “Look for meetings that have the same people meeting about similar topics, or for meetings that havemore than eight people in them. Most of the time, those meetings could be turned into status reports or other [asynchronous] workflows,” he says.

Finally, assign an intention to each one. “Managers should ask, ‘What is the meeting’s purpose? What would happen if the meeting didn’t happen? Who really needs to be there?’ ” he says.

“Those questions will often lead to a reduction in the frequency, length or existence of recurring meetings, which are the bane of calendars,” says Shapiro. “Make sure to refresh this list and revisit it at least once a quarter.”

Phil Albinus is HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children. He can be reached at palbinus@lrp.com and followed on Twitter @philalbinus.