Most employees have been summoned from their desks to sit in long, dreary meetings – the kind that drag on and seem to accomplish nothing. Unfortunately, pointless meetings are common in UK workplaces, with three-quarters of workers saying they are normal.
Meetings are commonplace in offices, but they aren’t always the best way of getting work done. Of a 2020 survey of 1,000 UK workers, almost one in five reported that 50% to 100% of all meetings produce zero results.
A separate 2018 survey of British, French and German employees found that people waste almost 13 days a year in unproductive meetings, which are a drain on productivity and impact profits. In fact, the average employee spends an astonishing 187 hours in meetings every year – but more than half are pointless.
Although the pandemic has seen many people spend more time in meetings, not all companies are taking the same approach. The online media company TheSoul Publishing has adopted a “no meetings” policy across their entire global company. Instead, the 2,100-member global workforce rely on asynchronous communication, meaning they work to their own schedules.
Arthur Mamedov, chief operating officer at TheSoul Publishing, says his company decided to ban traditional meetings because they weren’t an effective form of communication. With most employees working remotely, meetings simply weren’t working.
“Our team works across many different time zones, in some cases having a 10-hour difference between our locations,” he says. “In-person or Zoom meetings aren’t just challenging to arrange – in general they’re not effective for us. More than that – it’s no secret that many meetings can be a waste of time. Meetings are much like large conferences. Speaking live to a group of people is never entirely efficient.”
Some people might get distracted and for others the information may not be relevant, Mamedov adds. It’s also difficult for people to sit and listen for long periods of time, especially with the distractions of working from home.
“Some people might not be ready to digest it well on the spot – they have to write it down and process it at a later stage,” he says. “And last but not least, the flexible working that many of us have become accustomed to doesn’t always fit in around conventional working hours.
“For us remote working only makes sense when it allows our team members to embrace the benefits. Tying them into meeting schedules doesn’t reflect this ethos and it doesn’t get the best results for us.”
Of course, there is the odd exception. While they’re largely reduced, meetings do sometimes happen, but only for special cases. “There are strict protocols to follow to arrange for one,” he adds. “We tend to encourage at least 24 hours’ notice and limit all meetings to two people only, for 30 minutes maximum.”
And it’s not just about meetings. TheSoul Publishing has also banned internal emails. “For me, this is about removing methods of communication that reduce transparency,” says Mamedov. “We all know how frustrating it can be when one member (or members) of the team holds key information and it’s not possible to reach them. By sharing all relevant information on a mutual platform, everyone can access it as needed.”
To make a "no meeting" policy work, there are a few critical factors to get right. Mamedov advises good foresight and planning so all workers are up to date. In asynchronous work, however, workers complete tasks to their own timetable, which may be very different to that of their colleagues.
“Asynchronous comms is about collaboration that doesn’t happen in real time yet produces a more efficient output. This doesn’t mean it needs to be slow, however,” he says. “By aligning as a team at the start of a project and having clear deliverables, everyone knows exactly what they need to provide and when. How they go about it is up to them within the boundaries of our framework, but the end result is the same.”
Building a strong corporate culture is a must to ensure employees feel empowered rather than isolated, says Mamedov.
“It’s just that in this case, corporate culture is focused on value creation – doing things rather than talking about them,” he explains. “Having clearly communicated systems – the right tech and processes – which all members understand, allows a smooth workflow. Once this model of interaction is established, trust and professional connections tend to follow quickly after.”