By Yvonne Milosevic
How many times have you walked out of a meeting feeling energized and productive? We’ll wait while you shuffle through your memories to find that elusive occasion. If you thought you had too many meetings before the pandemic, current stats will leave you in tears. For instance, a recent survey found that 67% of employees believe that meeting time hampers their productivity. Meanwhile, more than 35% say they waste two-to-five hours per day on meetings and calls with nothing to show for it. While there are some excellent ways to improve meeting hygiene, the answer to this crisis isn’t to ban them completely (sorry, folks). The practical solution is to implement more meeting-free days instead.
A team of business school researchers recently shared results from their study assessing the optimal number of meeting-free days per week in MIT Sloan Management Review. During their investigation, they surveyed 76 companies, each of which had more than 1,000 employees and operated in 50-plus countries.
The participating companies experimented with having from one to five no-meeting days per week over 12 months. The controls of the study also included counting one-on-one meetings.
- 47% of companies introduced two no-meeting days per week
- 35% instituted three no-meeting days
- 11% implemented four
- 7% got rid of all meetings completely
To further flesh out their findings, they tapped into the executives’ perspectives of the experiment. Next, they used data to assess employee stress levels before and after a reduction in meetings. By adopting just one no-meeting day per week, the researchers saw an immediate improvement in employee satisfaction.
“The subsequent impact of introducing meeting-free days was profound.”
They say variables such as autonomy, communication, and engagement improved, leading to lower stress levels and less micromanagement. Consequently, productivity rose as well.
Comparing the Many Benefits of Meeting-Free Days
This table charts the increase and decrease of a range of variables, depending on how many weekdays have no meetings.
|VARIABLE||MEETING-FREE DAYS PER WEEK|
source: MIT Sloan Management Review
The researchers contend that companies that had three meeting-free days per week achieved the best results. They found a 71% improvement in productivity because employees felt more empowered and autonomous. “Rather than being pinned down by a schedule, they owned their to-do lists and held themselves accountable, which consequently increased satisfaction by 52%,” the study’s authors explain.
So Why Not Eliminate All Meetings?
If we know that meetings derail our productivity, why not just eliminate them? The researchers point to the law of diminishing returns to explain what happens to morale when moving to a no-meetings policy. For example, they found that satisfaction, productivity, engagement, and cooperation declined when companies eliminated all meetings.
The researchers also note that meetings have one significant upside: they provide an opportunity for us to socialize—something often lacking in the covid-era. A no-meetings policy would eliminate an easy way to regularly connect with our colleagues.
“In remote working environments, the risk of isolation is exceptionally high,” so companies should create opportunities for socializing among employees, the researchers suggest. Instead of having too many conventional meetings, companies can pivot toward holding more informal gatherings as an alternative.
In the end, they conclude that “informal, no-agenda meetings can effectively fulfill humans’ need for social contact.”
The researchers for this project include Ben Laker, professor of leadership at Henley Business School at the University of Reading; Vijay Pereira, professor of strategic and international human capital management at NEOMA Business School; Pawan Budhwar, professor of international human resource management at Aston University’s Aston Business School; and Ashish Malik, associate professor of strategic human resource management at Newcastle Business School at the University of Newcastle.