The Invisible Cost of Meetings

Whether you love or hate them, meetings are necessary for the workday. While they are great for discussing challenges, brainstorming ideas, and strategizing solutions, they can very quickly become time sinks for productivity. Many people plan for meetings by allocating additional time to prepare beforehand and time afterward in case it runs long. However, when it comes to productivity, the true time cost of a meeting can extend well beyond the time documented on the calendar. With the increasing transition to the digital workplace, this invisible cost can have drastic implications for businesses.

Load In and Cool Down Time

The invisible time cost does not just refer to meetings starting late or going over their scheduled time, but rather the time lost switching mental states before and after. The time it takes to mentally shift away from a task to prepare for a meeting is often referred to as load in time; cool down time refers to the transition back into productivity after leaving one.

These periods of time vary on an individual basis. On the extreme end, the time to load in and cool down can extend up to 45 minutes at each end of a meeting, adding an additional 90 minutes to the effective meeting time. If you consider the amount of time lost across an entire year and what employees could be working on during those periods, it becomes clear that there’s a substantial financial cost to this loss of productivity.

Perhaps the worst offenders of this are short meetings. Take a standard 15-minute meeting, for example. Let’s assume that it takes 15 minutes for someone to load in for a meeting and another 30 minutes to cool down before being productive afterward. This means the effective time cost is four times more than what shows up on the calendar, 75% of which is wasted; keep in mind this is for each person that attended the meeting.

How to Reduce Invisible Meeting Time?

As you can see, these periods of wasted time start to add up quickly. So how can companies help prevent this moving forward? The best way to reduce your invisible meeting time is to be more purposeful with the meetings you schedule, content, and attendees.

No Meeting Days

Meeting-free days are exactly as the name implies. They are specific days, either weekly or monthly, that are set aside for employees to get work done. If it is not possible to do full days of no meetings, the next best thing is meeting free times. While not entire days, these are long sections of time, usually a whole morning or afternoon, where employees can focus solely on work with minimal distractions.

Many companies are already moving forward with this strategy. Facebook, Atlassian, and Citi all have no meeting days. A study by INC. earlier this year indicated up to 73% increase in productivity from implementing meeting-free days each week.

Alternate Methods of Communication

Another common strategy is relying on other communication forms, such as email or Slack. Smaller tasks traditionally accomplished in meetings are now being done through these mediums. This allows individuals to stay in their own workflows and focus on getting things done without wasting time.

Moving to these mediums helps reduce both the quantity and duration of meetings, helping cut down on time lost to load in and cool down. As a result, meetings can be reserved for more important topics that make better use of face-to-face discussions. It also encourages participants to focus on the most important attendees so that meetings do not get bogged down by extraneous people or increase the amount of time lost to load in and cool down.

Remote Work and Meetings

The transition into the digital workspace and remote work has dramatically altered how meetings are conducted. Quick video calls have replaced dropping by the next cubical, and instead of walking to the conference room, we now log into Zoom. However, the time lost to load in and cool down remains. It can be very easy to accidentally schedule multiple short meetings throughout the day, resulting in an entire workday in terms of productivity.

Balancing Meetings at Digital Results

At Digital Results, we consider this invisible cost when scheduling our meetings. As a completely remote workforce across multiple time zones, we limit the number of appointments each day and give our employees days when they can focus on their work. Sure, there are times when we need to adjust these schedules to fit in client meetings, but having these boundaries are part of our commitment to Family-Life-Work balance™ on a daily basis.

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