The conference room has become a source of dread in many workers’ lives, and for good reason. With hazy agendas, overly talkative presenters and the ever-present horrors of flaky conference call connections, it’s no wonder that so many view company meetings as a waste of time.
It turns out that those fears may be truer than you know, and the hidden costs of company meetings could actually be imperiling your bottom line. Here’s what you need to know about company meetings.
Goal of Meetings
One of the biggest drivers behind the costs of company meetings is a mismatch between the ideal meeting’s goals and the reality of wasted hours in actual practice.
In a perfect world, meetings would only be called to “get stuff done,” with actual objectives and a clear framework for their discussion. Meetings might be needed to discuss something specific, like how to overcome an obstacle that’s stalling the business plan, or simply to promote general collaboration between departments.
But what about in the real, imperfect world, where meetings are often unnecessarily long, or unnecessary, period?
Weekly One-Hour Meetings Calculated
Did you know that you can roughly calculate the cost of a meeting? Thanks to apps like the Harvard Business Review’s business meeting cost calculator, you can now figure out exactly how much money Steve’s droning, three-hour presentation cost your company.
Consider a typical meeting with a one-hour duration attended by five people, each earning the average U.S. salary of $50,000. The cost? “Only” $175.
Now add three more attendees for eight people in total tied up for an hour. Suddenly you’re dealing with a $280 meeting.
And what about high-level meetings, where people are more likely to be earning $100,000 in annual salary? Suddenly 60 minutes with five people in a meeting room becomes eye-poppingly expensive, at $350 for a single meeting.
Now consider extra costs, like catering for a lunch meeting, wages paid to the employees responsible for setting up and maintaining the conference room, and even the 15 minutes it takes to prepare for the meeting beforehand and the 15 minutes it takes to get back into regular work once it’s done.
Once everything is added up, that $350 per hour may be just the start of the money you’re wasting.
The Harm in Unproductive Meetings
Clearly, unproductive meetings harm your company right off the bat for the simple fact that they cost real money. Obviously any meeting at all is a disruption in the workday of those attending, so an unproductive meeting that fails to achieve the goals it’s supposed to is even worse — literal wasted time, and your company will suffer for it.
There are any number of reasons that a meeting might be unproductive. Regularly scheduled meetings are a top culprit, especially because attendees will be prone to inattention and multi-tasking once it’s become clear that the meeting is a waste of time. Additionally, it’s common to require attendance from employees who won’t be directly impacted by the topic under discussion, or any variation on the idea that a department must “be represented,” even when it’s employees are not germane to the meeting itself.
In general, most American workers spend around 40 percent of their week in meetings. For employees at lower levels of the organization, it may be closer to 30 percent, while those at the top of the organizational chart are likely to spend 50 percent or more of their time locked away in a conference room.
Clearly, that’s an awful lot of time to be spent on an unproductive activity, so how can you begin solving the situation?
Time to Evaluate
Your company’s digital calendars are probably overflowing with regularly scheduled meetings that are holding on to their time slots years after they’ve grown into uselessness. Accordingly, the first step to begin combating the meeting scourge is to review all meetings and ensure they’re actually providing tangible results.
Look at the tasks, projects and goals each meeting purports to address, and ask the hard question: Are these meetings adding value or providing any actual solutions? If the answer is no, it’s time to start emptying out those calendars.
Recommendations for Better Meetings
The best way to avoid unproductive meetings is to hold each one to a high standard. Before creating any meeting, ask yourself these five questions:
- What is the meeting’s objective?
- Which employees can provide insight into that objective or are necessary for meeting its goals?
- Who needs to talk, and for how long?
- What’s an acceptable length for the entire meeting?
- What action steps need to have occurred, or be ready to occur, once the meeting is concluded?
If any meeting contains aspects or participants that can’t conform to your answers for those five questions, it’s usually best to dis-invite the relevant participants or cancel the meeting altogether. At the end of the day, it simply doesn’t make sense to hold a meeting that is either not necessary or could otherwise be concluded in five minutes of emailing or phone conversation.