In a recent LinkedIn post, our team read about a senior manager at one of our local banks who was raving about being able to work from home and qualified the statement with, “Of course, I’ve been in back-to-back meetings since 8am.” Somehow, it seems like society has created the perception that meetings equal productivity, but most of the time, they don’t.

According to a quick Google search, many executives feel overwhelmed by meetings, and no wonder: On average, they spend nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. What’s more, the meetings are often poorly timed, badly run, or both.

Too many of these meetings waste budgets, destroy employee motivation and decimate morale. At best, one person benefits at the cost of the time and talents of everyone else involved. When meetings get out of hand, productivity slows, stops or moves in reverse.

So, should meetings matter less?

Luckily, in many new work environments where a significantly higher number of employees can now work from home, it’s an excellent opportunity to increase systemic change and reduce meetings.

Investing in collaboration software helps reduce the need for meetings that are purely set up for status updates. Status update meetings are often organised by project managers and consist of everyone getting together to report on their progress towards deadlines and goals.

Tech tools can eliminate the need for status update meetings by enabling all members of a team or project to communicate with each other in a shared discussion space.

Measuring the cost of meetings can be a serious eye-opener, and motivation to reduce them!  To do this, you can download the Harvard Business Review calculator, which lets you estimate meeting costs by plugging in the duration of the meeting, the number of attendees, and the annual salary of each person who attends.

Another way to reduce meetings is to set up a meeting-free day, where no one can schedule meetings. David Rubinger, a data scientist at Polar, found that while setting a meeting-free policy at Polar on Tuesdays and Thursdays reduced the number of meetings on those days by 55%, the number of meetings scheduled on other days of the week remained consistent. People weren’t rescheduling meetings for different days – they were cutting them out altogether.

When people see how much they can accomplish in a day without meetings, they’ll crave that productivity throughout the rest of the week. They’ll also be more inclined to set agendas and stick to them when they do have meetings because they will want to return to work sooner.

Sometimes, people get stuck in a cycle of meetings for the sake of meetings, and it takes someone bold to decline a meeting and break the cycle. When you stop attending certain meetings, other people will realise they can do the same. 

As offered by a Huffington Post article, a healthy way to decline meetings is to offer a reasonable explanation and an alternative solution. Explain the demands of your workload, and offer to remain available over IM during that time slot in case an issue comes up that needs your input. Everyone understands time constraints because we all have them, and offering to be available shows people that you’re happy to help if needed.

Being mindful of your time at work isn’t a selfish act. When it comes to unnecessary meetings, “selfishness” can lead to more productive working hours for everyone.