Young man distracted while on video call from his home
The Work-Life Issue

Could This Meeting Have Been an Email?

With the rise of remote work and the convenience of video conferencing, meetings have become more plentiful, less efficient, and at times, exhausting. As a result, many workers are overbooked, overwhelmed, and underproductive. 

Since the pandemic, meetings have increased and so has the average number of attendees per meeting.  More meetings mean less time for actual work, which puts workers in the uncomfortable position of extending their work hours to be productive or sacrificing productivity to focus on personal priorities, such as caregiving, exercising, or connecting with loved ones. 

Meetings can provide tremendous value and they should be used to track goals, negotiate deals, present projects, connect with colleagues or clients, give or receive feedback, strategize ideas, and collaborate on tasks. Unfortunately, many meetings are inefficient and unnecessary and could be replaced with an email, phone call, or Slack or Teams conversation. Others should simply be canceled and never rescheduled. 

Make Meetings More Meaningful or Cancel Them

If you’re not already asking, “Is this meeting really necessary?” it’s time to start. Before hitting “start video,” you and every other attendee should know the purpose of the meeting. Otherwise, what is the point of it?

You should know in advance why a meeting is happening, what the intended objectives are, what outcomes are hoped for, and what reasonable amount of time is needed to achieve these tasks, says Anna Gibson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and the Organizational Well-Being and Consultation Lead at Modern Health. If the project is urgent, maybe you need a quick phone call instead of a meeting. “If a live conversation isn’t needed, cancel.”

The most successful meetings have a clearly-defined purpose and an agenda. The agenda doesn’t have to be lengthy or detailed, but it should guide the conversation and keep everyone focused on the task at hand. This often falls to the duties of the person facilitating, who may or may not have the skills needed to run an effective meeting, which adds another layer of complication.

“Having a skilled facilitator is really underestimated,” says Dr. Gibson. Facilitating is a specific set of skills that is used to help guide a group through a conversation, which is why she believes every meeting requires a clear leader.

If you’re tasked with the responsibility of running a meeting, then you need to show up fully prepared. This may be time-consuming, as it requires you to make advanced decisions, such as writing out the agenda topics and sending out the attendee list, but will enable a better outcome. Do your best to send your agenda in advance of the meeting and consider resending a few hours before the meeting time to remind people to show up ready to contribute. 

Establishing rules around meetings can help organize and run them more smoothly, especially if these align with company objectives or recommendations. Examples include ending a meeting five minutes early to give people breaks or canceling a meeting if a key contributor is seven minutes late. As the facilitator, you need to make sure the meeting, if deemed necessary, is run as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Resist the Pressure to Just “Show Up”

Workers often get pressured into attending meetings, especially when managers or high-level executives send them personal invites. You may be accepting without thinking or have reservations about declining because you're worried someone will question your productivity or work ethic. Combatting the pressure to say "yes" to every invite is incredibly difficult but necessary and could improve your mental health and productivity, which in turn, benefits your employer.

"When you attend a meeting, be fully present or don't be there," advises Catherine Hambley, PhD, a psychologist and the CEO and founder of Brain-Based Strategies Consulting

It's easy to show up to a meeting and spend the whole time on mute, multi-tasking, but this isn't a valuable way to spend your or anyone else's time. If your mind is consistently wandering or getting bogged down by Slack messages, emails, or side projects, reconsider why you're there.

Is the information relevant to you? Are you expected to contribute? If yes, then you should close out your tabs and eliminate distractions. If not, then maybe you shouldn't be on the call. Showing up simply because you were invited or feel the pressure to be there is not a good enough reason to attend. 

Catherine Hambley, PhD, psychologist

When you attend a meeting, be fully present or don't be there.

— Catherine Hambley, PhD, psychologist

"We're social creatures, and we respond to cultural pressures and cultural norms," says Dr. Gibson, but every employee should think about their work/life balance and what they need to be their best self at work and in all areas of life. If the meeting culture isn't serving your needs as an individual, then Dr. Gibson suggests thinking about small things you can change in your daily schedule to give you a sense of autonomy in your work or reassessing if this is the right culture for you to exist in.

You may feel uncomfortable declining an invitation, even if you know you don't need to be there. You can address your reservations with your manager or ask if your presence is really needed. You can also let the facilitator know that you'll have to miss the meeting to address other pressing tasks but would like to have a recording or summary of what is discussed. 

If you're unprepared for a meeting that you're expected to contribute to, ask the facilitator to postpone or reschedule. This gives you and everyone else more time back but also ensures that the meeting—when it does occur—is more focused and deliberate.

Take Deliberate Breaks to Recalibrate

While video conferencing has proven benefits, such as the increased impact of discussions, expedited decision-making, and improved connection between colleagues, it can also disrupt workflow, prevent workers from achieving simple tasks, and cause fatigue.

One of the best ways to combat this is to reduce the number of video calls you’re on and incorporate mental health breaks into your day. Breaks from tasks can not only dramatically improve your ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods but can also enhance well-being at work.

Right now, people are spending long hours at their desks, staring at screens, and attending meeting after meeting without designated mental health breaks. It’s not enough to get up and grab water or eat lunch. To make the most of breaks, workers need to actually leave their desks, as they would in a traditional office, and take a few minutes to disconnect.

Studies have found that rest breaks improve overall performance and restore attention, with longer breaks or frequent short breaks aiding in the recovery of emotional exhaustion and improving job satisfaction.

“It’s often in those moments between meetings where there's an opportunity to build in a rest and relaxation process,” Dr. Gibson says. When we implement these, we can return to work and have more of our intentional facilities available to us to devote to our work.

Reimagine Meeting Culture in a Remote-First World

There’s no question that the remote workplace is here to stay, even as hybrid models erupt around the world, but meeting culture needs to be reimagined and redesigned to support productivity, satisfaction, and healthy work/life balance. 

“Our brains haven’t been designed to thrive in this environment,” says Dr. Gibson. “There are some video chat best practices that can help, but it may serve us to find other ways of communicating beyond video chatting. At what point does it start to become a hindrance to our work?”

“People have social needs that affect their ability to function cognitively,” says Dr. Hambley, who believes that people are not only going to suffer in the remote world, but innovation is going to get impacted.

Ariel Keys, CEO and founder of Parachute Home, understands these challenges firsthand.

“Maintaining the essence of team culture and the incredible energy that was so tangible at the office in a remote work environment is challenging,” she says, but she and her executive team have worked hard to support their employees’ mental health needs.

Anna Gibson, PsyD, clinical psychologist

There are some video chat best practices that can help, but it may serve us to find other ways of communicating beyond video chatting. At what point does it start to become a hindrance to our work?

— Anna Gibson, PsyD, clinical psychologist

In addition to establishing "No Distractions Tuesdays" during the pandemic, in which calendars are blocked between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to focus solely on work tasks, they encourage walking meetings so employees can leave their desks and get outside. 

Modern Health has also taken a proactive approach to combat meeting fatigue. They’ve conducted personality assessments to determine how individual teammates prefer to work and they are currently working on a resource that outlines best practices and offers recommendations for scheduling and conducting meetings in the most beneficial way.

“Aligning people around one particular way of working is not possible,” says Dr. Gibson, which is why we need to rethink the way we work—and reevaluate company norms. 

The pandemic has changed the way we live, work, and engage, so it has naturally changed the way we communicate, produce, and thrive. Meetings are still valuable, but they aren’t the same as they once were. To keep the energy of the meeting alive, we must remember the purpose of the meeting —and not abuse it. 

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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