Meetings get a bad rap. However, their lousy reputations aren’t unwarranted since most people consider meetings a waste of time alongside stoking a lack of motivation and energy-sapping feelings. According to these sentiments, most meetings are terrible, and they’re getting more time-consuming and even less liked.
If you’re a blatant opponent of meetings, you are not alone. A study by Atlassian found U.S. businesses waste $37 billion in salary costs for unnecessary meetings, and the average person attends a whopping 62 meetings per month. Research by Otter.ai found 70% of employees experienced a 70% increase in meetings when remote work was introduced. Working from home is great, but the downside may be even more meetings. In addition, according to data from LiveCareer, 36% of workers spend 4 to 7 hours per week in meetings, 32% spent 7 to 10 hours per week in meetings, and 39% said their meetings were getting longer.
Hybrid meetings are also on the rise, and they create new challenges for effectiveness. According to a study from Prezi, a large number of people (47.3%) said their meetings are hybrid, with some people joining in person and some joining from a distance. This is followed closely by 45% who said their meetings are fully remote. And according to data from Grammarly, most workers spend 51% of their time working independently and 49% collaborating with others. Fully 59% are concerned about a declining effectiveness of communication in hybrid models, and 90% of knowledge workers said poor communication negatively impacts productivity, morale, and growth.
These statistics sound overwhelming because they point to a disconnect in effectiveness. People and business are struggling when it comes to using meetings for effective communication. In addition to the huge number of hours people spend in meetings, the experience is exacerbated by meetings’ ineffectiveness. According to Atlassian, 47% of people felt meetings were the number one time-waster, and 45% felt overworked because of the number of meetings they had to attend. People said half of the meetings they attended were unproductive.
So what is most frustrating about meetings? Plenty, but here are the top issues, according to LiveCareer’s data:
- 70% are frustrated when meetings begin late
- 69% are annoyed when the meeting lacks an agenda
- 66% are frustrated when there are too many unnecessary questions
- 65% are frustrated with discussions of things that aren’t relevant
- 66% are frustrated when meetings start too early in the day, and 63% when they start too late in the day
- 59% find meetings draining and demotivating, and 56% said they kill productivity
People also struggle with boredom in meetings, and the LiveCareer study found 91% of people daydreamed during meetings, and 39% slept during meetings. Prezi research found people were most likely to fall asleep when meetings were too long, too boring, lacked a group discussion or had a non-energetic speaker.
However, this isn’t to say people cannot help meetings improve. You can turn the tables and use meetings to your advantage in some surprising ways. Beyond the ordinary advice to have an agenda and invite the right people to a session, there are some great ways you can make meetings work for you and accelerate your skills and your career in the process. So what’s a better way to communicate and collaborate? And how do you turn bad meetings to your advantage? There are three ways to make meetings part of your success.
Build your focus
Focus is a big problem in meetings—justifiably because they’re so ineffective. The Atlassian research found 73% of people did other work in meetings and a study by Fuze found 92% of people actually multitask during meetings. LiveCareer found 9% of people start losing focus in less than 10 minutes into a meeting, while 43% said they lasted 20 to 30 minutes. Only 4% of people said they stayed focused for an hour or more.
So what are people doing when they’re not paying attention? Fuze found 69% check email, and LiveCareer found 39% of people read the news on the internet, 38% browse social media, 35% shop online, and 32% text their friends. It’s not surprising then, that three out of four of the Prezi study respondents said staying focused or engaged was the number one challenge to collaborating effectively on video meetings.
Being able to focus is fundamental to success. Distraction can get in the way of reaching your goals and being your best. And boring meetings are a great way to develop your ability to focus. Doing something difficult repeatedly over time builds your mental muscles. When you enhance your ability to focus in meetings, you’ll prepare yourself to focus at times when it matters most—like when you’re working on a tough project, interviewing for that next promotion, or solving a mission-critical problem.
So when you’re in meetings, train your brain. Put your phone out of sight and close other windows on your computer. Turn on your camera to increase your accountability to the group and the meeting. Think consciously about what the speaker is saying. Visualize the points they are making. Consider questions you can ask to keep you engaged, and take notes. All of these will help you focus and make you better in the meeting, but also in all kinds of tasks that require grit, determination, and focus.
Invest in your network
One of the factors that makes work rewarding is having great relationships with colleagues and leaders. And a strong network helps you grow your career. Relationship-building may be one of the few redeeming features of meetings. You can use it to your advantage in powerful ways.
The LiveCareer study found 71% of people believed meetings were great for networking and thought they were great opportunities to see and talk to people. In addition, 73% thought they helped establish strong relationships. Perhaps this is why 50% of people preferred in-person meetings.
Work can be one of the best places to make friends and form social bonds, so use meetings to your advantage. Focus on the people in the meeting and ask them questions so you can learn how they think and what’s important to them. Demonstrate empathy and give attention to colleagues when they’re sharing, presenting, or asking questions. These things may seem obvious, but when others are distracted or have their cameras off, being the person in the meeting who is engaged and listening can be a significant source of bonding and trust building.
People will remember how you made them feel and will appreciate being valued by your attention to them. This is good for the whole team, as social connections lead to fulfillment at work and can encourage personal growth.
Develop interesting knowledge
If there’s any good news about meetings—in addition to the opportunity to build relationships—it has to do with what gets done when meetings are effective. The LiveCareer data found 74% of people thought meetings contributed to better decisions, and 71% believed meetings helped develop effective solutions. In addition, 68% of people felt in-person meetings gave them better information than just interacting online.
And this is perhaps one of the best ways to optimize meetings for your own advantage. As the economy contracts and layoffs are occurring, managers will most highly value people who are smart, innovative, and who make great decisions—all things you can do well when you collaborate effectively with others in meetings.
In addition, with all the shifts in work and the economy, you’ll want to stay in the loop and potentially recession-proof yourself. Usually, the best information comes when you’re paying attention to the nuance that is shared in between key agenda items. In one meeting, you’ll pick up on a side conversation about a reorganization, or in another session you may hear about a department struggling to solve a customer issue. You can put these pieces together and take initiative to volunteer for your next role—and grow your career.
Tracy Brower is a sociologist focused on work-life happiness and fulfillment. She works at Steelcase and is the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work and Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work.