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COVID-19
5 min read

The Ideal Meeting Length is Shorter Than You Think

Jane Young, Posted January 7, 2021

Do you spend a large chunk of your day in meetings? If so, you’re certainly not alone. In the U.S. some 11 million meetings are held every day according to Attentiv, “a business communication and decision-making platform.” Yet, with all that time behind closed doors, Attentiv also reports that meeting participants find roughly one-third of their time spent in these meetings are unproductive.

So, the next question becomes, how do you make meetings more productive? One critical area to look at is the length of meetings. Attentiv says the average meeting time is between 31 and 60 minutes. Is that the right amount of time? A lot of the research says NO.

Read on as we break down the facts regarding optimal meeting times and effectiveness.

Meeting Length Vs. Effectiveness

Did you know that 30% of meeting room space typically goes to waste, due to people booking conference rooms then failing to show up? Find out how to eliminate this issue once and for all.

Research shows that people have short attention spans. Take the following chart from Meetingking.com, which shows that for the first 15 minutes of a meeting some 91% of people are paying attention. Once people hit the next 15 minutes heading into the half hour mark, the number of people paying attention drops off to 84%. And, from there, the numbers drastically diminish as meetings go beyond 30 minutes.

The length of a meeting can have a big impact on how much people pay attention and how productive the time spent really is. An article from the Harvard Business Review shared the following research findings, “We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”

Software company Atlassian also has done research supporting the same theory. According to Atlassian’s infographic, roughly 60% of work time is actually spent productively. When it comes to meetings, Atlassian found that 91% of people daydream during meetings, 39% of people sleep during meetings and 73% of people do other work in meetings.

The Huge Cost of Unproductive Meetings

Unproductive meetings come with an expensive price-tag. A recent blog post on Smartway2’s sites breaks down the numbers, “According to Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report, the cost of badly organized meetings is more like $399 billion in the US and $58 billion in the UK, totaling almost half a trillion dollars from just two countries. It’s safe to say that there is no such thing as a free meeting. In fact, unproductive meetings are costing the global economy gazillions of dollars per annum.”

15-Minute Meetings

Could 15 minutes be the answer? Some experts say YES.

Organizational Psychologist Steven Rogelberg says, “regular super-short meetings can yield major results — they serve to bond teams, keep projects on track, avert misunderstandings and more.”

During a TED talk, Rogelberg said a 10-to-15-minute meeting is a “great tool that everyone should consider.” He cited industry leaders who already embrace this trend: “Global tech firm Percolate has set their default length for meetings at 15 minutes. Marissa Mayer, the former president/CEO of Yahoo, would create large time blocks filled with 10-minute meeting windows. While this would often result in 70 meetings per week, it allowed her to be highly responsive to employee needs, it made getting a meeting on her calendar much easier, and it helped projects and initiatives keep moving forward without delays. She also claimed that the meeting length led to employees coming in with tight agendas that led to success.”

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education broke down Rogelberg’s talk. They put together the following list of 10 reasons why you should consider a 15-minute meeting.

  1. Leaders can be highly responsive – rather than settling into a long day of meetings, leaders can meet with colleagues for 10 to 15 minutes to solve one problem.
  2. Teams can keep momentum – a quick morning update on progress can be more useful than a weekly check-in where details may get lost as the week goes on.
  3. Celebrate key wins – everyone loves instant gratification, and a quick celebratory update can be rewarding for the team.
  4. Key metric tracking – hold a check-in on your school or institution’s goals and how you are performing against them each week.
  5. Problem-solving session – identify any obstacles that are impeding progress or roadblocks that the team could help get around.
  6. Reinforcing current initiatives – if your school or institution is focused on collaboration for example, hold quick discussions to collaborate or discuss ways to add collaboration into workflows.
  7. Time to connect – rather than reporting to a leader, use the time for the team to communicate with each other and talk about how to support one another.
  8. Coordinate with other team members – rather than hold less frequent, but longer meetings, smaller meetings could save time on larger projects to set expectations and shorter deliverable dates.
  9. Create “magic time” – hold 15 minutes each week to discuss any critical issues that may arise so you can be responsive if discussion is needed.
  10. Progress against goals – for individual employees, a leader can also use this approach to check-in on key priorities, rather than running through a list of performance measures all at once.

Optimal Meeting Size

Now that we’ve covered the details about the time required for an effective meeting, let’s take a look at how many people should be attending.

The Harvard Business Review put together a great article on the subject titled: How to Know If There Are Too Many People in Your Meeting. That article says, “…for a meeting to be useful, you have to have the right people — and only the right people — in the room. With too many attendees, you may have trouble focusing everyone’s time and attention and accomplishing anything; with too few, you might not have the right decision makers or information providers in the room.” The piece continues on to say, “There are no hard and fast rules, but in principle, a small meeting is best to actually decide or accomplish something; a medium-sized meeting is ideal for brainstorming; and for communicating and rallying, you can go large.”

Smartway2 helps organizations boost collaboration by making it easy for people to find and book conference rooms, desks and anything else they need to be productive at work. Our platform includes a toolset for automating a COVID-safe return to work. To see for yourself book a demo now

Jane Young
Author

Jane Young