The demise of the one-hour meeting

Jun 28, 2022

Meetings can suck up a lot of valuable time and often we make them one-hour by default. But should we have less and start making them more concise and focused?  

In April this year, the work management platform Asana decided to conduct an internal experiment. Workers were asked to assess the value of the time they spent on meetings, and then to delete all recurring meetings with five or fewer participants. They sat with an empty calendar for 48 hours, before adding back in all the meetings they saw as valuable.

Employees changed them to shorter, unconventional lengths. Thirty minute meetings were cut to 15 minutes, and the cadence was made less frequent. The final part of the process was for them to calculate how much time they spent in meetings after the audit. On average, people saved 11 hours per month, which equates to 17 days over the course of a year, or three and a half weeks!

According to the survey of over 10,000 employees, 40 percent of workers are spending more time on video calls compared to last year, this is a given based on how the pandemic has shaped the way we work, and 52 percent are multitasking more during meetings. Almost half of the workforce in Britain and Australia, and over a third of Americans end their workday feeling mentally and physically exhausted.

Digital fatigue— the very real exhaustion that comes from too much screen usage—is rising. More than half (52 percent) of American workers were feeling burned out in 2021, with more than two-thirds (67 percent) feeling this has gotten worse for them over the duration of the pandemic. Those who work virtually are more likely to say burnout has worsened (38 percent).

The attempt to combat digital fatigue has made the move to slash meeting times to just 15 minutes very popular among managers. In 2021, Berlin-based B2B finance automation platform Monite introduced the 15-minute approach for management personnel, team syncs and problem-solving meetings. Each invite sets out the role of moderator or lead, which rotates regularly, as well as an agenda to mark out the flow of discussion.

It took most of the staff about four or five meetings in this style to get used to it, but they found that there’s no more tuning out during video calls, which was a very obvious problem in longer sessions. A one-hour meeting would run over to 80 minutes, and you could see that after 20 minutes, top-level people had already tuned out and moved on to other tasks.

British software development company Distributed went fully remote during the pandemic and implemented 15-minute meetings soon after. When you do the maths and realize that a one-hour meeting for eight people equals one full business day, along with serious costs associated with that for a business, these shorter, more focused meetings are a no brainer, especially in the context of hybrid and remote workforces.

The 15-minute meeting cannot single-handedly solve the problem of overscheduling. Governed by default one-hour meetings, and automated apps, employees stare down the barrel of a day, and often an entire week, that is jam-packed with meetings. Unless you are the person organizing the meetings in the first place, it is easy for calendars to become unwieldy.

Regardless of the profession, people need to have meaningful blocks of time to engage in deep work and properly engage with tasks. Engagements at regular intervals interrupt that flow and can have negative consequences for productivity and well-being. Research found that people with blocks of meetings, and blocks of white-space time, would end the day with a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction. The ideal cadence is back-to-back meetings with five- to 10-minute breaks in between, and at least two to three consecutive hours free.

As some businesses take steps toward better meeting cultures, others have gone a step further, and do none at all. The Soul Publishing hasn’t had an internal meeting or sent an email for over three years. The digital media company has over 2,500 remote workers across 70 countries, and in 2019, it chose to use only project management tools, digital publishing, instant messaging, and video to communicate asynchronously. People found it liberating that they could focus on what they’re good at.

Rob Green

Rob originates from SA and delivers a great double-billing in Technical Presales and Technical Delivery.