Very few things have flourished during Covid. Meetings are the exception. Both personal experience and various surveys show that time spent in meetings has skyrocketed since knowledge workers left offices en masse two years ago.
While dueling experts have debated if the shift to working from home has been a net gain or loss for productivity overall, one thing is clear: All those meetings are exhausting. Nobody (OK, almost nobody) likes staring at themselves in a small box for hours on end, while the constant interruption of normal working hours can drive employees to work late or early to find some peace, courting burnout.
One obvious solution, increasingly popular with big companies like Meta (formerly known as Facebook), is simply banning meetings one or more days a week. It’s a common sense intervention productivity experts have pushed since well before the pandemic, but how much of an impact can it really have on employees’ output and well being?
The short answer, according to a new study highlighted in the MIT Sloan Management Review, is a huge impact. Enough that, if you haven’t already implemented a no-meeting day (or two or three) a week, you should seriously consider giving the policy a try.
How to be 73 percent more productive at work
To conduct the study, a team of four business school professors surveyed 76 companies with some sort of no-meeting policy, which ranged from setting aside one meeting-free day a week to a small number of companies with complete meeting bans. The researchers interviewed managers and executives and looked at data on productivity, engagement, and collaboration from both before and after the relevant policies went into effect.
It seems pretty obvious that an office-wide no-meeting day would boost productivity, but I was still surprised by how big an impact this simple change had. When companies banned meetings one day a week, productivity rose 35 percent. When they banned meetings two days a week it shot up an impressive 71 percent. Three meeting free days nudged the figure up to 73 percent. Autonomy, communication, engagement, and satisfaction all increased markedly as well. Micromanaging and stress decreased.
Which isn’t to say that meeting bans of all kinds are always good in every way. “The advantages of no-meeting periods begin to plateau after meetings are reduced by 60 percent and actually wane beyond that. For example, satisfaction, productivity, engagement, and cooperation all decline when meetings are eliminated entirely,” the researchers sum up in the MIT article.
There does seem to be such a thing as too few meetings, but you can probably cut a whole lot of get-togethers before you reach that point. “The optimum number of meeting-free days is three, leaving two days per week available for meetings, for two reasons: maintaining social connections and managing weekly schedules,” the authors conclude.
So there you have it, some of the most straightforward and actionable leadership advice I’ve come across in awhile. If you want to boost your team’s productivity by 73 percent and become very popular with Zoom-addled employees, ban meetings three days a week.