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You Might Reconsider That Team Meeting When You Find Out How Much it Really Costs

This CEO assessed the productivity and hourly wage costs of constant meetings, proposed something radical and the payoffs were remarkable.

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A few weeks ago, I got into an interesting discussion on LinkedIn about the value of meetings. The exchange started with this post, wherein I broke down the cost of a 90-minute meeting I'd just sat through. By prorating the salaries of everyone involved, I calculated that the hour and a half we spent cost our company $1,826. Then, I asked the person who ran it if he thought it was worth the money.

We didn't have that meeting again.

In the post's numerous comments, some people agreed with me and proposed things like including the cost of a meeting in each invite. Others mentioned how they'd made similar calculations while consulting, and quoted some astronomical annual costs for their companies. A notable comment cohort wasn't quite as big on my cost-counting idea, however, and pointed out that putting a dollar amount on everything we do was a "1950s way of thinking," and that you can't really put a price on collective intelligence. That's fair enough because meetings do offer a chance for some cooperative and hard-to-measure learning.

In any case, the conversation got me thinking about how productive I'd been before our constant-meetings era. Think back to high school, or even college, when you'd go to the library to research, read and maybe write a whole paper. With no distractions, you had heads-down time to accomplish. And when you biked away from the library, you felt stress-free knowing you'd actually completed a task.

Related: How to Collaborate Without Wasting Time

In the business world, often our most productive times are those that recreate that magic library experience — stretches when we're not constantly refreshing inboxes or going to meetings. Some people come in at 5 a.m. to get it, while others use the week between Christmas and the new year for that purpose (since most people have it off).

So, I wondered, "How do we make heads-down time an enduring part of our business?" To find out, we conducted an engagement survey of employees, and the majority of them expressed interest — wanted a chance to focus on their to-dos without the distractions of regular gatherings. So, we came up with the idea of a "Quiet Week," one with no meetings, no scheduled "all-hands," no one-on-ones and no "lunch and learns." It would be uninterrupted GSD ("get stuff done") time, with part of the managerial motivation the chance to determine how it affected productivity.

We had our first Quiet Week at the beginning of July. I found that, with about 13 weeks per quarter, we could take 12 of them to run the business as usual and reserve one for this new purpose.

Related: The Key to Having More Effective 1-on-1 Meetings With Your Employees

The comments we got afterward were stunning. Employees were thrilled to apply themselves in an environment notably absent of stress or FOMO — to get caught up on small-ticket items and/or clear out back-burner backlogs. One staff member said the week offered a chance to study for a web accessibility certification, another observed that a week uninterrupted by meetings engendered a constant flow state that made it easier to knock out long-standing and often more complicated projects.

In short, the response from the team was overwhelmingly positive and drove home the idea that taking such a break can truly drive productivity. We've now made Quiet Week a quarterly staple, giving the entire team time to catch up, plan the next quarter, take time off and just generally recharge and refocus.

If this seems applicable to your company, here are a few tips to fuel a good start:

  • Check your calendar: Look for a period when heads-down time makes sense (you obviously don't want to schedule it during the busiest time of the season). Weeks that start with a Monday holiday are generally good candidates.
  • Give the team advance notice: A heads-up two to three months in advance is ideal. That way, people know to finish any collaboration-heavy campaigns before Quiet Week starts, and delay any new projects until after.
  • A soft start (if needed): If you're not sure the business can run smoothly during a full Quiet Week, try a Quiet Day, or even a few hours. That way, employees can still get the benefit of some focus time, and you/managers can measure results incrementally.
  • Get feedback: Be proactive in soliciting thoughts and suggestions. If the responses turn out to be anything like ours, they will reflect real appreciation, a recognition of both less stress and more energy to move forward, during the week as well as afterwards.

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