Why meeting overload happens, and what to do about it

Anne Helen Petersen brings some much-needed clarity to the meeting overload debate in The Root of Over-Meeting Culture. It’s worth reading this one in full because she takes her time to lay out the argument logically, but a few of things especially stood out to me.

When their team was fully in the office, managing probably felt straightforward. Most people managed by, well, looking and walking around. That was the heart of it. Now, figuring out what your team is doing, and how they feel about doing it, it’s a lot more work. So managers not only feel like they’re doing more work — and less productive themselves, as workers — but they also feel like they’re doing a worse job, and have less insight into what their reports are doing.

This is a good point that I don’t see talked about much. One of the reasons that RTO policies have become so prevalent is the lack of visibility that managers feel about the work their teams are doing. There are way better solutions to this problem than forcing a return to the office (regular async updates, clear priorities, etc.), but that seems to be the default approach to deal with what is essentially a communication problem, not a presence problem.

More talk about prioritization = more manager confidence (that their reports are doing the things that matter most) and more employee confidence (that they’re doing what they should be doing). It’s difficult to understate just how powerful this sort of clarity can be.

Related to the previous quote, +1 to this! No one on the team should be wondering if they’re working on the right things, and what they should be doing next. This is, in my opinion, the most important job of the 1:1 meeting, and why that meeting has to be (at least) weekly.

I have all the reservations about AI that other smart people do, but one of its real potentials is summarizing meetings in a way that makes people feel like they understood what happened and whether or not their input is needed after the fact without having to attend the actual meeting.

Another big +1 to this. Gong does this incredibly well by summarizing sales calls, pulling out action items, providing searchable transcripts and call insights, and more.

There are some pretty wild stats in the post about how meeting time has increased 252% since 2020. Some of that is necessary because of the shift to remote work, but not all of it. We somehow still view meetings as the default solution to figuring out what’s going on in an organization. I wrote Good / Bad Remote Worker before the pandemic, but I think this principle is more important than ever:

A good remote worker always thinks about collaboration through the lens of asynchronous communication. Remote work naturally creates great environments for deep, focused work, so it makes sense to optimize for asynchronous communication. This lets everyone get involved when it works best for them — and when they are ready to give something their full attention.

A bad remote worker tries to recreate an open office environment through too many meetings and other forms of synchronous communication. Meetings aren’t inherently bad. But unnecessary meetings and synchronous feedback sessions undermine one of the most significant benefits of remote work and should be used sparingly.