Daily, as I speak with clients, the subject of meetings has become a theme. Wall-to-wall video meetings that begin early in the day and stretch to well past normal closing time have become increasingly common.

Many tell me that they have to do their “regular work” before and after each business day or on weekends. And their concept of “time management” has been terribly skewed by the demands of others to grab time on their schedules to ensure some level of continued coordination or collaboration.

Recent surveys indicate that the number of meetings in corporations has increased by double digits since the beginning of Covid. While the meetings might seem to be a bit shorter, there is a very real concern by many that a normal “flow” of work can no longer be accomplished effectively.

As I interact with clients, I see the strains they are experiencing as they try to use the creative side of their brains, while somehow trying to compensate for the loss of regular, tangential interactions with others that used to resolve issues in a moment in a pre-pandemic office environment.

It may well be that some managers who are well-developed in the concept of knowing almost everything about their businesses are compensating for the absence of that knowledge and inadvertently requiring more meetings to stay “in the know.” Others might have already been adept at micromanaging and are using technology to leverage that need. Either way, it is having profound consequences on the workforce. The statistics are staggering.

I spoke with a client the other day who talked about remote work, including its advantages and downsides:

“I definitely don’t miss the commute – spending more than an hour in the car every morning and every night was something I never looked forward to…”

And then the voice quietly trailed off, plaintively followed by, “But this, this stream of video calls and the inability to get any work done – I never dreamed of this form of punishment.”

Recent studies show that any time of distraction at work can cost us over 23 minutes of productive time. When we finish one meeting and then click into another, we might well experience a sort of negative multiplier effect of distractions – one video call ends and we spend half of the next one regathering our thoughts in order to concentrate on the new subject.

The meetings for many have become the job – not the job itself. It’s no wonder that we are experiencing an era of burnout and resignations.

There are a number of ways every leader can work to reduce this “noise” in our workplace, but I suspect that some sort of further organizational intervention may still be in order. It will take a unified approach at every level – especially among senior leaders. Here are some ideas that have emerged with my clients:

  1. Create “meeting free” mornings or afternoons. Try it out two or three days a week. And make sure each person on the team abides by the commitment. Everyone, including the boss, must do it, or no one will.
  2. Specify “calling hours” for each manager. An open video link invitation to everyone on the team for one hour a day, for instance, could allow “drop-ins” to enter a video meeting with that particular manager to check in on specific issues that might answer questions, and facilitate collaboration and coordination. Use the “chat” function to send the questions or concerns to the addressee.
  3. Try the phone! A quick call can resolve issues just as quickly as in the past.
  4. Keep a computer or written log of your questions or concerns and then save them to use on a regularly-planned meeting or “calling hours” to share them with the concerned parties.
  5. And most of all, realize that we do indeed have adults working with us. The technology-enabled office opens up possibilities for greater trust of those with whom you work. Let them do their jobs, make their mistakes and have their successes. Then celebrate with them later!

One thing I realized a long time ago is that I was not meant to serve a meeting schedule, but to serve those with whom I work. That is truer than ever in today’s technological world.