Pointless meetings across the world will cost companies $541bn in 2019

Employment & Skills | Reports

Online scheduling platform Doodle today announces the launch of its comprehensive The Doodle State of Meetings Report 2019, a brand new in-depth look at the current state of meetings in the workplace, incorporating proprietary data and new research conducted with 6,528 professionals in the UK, Germany and the USA.

With over 30 million people using the Doodle platform every month, the company has an unparalleled understanding of the challenges and solutions that commonly occur in scheduling meetings. The report is a comprehensive look at the time taken up by cancelled or unnecessary meetings, inefficient ways of working and preferred methods of meeting and features expert comment from organisational academics and psychologists.

Poorly Organised meetings seriously affect the bottom line

Poorly organised meetings cost companies a huge amount in time and money every year. Professionals in the UK, Germany and USA spend two hours every week in pointless meetings, adding up to 13 days over the course of a year. The average professional has three meetings each week, with an average duration of one hour per meeting. Proportionally – professionals feel that two thirds of the meetings they attend are unnecessary.

The cost of poorly organised meetings is most keenly felt in Switzerland, where 46% of professionals see this as the biggest cost to their organisation, compared to 40% in the UK, 38% in Germany and 34% in the USA. Doodle also calculated the cumulative yearly cost, in time and hours, to companies in the countries surveyed:

Country Financial Cost ($) Hours Lost Days Lost Years Lost
UK (£) 45,494,580,370 3,369,600,000 140,400,000 384,657
USA ($) 399,011,952,191 16,640,000,000 693,333,333 1,899,543
Germany (€) 64,718,268,518 4,690,400,000 195,433,333 535,433
Switzerland (CHF) 32,725,000,000 58,500,000 7,312,500 29,018
Total ($) 541,949,801,079 24,758,500,000 1,036,479,166 2,848,651

Delving deeper into the specific personal impact, over a quarter (26%) stated that poorly organised meetings impacted their client relationships, while others feel they create confusion in the workplace (43%), and impact their ability to actually do their work (44%).

Supporting this is the finding that a third (33%) of professionals find themselves unable to contribute to most of the meetings they attend – suggesting over-invitation is a major waste of time at work.

Doodle analysed over 19 million meeting requests and responses to determine the average length of time it takes someone to respond to a meeting invite, identifying the most and least efficient countries at scheduling meetings:

  • Most efficient:
    • Italy – 5 hours 24 minutes
    • Poland – 5 hours 30 minutes
    • Israel – 5 hours 48 minutes
  • Least efficient:
    • Sweden – 10 hours 18 minutes
    • Switzerland – 10 hours 30 minutes
    • France – 10 hours 45 minutes

Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter comments on the implications of poorly organised meetings: “The impacts of poor meetings also affect people’s own behaviour. When they feel a meeting isn’t working for them, they end up bringing other work and multi-tasking rather than owning the conversation.

“Employees are also the ones who pay the less-obvious costs associated with poor meetings by not being fully-up-to speed and organised, which can see them take work home, therefore not relaxing and regenerating. In the short term, individuals can push through these issues – but long term they pay a high price through the additional stress.”

Face to Face is best

Despite technology giving us the ability to join meetings anywhere in the world, face to face meetings are still clearly our preferred meeting method.

76% of professionals surveyed named this as their favoured format, with other methods scoring low:

  • Conference calls – 7%
  • Video calls – 5%
  • Instant-messaging – 4%

When asked about the benefits of face to face meetings, respondents were clear about definite benefits of meeting in person:

  • 95% of professionals also feel that meeting in person was an effective way of building relationships at work
  • less than half (47%) said the same about instant messaging

Steven Rogelberg, Chancellor’s Professor and Professor of Management at the University of North Carolina and author of ‘The Surprising Science of Meetings’ comments on this finding: “Research on meetings is just so critical.  There is perhaps no other work activity that is just so common, and yet so complained about.

“Although technology has made it easier and easier to meet remotely, and that is a good thing, there is something particularly powerful associated with individuals coming together to meet face to face.  Communication tends to be more rich and nuanced given that verbal and non-verbal cues readily abound. These additional layers not only can promote deeper understandings, but can help actually foster relationships as communication intent is easier to see and empathize with, and misunderstandings are a bit easier to avoid. Unlike a virtual meeting where it is easier to hide in the background and multi-task, face to face meetings tend to have more accountability and engagement.”

What makes a good, or bad meeting?

Respondents were also quizzed about what makes a good, or bad meeting, with the results showing that clear organisation is essential for a good meeting, while distracting or inefficient behaviour derails meetings:

What makes for a good meeting?

  • Setting clear objectives – 72%
  • Setting a clear agenda – 67%
  • Not having too many people in the room – 35%

What makes a bad meeting?

  • People taking phone calls or texting during meetings – 55%
  • Participants interrupting each other – 50%
  • People not listening to the contributions of others – 49%
  • People arriving late or leaving early – 49%
  • People talking about nothing for long periods of time – 46%

Dr. Sankalp Chaturvedi, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Imperial College London comments on  what makes a good meeting: “The secret of a successful and time-efficient meeting is preparation. The agenda mustn’t be too long. Otherwise there’s a risk of spending too much time on the first items and later items are rushed. The agenda should be circulated well in advance, including the goals of what is expected from the meeting, and specific detail on the subjects and time allocation.”

Gabriele Ottino, CEO of Doodle, commented: “Everyone knows the pains of boring, pointless meetings. They happen every day, but the cumulative effect is frankly shocking! If you aren’t looking to improve the efficiency of meetings at your organisation, you’re wasting an enormous amount of money and time. Many organisations will suffer due to a casual approach to scheduling and running meetings, and in particular the 25% of professionals who have an average of five or more meetings per week.

“We commissioned this report because we wanted to have a better understanding of what makes a bad meeting, and how it affects people on a daily basis. What’s positive is that within the huge financial implications lie simple issues that can easily be fixed. Things like setting a clear agenda, only inviting relevant people and proper planning can be easily implemented, and if we stick to these principals there’s a clear opportunity to make a huge savings, cut wasted time and reduce irritation to employees – benefiting everyone.”

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