Working Overtime to Get the Real Work Done: Why 80% Crave Fewer Meetings (New Atlassian Research)

New Atlassian research shows that 80% of people agree they would be more productive if they spent less time in meetings.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
March 21, 2024
min read

While meetings are meant to facilitate collaboration and drive outcomes, they often waste time and leave participants feeling drained.

According to a recent Atlassian study, 80% of people agree they would be more productive if they spent less time in meetings

Additionally, 78% of people find it challenging to finish their work despite attending all their meetings. 

FlexOS Future Work Newsletter Meeting Overtime

In short, we need to make meetings more effective and efficient.

The Overuse of Meetings

One of the main issues with meetings is their overuse. 

Teams often default to meetings as the primary means of collaboration. But that doesn’t make much sense.

As, Molly Sands, a PhD who heads up Atlassian’s Team Anywhere Lab, told me for an upcoming Future Work podcast episode, this means the meetings often miss their purpose:

“Across the board, people say that they're using meetings for many things. It tends to be a go-to, making it a heavily overused tool. As a result, these gatherings are not meeting their original goals.” – Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian
 Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian
Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian

As a result of this meeting overload, we don’t have time to do our actual work:

51% of employees work overtime at least a few days a week due to the meetings they have during the day. 

This number rises to 67% for directors and above

It's no wonder that 76% of people feel drained on days when they have a lot of meetings.

We must explore alternative collaboration methods tailored to each task's goals. 

By diversifying collaboration practices, your teams can reduce the reliance on meetings and create a more balanced and productive work environment.

As always, this new meeting approach has to start with you – so do everyone a favor and rethink your meetings.

The Ineffectiveness of Meetings

Ever hosted or attended a meeting that started with a “So……..”, followed by a brief pause during which people tried to remember why they were there again? 

Yes, as the Atlassian data shows, one of the most significant problems with meetings is their inability to drive desired outcomes. 

Despite being the go-to method for group collaboration, meetings often fail to deliver on their intended purpose. 

According to the study, meetings are ineffective for accomplishing goals 72% of the time

That makes sense, as Jakob Knutzen, CEO of Butter, told me for this newsletter:

“Meetings are ineffective because they are not set up in a thoughtful manner, aren't facilitated effectively, and take-aways aren't noted down.” – Jakob Knutzen, CEO, Butter

This means that, more often than not, attendees leave meetings without a clear idea of the next steps or who is responsible for each task. A waste indeed.

Additionally, 77% of people find themselves in meetings that result in the decision to schedule a follow-up meeting, further worsening the time suck meetings already are.

F.A.I.R. Meetings are Better Meetings

While meetings have their shortcomings, they are not inherently evil. 

When used appropriately, they serve as valuable tools for collaboration and connection. 

The key is to balance synchronous and asynchronous work practices and ensure we spend our time together well.

As I wrote in my article on effective team meetings, that starts by ensuring meetings are F.A.I.R.:

  • The right Format (do they need to be a meeting at all?)
  • A clear and goal-oriented Agenda. (what are our goals, how do we achieve them?)
  • The right Invitees (who really needs to be here?)
  • A clear Report to conclude (what are the next steps, how do we ensure they happen?)
FlexOS Future Work Newsletter Meeting Overtime  FAIR

These F.A.I.R. principles are among the biggest unlocks in employee productivity, especially if you manage remote teams

In a study by Benjamin Laker, reported by Harvard Business Review, employee productivity was 71% higher when meetings were reduced by 40%.

FlexOS Future Work Newsletter Meeting Overtime Impact

So, let’s look at how we can put the F.A.I.R. framework into place.

Have a good Format

Most meetings don’t have to be a meeting.

Still, we often create meetings to be visible, appear productive, or ‘be a good soldier.’

This is especially true for new managers, who, according to research from Associate Professor Lebene Soga, hold almost a third (29%) more meetings than their seasoned counterparts to make a good impression and look busy.

Let’s reconsider. 

Consider an async alternative if your goal isn’t live collaboration or discussion amongst all invitees.

Asynchronous meetings and activities, such as email communication and project management tools, are often more effective for most tasks, allowing individuals to work at their own pace and schedule. 

FlexOS Future Work Newsletter Meeting Overtime Loom

Atlassian’s Loom (one of our favorite remote communication tools) lets you record and share updates via video. 

It allows “teammates get up to date at their convenience, with the option to watch at up to 2x speed or just read an AI-generated transcript.”

And that’s working, shared Molly:

“We just did an experiment at Atlassian where managers shared updates with their team twice a week via Loom. We found that the teams felt more connected to the manager, more recognized for their work, and clearer on the week's top priorities. Just from these very short three-to-five-minute asynchronous updates. It’s a really powerful thing you can do as a manager.” – Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian

I also loved Slack VP Brian Elliott’s idea about Brainwriting​

Instead of wasting most people’s precious time in a meeting, create a document in which everyone contributes before a certain deadline. This can be combined with a live discussion on implementing ideas or voting on them.

Molly does this for her team meetings, even inviting people to update each other beyond work:

“We have a section in our meeting document for personal updates. People put photos of what they did over the weekend, good food they ate, and cute stuff their kids or their pets are doing. Sometimes they share really meaningful stories about things going on with their family. I learn something new every time.” – Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian

Need a meeting? Consider the time.

If it needs to be a live meeting, ensure you use your time well. 

Just because the calendar default is 30 or 60 minutes doesn’t mean you must take up all that time.

Consider changing the meeting length if you often have unproductive time (hint: you or others end up talking in circles.) 

Most meetings should be possible within 20 or 50 minutes. 

Facilitate Actively

No matter the purpose of your meeting, it's crucial to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their time. 

During the meeting, actively facilitate the conversation to remain focused and productive. 

Meeting facilitation is both an art and a science, but it can be learned. 

Encourage participation from all attendees and create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. 

Use whiteboarding platforms or polling tools to engage participants and enhance collaboration. Most virtual meeting platforms have many of these tools included.

And, as Butter CEO and master facilitator Jakob Knutzen reminded us, flexibility is key, so be prepared to adjust the agenda based on the flow of the conversation.

Have a clear Agenda

Before the meeting, establish a concise agenda with a clear meeting purpose and desired outcomes.

As Jakob told me last week in our interview, establishing clear goals and objectives before the meeting starts is crucial to making it more effective:

“It is not just the meeting itself, there's a before, during, and after. Before the session, ensure a clear agenda, even a lightweight one, including clear goals and takeaways that you want from the session. Also, set clear roles and responsibilities for people and ensure you've distributed all the pre-reads and that people have read them if they're relevant.” – Jakob Knutzen, CEO, Butter

By setting clear expectations from the beginning, meetings can be more focused and productive, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

But, as Molly told me in our interview, the problem is that because we’re in so many meetings, we don’t have the time to prepare them well – it’s a vicious cycle.

“What we're seeing in this data is that people have so many meetings that they don't have enough time to really prepare for them in a way that's valuable to them and the attendees. As a result, these gatherings are not meeting their intended outcomes.” – Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian

Have the right Invitees

According to Atlassian’s research, 62% of people attend meetings without knowing clearly why.

This is an issue, because the bigger the meeting, the more time you’re collectively wasting. (Shopify’s meeting cost calculator made this painfully clear.)

Meetings with big groups also take longer, as the more people you add to them, the more everyone wants a say (not in the last place for a bit of performance theater.) 

Unfortunately, according to Atlassian, the same handful of voices often dominate meetings, “leaving most attendees struggling to contribute their thoughts”— another incentive to “brainwrite” instead. 

Keep the groups as small as possible. If someone doesn't actively participate, they shouldn't join.

Not joining meetings has become a real, viable option.

That’s because AI meeting bots like Fireflies and Read.AI as well as Zoom and Microsoft’s embedded features, can replay and read key highlights after the meeting.

While currently subject to some social stigma outside of Silicon Valley, I expect that sending a meeting AI will be as commonplace as sending someone a Calendly link instead of emailing back and forth to secure a date. 

Case in point? Jared Spatero, Microsoft's VP of AI at Work (yup, that's a title), ​shared at a recent conference​ that, thanks to Copilot, he 'rarely reads emails or attends meetings anymore.'

Result in a Report that helps everyone

At the end of the meeting, summarize the key points and decisions made throughout the discussion. 

This real-time recap ensures that everyone is aligned and aware of the outcomes. 

Document the meeting's outcomes, including actionable tasks, and distribute them to all participants to promote accountability and progress. 

Establish a follow-up process to monitor the implementation of decisions and track progress on action items.

The Bottom Line: Changing the Status Quo of Meetings

Meetings are necessary but must be more effective, efficient, and enjoyable

By addressing the overuse of meetings, setting clear goals and objectives, actively facilitating discussions, and leveraging AI technology, teams can transform meetings into productive and engaging collaboration sessions. 

Remember, meetings are just one tool in the collaboration toolbox. 

By diversifying practices and utilizing the right tools for each task, teams can create a more balanced and productive work environment. 

So, look at your calendar and consider whether your schedule aligns with your goals. If not, it may be time to remove a meeting or two.

Until next week,


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.