Photo of a woman at her laptop looking very stressed out

What’s stopping you from getting work done? If you said “too many meetings,” you’re not alone. We surveyed 5,000 knowledge workers across 4 continents, and they identified meetings as the #1 barrier to productivity, outranking lack of motivation, unclear goals, and uncertainty around who to collaborate with.

In other words, we now have data to back up what we already knew in our gut to be true: meetings are grossly overused.

They clutter our calendars, leaving only fragments of time here and there for deep, focused work. This is exacerbated when teams are spread across different time zones, yet continue defaulting to meetings.

And those marathon back-to-back days are taking a toll. 76% of respondents say they feel drained on days with lots of meetings, and over half work overtime a few days a week because meetings prevent them from completing their work during the day. Not only that, but meetings rarely accomplish their intended goal, according to respondents.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Our research identified three types of meetings you can cancel today and replace with asynchronous collaboration – i.e., teamwork that doesn’t happen in real time. With the tips below, we’ll help you end the meeting madness and regain control of your time.

Status updates

If there’s one meeting that could should be an email, it’s the status meeting. Typically, the meeting lead is the only person truly paying attention. Everyone else pretends to listen to the all updates that aren’t relevant to them while they do other work and wait for their turn to speak. What a waste.

Lessons learned: 1,000 days of distributed at Atlassian

Fortunately, the rise of digital project tracking and collaboration tools provides easy ways to update each other async. An informative comment on each task usually does the trick for brief updates. And if not, follow-up questions can also be asked and answered async right there in the tool. When there’s a more complex issue to sort out, we recommend taking a page from our own teams at Atlassian: create a shared document. (We use Confluence, but other documentation tools work well for this, too.) Lay out the problem, along with potential solutions, and ask others to drop in-line comments with their input.

For higher-level updates on the project as a whole, try jumping on the async video trend. Views on Loom’s platform were up 37% in 2023, with customers reporting 23% fewer meetings that year. Why? Video updates are the best of both worlds: easier to create than an email and faster to consume than a meeting, while also conveying human elements like tone of voice and facial expressions.

Group decisions

71% of respondents say setting up a meeting is the only way they can get their colleagues to make decisions as a group. Yet 24% also say meetings are not the most effective way to get this job done. Taken together, the data suggest that meetings may be regarded as a necessary evil or a method of last resort in the context of decision-making. But you can replace a series of meetings that fail to actually drive a decision with clear, structured documentation, and (maybe) one live discussion. As a bonus, writing it all down tends to sharpen your thinking on it.

The next time you need your team to make a decision, try doing it asynchronously first. Set up a page or shared document that provides background information on the question at hand, the options in front of you, and your recommendation. Share it with your team and set a deadline for voting on their preferred option.

Chances are, you’ll be able to reach a decision without a meeting. But let’s face it: sometimes further discussion is needed. In those cases, try facilitating a live page review meeting.

  1. Have everyone mute themselves or simply call for quiet during the first several minutes so people can review and comment on your page individually.
  2. As facilitator, take in comments as they’re made and flag a subset of them for live discussion.
  3. Once you’ve aligned on a decision, note it along with next steps and owners on your page.
  4. Share the page with relevant stakeholders for visibility.

Team building

A sense of community and belonging boosts engagement and, therefore, productivity. But in an increasingly distributed world, how do you go about building those bonds without even more meetings? Just do the work together.

44% of workers we surveyed say meetings are their go-to for driving team connection. Yet 55% say they feel lonely at work even on days they have a lot of meetings, demonstrating how misguided this approach is. When we asked workers what does make them feel more connected to their team, 38% pointed to celebrating a win, 45% said working through a challenging project together is good for bonding, and only 17% said meetings.

Once more for those in the back: people are roughly 3x more likely to feel connected through working on hard problems than by being in meetings together.

Maybe the work happens when you’re together in the same room, maybe it’s over video calls, or maybe it happens async. It’s about what you spend your time on, not the medium you use to connect.

The definitive guide to remote meetings that don’t suck

That’s not to say that getting together in person holds no value – quite the opposite. As part of our commitment to solving the challenges around distributed work, we ran internal experiments over the course of a year and found that just a few days of intentional togetherness – e.g., workshops, strategizing, having fun – builds bonds that last for months.

If you can’t cancel it, improve it

We’ll never get rid of meetings entirely. In truth, they can be very effective when used for the right purpose and run the right way. I’ll leave you with three tips:

  1. Set a clear goal. 62% of respondents say they show up at most meetings without even knowing what they’re trying to accomplish. Agendas are one way to share the goal, but lots of meetings don’t need this amount of structure. A simple sentence saying what you want to happen by the end of the meeting might do the trick.
  2. Challenge the 30-minute convention. That’s too long for a check-in and too short for deep, complex discussions. 80% of respondents think most of their meetings could be done in half the time. That won’t always prove true, but it’s amazing how much be accomplished in 15 minutes if the meeting is focused and facilitated well. Speaking of which…
  3. Become an ace facilitator. A top-reported frustration with meetings is that one or two people tend to dominate the conversation, making it hard to contribute ideas. A good facilitator can prevent or disrupt this – this free training course can help.

And those 5,000 knowledge workers we surveyed? You can find the complete results of our study here, along with even more ways to tame meeting overload. Here’s to the future of work: focused, fruitful, and free of useless meetings.

Meeting overload is real – here’s what to do about it