A proliferation of well-intended, remote “check-in meetings” during the pandemic has only made work more difficult. According to surveys, most workers say they want fewer meetings, and that those meetings are making them less productive, but there are ways to rein in all the “touchpoints” gumming up your calendar. Here’s how you can reclaim your schedule without alienating your coworkers.
A casual “check-in meeting” is actually just another formal meeting
Collaboration and socializing is much more difficult with remote work compared to working together in an office. To compensate, many workers have added more “check-in” meetings to their schedule—too many, it turns out, as a recent survey of remote employees reveals that 70% of respondents hope to have fewer meetings once they head back to the office. And since a remote employee is literally less visible, supervisors are more likely to lean on “check ins” to make sure the employee is doing well.
The problem is that many of these meetings are simply less effective than the spontaneous across-the-aisle huddles that once defined office work. For all the perks of working remotely, even coordinating a “quick call” requires a text chat, invitations to be sent, and a piece of your calendar to be claimed. Before, when a colleague was swamped in the office, you were more likely to see it and loop back later, unless it was urgent.
And these extra virtual meetings aren’t always effective, either, especially for team calls. There are no side conversations, fewer clarifying interjections, and with video meetings, there’s a panopticon effect of always being “on,” which leads to Zoom fatigue (compare a virtual “happy hour” with an actual office party). While a study found that the average length of meetings dropped 20% during the pandemic, it’s not clear that they’re any more effective.
How to avoid too many check-in meetings
- Block off time in your schedule for actual work. According to The Muse, a middle manager usually spends 35% of their work day in meetings. While that might not be completely avoidable, you should set aside large two- to three-hour chunks of time for work that requires sustained concentration. Likewise, you should set aside time in which you are available for meetings, too, as you want to be flexible for the team as needs arise.
- Insist on an agenda. If meetings are dragging on without much purpose or from too much small talk, ask for an agenda—even if it’s something informal, like a handful of bullet-point items sent over Slack. It’s reasonable to ask for an agenda so that you can be prepared for the meeting. Plus, agendas have the added benefit of giving your meeting structure, as you can always bring a digressive conversation back to the stated goals of the meeting.
- Learn to decline meetings politely. As long as you can point to an hour-by-hour account of your work, and explain your priorities, it’s possible to decline a meeting because you’re too busy. This is where a blocked-off calendar can come in handy, as the problem then becomes a “scheduling conflict.”
- Make sure your supervisor knows your communication style. Supervisors aren’t mind readers, and some of their direct reports will require more attention than others, but that doesn’t mean that you need a one-on-one check-in call every week just because someone else does, either. For example, there’s nothing wrong with gently suggesting biweekly meetings instead of weekly, or a phone call instead of a video chat, for example.