Bosses: Enough with making workers commute for excessive meetings.
So says Koen Blanquart, leadership expert and author of flexible work book The Suitcase Office, in a recent interview on Fortune Connect, Fortune’s executive leadership community. The “worst” companies overload on meetings, which he says “are not only killers of freedom, but killers of time.”
We knew this before the pandemic, though few companies seem to have taken the hint. A September 2022 study from UNC Charlotte found that a full third of meetings are pointless, and letting expensive employees attend them costs tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue per year.
“If you look at why meetings are organized, how they’re organized, and how they’re structured—first of all, why are they organized?” he said. Most meetings are, true to the cliché, easily replaced by an email. “There are dashboards and automated information systems to know if something has happened or not.”
In fact, Blanquart added, bringing people together synchronously when it’s not fully necessary is “kind of punishing them.” And though eliminating meetings altogether is unlikely to be the answer, holding them just for the sake of holding them is a costly punishment for workers.
“People spent—I just calculated this morning—$16,000 a year to commute, on average,” Blanquart said. “If that’s to go to the office to hear a manager talk about, ‘yes we got our numbers, thanks for being here, have a cup of coffee and sandwich and go home,’ that’s not respecting our employees.”
After all, 84% of respondents to a FlexJobs survey said the top benefit of working remotely was eliminating the commute. That’s probably because it’s become so expensive—an annual average of $8,466, 31% more than pre-pandemic. Plus, they’re longer; the Census Bureau finds the average American’s commute has jumped 10% since 2006 for drivers, and has doubled for those taking public transport.
Meetings should go the way of the fax machine
Perhaps the misplaced emphasis on meetings stems from bosses feeling beholden to the pre-pandemic way of work. After all, Blanquart says we’ve somehow allowed offices to remain firmly stuck in the past. (No wonder nobody wants to go in.)
“We’re still in that same office where we introduced the typewriter and the rotary telephone; we haven’t redesigned the concept,” Blanquart said. “We’re still at the office where there should be a fax machine in the corner and a typewriter on the side desk. We’ve only slowly evolved into a working environment that’s ready for the new way of working and the technological world we’re in now.”
Traditional office spaces—alongside other vestiges of the past like the eight-hour workday and the fully in-person workweek—are currently frozen in an “industrial model,” Blanquart said, which he believes has been allowed to live on “past its sell-by date.” To the dismay of both workers and bosses, “everything is based around 38- to 40-hour workweeks, but we’re not in that society anymore.”
Certainly not; just ask knowledge workers. Almost all of them (95%) want schedule flexibility, per a 10,000-person survey from Slack’s Future Forum. Some companies, like Salesforce, have taken them up on it.
But many companies are still looking to the past when they should be looking forward. Each person is the best judge of their own productivity and what “success” looks like to them—and that probably doesn’t involve commuting for a ton of meetings.
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