Why Weekly Check-In Meetings Are Unproductive and What You Can Do About It

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A proliferation of well-intentioned remote “check-in meetings” during the pandemic has only made the job more difficult. According to surveys, most workers say they want fewer meetings and that these meetings make them less productive, but there is are ways to master all the “touch points” messing up your schedule. Here’s how you can get your schedule back without alienating your coworkers.

An informal ‘check-in meeting’ is really just another formal meeting.

Collaboration and socialization are much more difficult with working remotely compared to working together in an office. To compensate, many workers have added more “check-in” meetings to their schedules – too many, it turns out, as recent remote employee survey reveals that 70% of those surveyed hope to have fewer meetings when they return to the office. And because a remote employee is literally less visible, supervisors are more likely to rely on “checks” to make sure the employee is doing well.

The problem is, many of these meetings are simply less effective than the spontaneous meetings across the aisle that once defined office work. For all of the benefits of working remotely, even coordinating a “quick call” requires text chat, invitations to send, and part of your calendar to claim. Before, when a colleague was overwhelmed in the office, you were more likely to see and loop back later, unless it is urgent.

And those extra virtual meetings aren’t always effective either, especially for team calls. There are no side conversations, fewer clarifying interjections, and with videoconferences, there is a panoptic effect of always being “on”, which leads to Zoom fatigue (compare a virtual happy hour with a real office party). While a study found that the average length of meetings fell 20% during the pandemic, it is not clear that they are more efficient.

How to avoid too many recording meetings

  • Block some time into your schedule for actual work. According to La Muse, a middle manager generally spends 35% of his working day in meetings. While it may not be completely avoidable, you should set aside large periods of two to three hours for work that requires sustained concentration. Likewise, you should allow time during which you are available for meetings, as you want to be flexible for the team as needed.
  • Insist on an agenda. If meetings drag on without much purpose or because of too much chatter, ask for an agenda, even if it’s something informal, like a handful of bullet points sent through Slack. It’s reasonable to ask for an agenda so that you can be ready for the meeting. Plus, agendas have the added benefit of structuring your meeting, as you can always narrow down a degressive conversation to the stated goals of the meeting.
  • Learn to politely decline meetings. As long as you can point to an hourly report of your work and explain your priorities, it’s possible to decline a meeting because you’re too busy. This is where a stuck schedule 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 you need an individual recording call every week just because, either. that someone else is doing it. For example, there is nothing wrong with gently suggesting bi-weekly meetings instead of weekly, or a phone call instead of a video chat, for example.


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