In business, the lines between time and money are constantly blurred, and no one wants to waste any of either. Meetings, however, waste both, to the tune of $37 billion annually, according to Fuze’s The Ugly Truth About Meetings.
That number is astonishing, so much so, that it may be too far off for you to believe. Harvard Business Review gives the following scenario—plug in the numbers for your business and do the math for yourself (or save yourself some time and use their Meeting Costs Calculator instead):
“Consider a typical meeting with a one-hour duration attended by five people, each earning the average U.S. salary of $50,000. The cost? “Only” $175. Now add three more attendees for eight people in total tied up for an hour. Suddenly you’re dealing with a $280 meeting.”
Money is critical to any business, and time should be treated with the same respect. You don’t want employees talking for an hour in the kitchen; sitting in an unproductive meeting for the same amount of time is no different.
If we can all agree on the value of time and money, and cost of meetings, the question remains: Why are meetings so pricey? There are many reasons for this, and what follows are five of the most common.
Some meetings are necessary yes; for brainstorming, launching a product, or holding a quarterly company review. Yet, not all meetings hold equal importance, so why should you spend the same amount of money on each one?
While the literal cost of the meeting will depend on the salaries of those in it, the time cost often remains the same across the board thanks to inattentive employees and lack of structure—which we’ll talk about in a minute.
How often do you go into a meeting where one person is running the show and everyone else is offering input in a structured manner? The answer for most people is: rarely. Without a structure like this, ideas run off track, side conversations start and before you know it, 30 minutes has passed and nothing has been taken care of. A lack of structure in meetings, like every other area of our life, leads to wasted time.
If you’re in a business meeting all day, what do you do? Order lunch in—on the company’s dime. Order lunch into meetings even just once or twice a week and you’re spending an extra $300+ weekly on food alone. This doesn’t account for snacks and other supplies that are regularly stocked in conference rooms, in addition to what’s already in the kitchen.
Your employees are busy and like to do more than one thing at a time to get everything done before 5 p.m. As such, meetings are just another opportunity to multi-task, with 92 percent of employees admitting to multi-tasking during a meeting. When people aren’t paying attention, they aren’t a valuable part of the meeting. What’s more, they’re not giving anything their full attention, meaning the other work they’re doing is likely falling short as well.
More often than not, meetings start with someone saying, “So and so can’t be here today because… but we’ll still move forward with the meeting.” In most cases, that “so and so” is an executive, and likely the main stakeholder for the meeting. Harvard Business Review found that “executives commonly double-booked meetings and decided later which one they would actually attend.”
Without them in the meeting, more time will be spent catching them up on what happened. Not to mention, you may not even cover the points they were interested in, leading to a follow-up meeting to re-hash the details.
In most businesses, meetings are necessary to an extent—and not all meetings waste time and money when done right. Remus Serban, of Hubgets, offers an easy way to think about and structure meetings:
“Meetings should be like medication. The exact dosage should be science. Hence, ‘This is a 1-hour meeting.’ The frequency of administration should also be science. Thus, ‘We have a regular meeting on Monday.’ Everything should be clear. What it is, what it does, what it fixes, and how.”
To make a planning process like this commonplace among your employees, create a pre-meeting sheet for the “meeting leader” to fill out. The sheet might ask:
What is this meeting for?
How long will it be?
Will we repeat this meeting or need a follow-up?
What is the ideal outcome of this meeting?
What is the structure of the meeting?
In addition, make “meeting leaders” mandatory. The meeting leader is the one who fills out the sheet and runs the meeting, following their planned structure and ensuring an outcome.
In addition, allow people to leave a meeting if it runs over the intended time. This stops employees from wasting time in a meeting when they need to be doing something else. It also keeps the meeting leader sharp; no one wants to get walked-out on.
While meetings will still cost you money—employees are still being paid—if a constructive conversation was had and solutions were found, the money was likely worth the spend.
Consider how your company handles and structures meetings. Are you wasting money? Re-evaluate and put a plan in place to take back that time and money.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and spent the last five years in marketing. She recently stepped down from a senior marketing position to focus on growing her own startup and consulting for small businesses. She's been featured on Forbes and has written for sites such as Lifehack, Inman, Manta, StartupNation and more. When she's not working, she's enjoying sunny San Diego with her husband and friends or traveling somewhere new. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.