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Meetings now take 21.5 hours of your week—and they’re pretty much ruining your job

November 24, 2021, 3:24 PM UTC

If you’re looking for another reason so many workers are burnt out lately here it is: Meetings. White-collar workers were stuck in a lot of them before the pandemic. Now with so many of us working remotely, it’s worse.

Professionals were in meetings for 21.5 hours a week in October—more than half a standard 40 hour workweek—compared to 14.2 hours a week in February 2020, according to a report from a startup called Reclaim.ai, which makes a calendar plug-in meant to help organize your schedule. (h/t Protocol, which also reported on the study.)

The meetings make workdays longer, too: Jumping to 8.9 hours from 7.5, according to Reclaim. That’s despite the fact that fewer people are commuting. These meetings are mainly remote, the report found, taking place over Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.

“The workday is longer, and it’s not because people are living more flexible lives. That’s not the case,” said Henry Shapiro, cofounder of Reclaim. “Almost the entire increase is driven by this increase in meetings.”

Zach Pardes, 34-years-old, said he stopped working for a consulting firm earlier this year, partly because of the overly intense meeting culture. “The pandemic’s been rough. I’m all about work from home and even hybrid, but I think people lost their minds,” he said.

He’d be in meetings, over Zoom, for most of the day—many added at the last minute to his calendar. “You’d wake up at 6:30 and there’s 20 meetings on your calendar. It’s just not sustainable,” he said. After spending his time in meetings from 9:00 a.m. through around 3:00 p.m., Pardes said he was “fried.”

“They didn’t give you time to do the important work,” said Pardes, who is now vice-president of marketing at Nations Lending.

You can pin some of the blame for the uptick in meetings on the so-called one-on-one—a check-in between just two people, maybe you and your boss. Reclaim found that the average professional has about six of these one-on-ones a week. More than 85% of the one-on-one meetings scheduled were remote, according to the report.

For a lot of us, the one-on-one replaced what used to just sort of happen at the office.

I recall sitting just across from my editor and if I had a question, I’d just, well, talk. Out loud. Or other times, I’d knock on my supervisor’s office door and walk in to chat. Reclaim calls this “organic” meeting.

These days, the process is more convoluted. Calendars fill up with one-on-ones and team meetings. Then sub-group meetings, and cross-team meetings. Don’t forget those new social gatherings that companies pull together that also take place on Zoom or Teams or Meet. Those can be fun, but they also are a lot like…another meeting.

Reclaim’s report looked at anonymized, aggregated data from its 15,000 users. Their system parses natural language and data, like how many people are in the meeting or if the participants all share a domain name (to signal an internal gathering), to figure out what’s what.

The worst part of this meeting overload is: We need meetings. I spoke to a couple of managers who admitted to even liking them.

“I used them to gather information on problems, fix problems or make decisions,” said Hillary Frey, who until recently oversaw more than 140 employees at HuffPost (including me).

Collaboration is really important, said Farah Miller, who is an editorial director at the New York Times. Some of the best meetings are the ones where you have goals to work through with your colleagues, and you get together and solve problems, she said. Meetings are also an effective way to communicate, instead of endless Slacks or emails to spread information individually.

There’s also this: “I also am just an extrovert…” Miller messaged me. “I like having scheduled time with people.”

And while it pains me to admit it: Me too.

Okay, so what to do? Shapiro at Reclaim suggests workplaces set up “collaboration hours,” a designated window when employees are encouraged to schedule meetings, so that they don’t take up entire days. Managers can also do “office hours,” carving out time they’re available to talk.

You can also block out time on your calendar for deep work, so colleagues can’t interrupt. I’ve taken to clumping my meetings together back-to-back, as I find switching from one mode of work to another is less effective. My manager has also started encouraging us to walk and talk—meeting by phone while we walk outside, rather than convening over Zoom. That helps, too.

Are any of these solutions perfect? No. Will many of us still complain about meetings? Yes. This is work we’re talking about, after all.

emily.peck@consultant.fortune.com

Emily Peck

Visit Fortune’SmarterWorking Hub. And read more here:

1 quote, 1 story, 1 number

  • Remote Work Can Be a Very Bad Way to Start a Career (New York Times) — Many of the perks of flexible work might work against younger employees just starting out, write Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson.
  • “You don’t have to wonder whether this is the last Thanksgiving you’ll spend with family and friends for a while, because Thanksgiving store hours are one thing we won’t ‘get back to’ when the pandemic finally subsides." — Target CEO Brian Cornell to his employees on the company’s decision to stay closed on Thanksgiving.
  • 247,751 Number of job postings for recruiters in September. Companies are struggling to recruit recruiters, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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