New research from Microsoft shows how out of hand our work calendars have gotten: Since February 2020, people are in 3 times more Microsoft Teams meetings and calls per week at work, a whopping 192% increase. The heaviest Teams users are spending close to 8 hours, or an entire workday, each week in online meetings alone.
Remote work during the pandemic, which took away opportunities for spontaneous in-office encounters, led to meeting creep — now, three years later, companies are trying to course-correct, finding ways to make in-person and virtual meetings more efficient and less frequent.
Meetings, at their core, aren’t the issue, says Colette Stallbaumer, the general manager for Microsoft 365 and the “future of work” at Microsoft. Their basic premise, to brainstorm new ideas, update employees on important happenings at the company, or involve them in decision-making, can help workers feel engaged.
It’s when meetings are long, poorly run, and don’t have a clear purpose that they become a source of stress for employees and their managers, she explains.
In fact, inefficient meetings are the No. 1 workplace distraction that hurts productivity, followed closely by having too many meetings, according to a Microsoft survey of 31,000 workers across the globe, which was conducted between February and March 2023.
The onslaught of meetings is exhausting workers and leaving insufficient time for “deep work,” on tasks that require a higher level of focus with no distractions, says Stallbaumer.
Nearly two in three people, regardless if they are working remotely, in-person or on a hybrid schedule, say they struggle with having the time and energy to do their job because of meetings and email bloat, Microsoft reports.
“There’s an opportunity cost that comes with the pressure to always be online, dealing with the influx of notifications and back-to-back meetings,” she adds.
Asked what makes meetings worthwhile, workers said their main motivation for attending meetings is receiving critical information that can help them do their jobs better as well as soliciting and giving feedback to people they work with.
Yet more than half of people (58%) say it’s difficult to brainstorm in a virtual meeting or catch up if they joined a meeting late (57%), and that the action items following a meeting are often unclear (55%).
The Digital debt
Also the inflow of data, emails, meetings, and notifications has outpaced humans’ ability to process it all. And the pace of work is only intensifying. Everything feels important, so we spend our workdays trying to get out of the red.
Nearly 2 in 3 people (64%) say they struggle with having the time and energy to do their job—and those people are 3.5x more likely to also struggle with innovation and strategic thinking. And nearly 2 in 3 leaders (60%) are already feeling the effects, saying that a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a concern.
There are only so many minutes in the day—and every minute we spend managing this digital debt is a minute not spent on the creative work that leads to innovation. In a world where creativity is the new productivity, digital debt is more than an inconvenience—it’s impacting business.