Why “Meeting Inflation” is Killing Your Team’s Productivity

Recent studies suggest people are working later than usual, and it may be due to meeting overload. Here’s how to combat the phenomenon and safeguard your team.
Sanja Mitar
Features
May 9, 2022
6 minute read

It’s a cause for concern for many, negatively affects millions of households, and may hurt the economy over the long term. And it’s only getting worse.

No, we’re not talking about inflation—we’re talking about “meeting inflation.”

The term seems to have been loosely coined in a recent Atlantic article about “why the 9-to-10 is the new 9-to-5.” But to understand its full impact and implications, we need to backtrack and explain how we got here.

The “Triple Peak Day”

According to Microsoft, the “triple peak” phenomenon was first noticed and coined by researchers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, who, when looking at user data, discovered a flurry of chat activity outside of regular work hours in Microsoft Teams, particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

That’s not entirely surprising when one considers that knowledge workers—especially ones raising kids—were still adjusting to working from home and balancing personal and professional responsibilities early on in the pandemic.

Since then, things have sort of mellowed out.

But last summer, when Microsoft began internally studying the keyboard usage of a select number of employees, they noticed that roughly 30 percent of them had a spike in evening work—beginning around 9 p.m. and peaking at 10 p.m.—before tapering off around midnight.

Illustration by Valerio Pellegrini, as found in Microsoft's 'The Rise of the Triple Peak Day' Report

What’s Causing the Rise in After Hours Work

Although Microsoft says it isn’t entirely clear what caused the uptick and admits that more research needs to be done, there are some theories, mainly around the newfound flexibility that comes with hybrid work:

  1. Parents who have to pick up and take care of their children in the afternoon make up the lost work hours in the evening once their kids have gone to bed
  2. With more flexibility, employees are choosing when and where they work and adjusting their schedules based on when they’re most productive
  3. Having been bombarded with emails and messages throughout the day, some choose to log on later in the evening to focus on work without distraction

There’s certainly some truth to that. But what if the truth wasn’t so positive?

We’re In Way Too Many Meetings

While it’s nice to think that this increase in work outside of traditional work hours is a sign of added flexibility in today’s organizations, recent stats from Microsoft paint a bleaker picture.

“In the first months of the pandemic, Microsoft saw online meetings soar as offices shut down,” The Atlantic explains. “By the end of 2020, the number of meetings had doubled. In 2021, it just kept growing. This year it’s hit an all-time high.”

According to Microsoft, since February 2020, the average user saw a 252% increase in the amount of time spent in meetings each week. The number of weekly meetings has increased by 153%. And, since March 2020, the workday for the average Microsoft Teams user has increased by 43 minutes. After hours and weekend work has increased, too.

Illustration from Microsoft's "Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work" Report

It’s important to clarify that it isn’t necessarily the technology that is causing this change in traditional work hours—it’s merely facilitating it. 

But it’s clearly a problem.

According to a survey of 10,624 knowledge workers, nearly a quarter said too many meetings were having a negative impact on their productivity. And another survey of 2,000 professionals found that the average employee had 25.6 meetings per week, which roughly accounts for 2.5+ hours of time away from deep-focused work each day.

Related: What’s the Ideal Meeting Size? Research Shows the Answer is Stupidly Obvious

Hope is on the Horizon

Meeting inflation is clearly a serious problem. But it appears some positive changes are gradually occurring in remote and hybrid workplaces.

According to Microsoft, anonymized Outlook calendar data shows that the average number of overlapping meetings per person decreased by 44% between March 2021 and February 2022.

Teams seem to be starting meetings later on Mondays to give colleagues more time to ease into the workweek and wrapping them up earlier on Fridays to help ease them out of it.

“There are also fewer noon meetings,” the report states, “which may point to people taking a midday break.”

Okay, boomer.

Out-of-office time blocks, vacation bookings, and ad-hoc meetings (meant to replace the casual, serendipitous interactions you’d usually experience in the office) also seem to be increasing. 

But there’s still work that needs to be done (pun intended) at an organizational level to ensure employees don’t get overwhelmed by meeting inflation and fall prone to burnout.

Further Reading: What’s the Best Day to Go Into the Office? It’s Complicated

Tips and Strategies for Stopping Meeting Inflation

Due to the nature of today’s flexible, asynchronous work, it’s to be expected that work hours may need to move around on occasion due to personal and professional obligations. 

Meeting frequency and duration only start becoming a problem when they impact people’s ability to do their jobs in realistic time frames and lead them to work outside of regular work hours to make up for the lost time.

“Good remote managers should be time ninjas, continually deciding what work must be synchronous (meetings) and what work can be asynchronous (emails or shared docs),” Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic. “One obvious solution is fewer meetings—or at least fewer days for meetings.”

Employers and managers can do this by:
1. Having two or three meeting-free days a week so that employees can focus on deep work
2. Recording meetings or taking detailed notes, so co-workers can follow up on what was discussed and key points later on
3. Leading by example and safeguarding employees’ time by keeping track of how many meetings are on their schedule and if they’re required for each one

Reducing meeting inflation doesn’t have to be complicated. Use Nook Calendar to keep track of your team’s busy and free times and coordinate meetings that work with everyone’s schedule. 

Download Nook Calendar for free and set your team up today

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.  
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