The cost of bad meetings
Mar 26 2019 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

There's a problem that involves all of us. We're all part of it and we're all guilty of contributing to billions (with a B) of easily-avoidable waste. Yet very little is ever done about it.

Don't worry, I'm not going to get all tree-huggy with you (although if you felt a twinge of guilt I'm not going to apologize). I'm talking about meetings. They waste a lot of money and I'm about to show you a simple formula to see just how much money we're talking about.

Let's start with a couple of basics: a one hour meeting (whether in the same office you work in or virtually - the point is we won't even consider travel costs yet) that actually lasts an hour. Here are the most conservative numbers:

  • One hour of salary for each attendee. Let's make this simple- $50,000 a year is about $25 an hour. Five attendees means that meeting cost $350.00, right? Not so fast.
  • You need to account for 10 minutes getting to and leaving the meeting. This is unproductive time that is usually spent moving across the office, chatting, grabbing coffee etc. Add $20 minutes per attendee for about another $116.
  • Now we're at $466. Of course you started and ended on time, right? If not, add the appropriate amount there.
  • Odds are, you're at over $600 for this event, and that presumes the meeting started on time, ended on time and accomplished what it was supposed to. If it didn't, you have to add in the additional costs. We've kept the numbers fairly simple.
  • You can fill in your own numbers if you or any attendees have had to travel
  • Doughnuts and coffee aren't free

By now, this one-hour meeting is somewhere between $600 and "HOLY #@$%$". These numbers also make one big assumption - that the meeting accomplished its task. If it didn't, the numbers multiply by at least double (the cost of the meeting plus the amount of productivity and labor lost on what "real work" you could have been doing.

Oh, and you'll probably have to have a second meeting - add as necessary). And, as Sly Stone once said, "so on, and so on, and shooby dooby dooby".

This is not to imply that meetings don't (or at least in a righteous universe can't) have value. Our work isn't free, and there is a cost to everything we do on the clock. The reason I bring this up is to have you ask yourself a couple of basic questions to ask yourself and your team:

  • Is what you're doing now actually adding value to your work? Forget the company's bottom line for a moment. Just look at your work and the tasks, projects and expectations you have set for yourself. Meetings that add value, brainstorm effective solutions, get the work done and move the project forward are very good investments. Those that don't, aren't.
  • What's happening in your meetings that wastes at least part of the money? Getting off track, starting late (often waiting for people who aren't critical to the work at hand) and not staying focused on the most valuable elements of your time together all fritter away some of the legitimate costs of getting people together.
  • Would people act this way if they knew the real costs? Consider sharing this formula with your team during the "forming" stage of your relationship if that helps.

I am a firm believer in the value of getting more than one brain together at a time (online or in person) but this simple formula helps me maintain some perspective and make better decisions about when to meet, how to meet, and whom to include.

Have you thought about the real cost of your meetings lately? Maybe you want to share this with whoever wants to book the conference room next or use the WebEx license.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.