Meetings can be a waste of time — especially if people aren’t paying attention. 

According to a 2019 study by calendar-company Doodle of 19 million meetings and 6,500 interviews, unproductive and poorly organized meetings account for a $399 billion loss each year.

More than 44% of executives have seen colleagues watching a video, taking selfies, or even falling asleep during meetings, according to a Doodle report shared exclusively with Business Insider. About 58% of employees reported witnessing their peers send texts and perform unrelated tasks during company conferences.

That same report also found that some of the issues can be attributed to poor timing, lengthy durations, and too many attendees.

Business Insider spoke with three executives and a workplace expert on how leaders can keep employees engaged and even shorten meeting times. Here’s what they said to keep in mind. 

When it comes to keeping people focused, timing matters

Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle, told Business Insider that there are many moving parts to setting up a perfect meeting time. The context of the discussion, the number of people attending, other meetings also occurring that day — they are all things managers should consider before sending calendar invites. 

“I believe that picking the right time increases productivity, but sometimes, picking the right time with the right person is also important,” he said. “You have people who work better in the evening than in the morning. It all depends on the employees and how they work.” Smaller groups tend to result in better discussions, he said. 

Spencer Waldron, director of communications at Prezi agreed with Profico, saying he sometimes disinvites even himself from meetings. Waldron said he’s been working remotely from Amsterdam for six years, and the time difference means meetings get scheduled at inconvenient times. To make things more convenient, he records his core talking points beforehand, sends it to the team for review, and sometimes skips the meeting altogether. It’s the best way to give valuable input without wasting time or his productivity, he said. 

Profico also advised managers to take a look at their employees’ calendars every once in a while. If their schedules are already packed with meetings, then adding another 30-minute meet-up wouldn’t be the best call. When you’re scheduling one-on-ones, knowing your colleague’s schedule and asking for their preferred times can save you both a lot of work in the long run.

Understanding your company culture is also important. According to a Doodle report, the most productive time to set up meetings depend heavily on where your office is located. While Americans in major cities like New York and Chicago prefer dinner meetings, the report found that southern offices have their meetings over lunch. 

“The more organized and strategic you are about planning your meetings, the better they will be,” Profico said. 

Rather than talking the whole time, you can add visuals to keep people engaged

Meetings are meant to provoke thoughtful conversations, and you can’t do that by talking the whole time. 

Brie Weiler Reynolds, a workplace expert and career development manager at HR company FlexJobs, recommended that leaders can find creative ways to engage employees throughout the course of meetings.

For example, you can take advantage of chat functions embedded in conferencing apps, or you can share your screen within them. You can ask open-ended questions that would fuel further discussion, and you can have pop quizzes halfway through the meeting to check if people are still paying attention, the expert said. 

Waldron said one way to keep employees engaged during a presentation is to enhance dull and wordy slides with visual components like videos, colorful photos, and dynamic transitions in between slides. Being a hand-talker himself, Waldron explained that subtle movements can keep people from getting distracted by their emails and phones. 

You can do more with the conversations you have from meetings

Cory Treffiletti, global head of marketing at Cisco Webex, told Business Insider that incorporating tech tools into meetings can enable you to do more with the conversations you have in the room. 

“Think about Tony Stark in ‘Iron Man’,” Treffiletti said. “He surrounds himself with this armor of technology that made him stronger, faster, smarter, and et cetera. The same thing can happen in a meeting environment. We can surround ourselves around technology — an exoskeleton almost — that would enable us to do more with the conversations we have while we’re in the same room.”

While you’re in a meeting environment, you can transcribe the full meeting using technology, he explained. Additionally, you can leverage AI tools that would take notes and extract the most important moments for your colleagues who can’t attend. Document sharing and instant messaging platforms also allow for people to collaborate on, edit, and look at documents at the same time. 

“We went from everything being self-contained in a room to broadening it out to this remote identity where you can get multiple people connected together,” Treffiletti said. “But then adding that extra layer of technology makes sure that when you’re in that room, it’s an efficient use of your time.”

Originally published on Business Insider.

More from Business Insider:

Stop trying to make your employees happy — fulfill them instead

I didn’t take maternity leave as a self-employed worker, and I regret it

American workers say jobs should do more to help them cope with mental health issues like depression and stress

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.


  • Weng Cheong

    Junior Strategy Reporter

    Weng is a general assignment reporter for Business Insider's strategy department, primarily for its BI Prime subscription service. She has covered stories on management consulting, side hustles and entrepreneurship, and recruitment trends based on interviews with HR chiefs. She can be contacted via email at [email protected]