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Reclaim.ai Blog

Productivity tips, calendar hacks, & product updates from the Reclaim team.

Spontaneous Meetings at Work: Disruptive or Productive?
May 24, 2024

The workplace is a chaotic environment. Every day we’re faced with juggling multiple projects, different tasks for each, and a ton of meetings to track progress and stay in touch with our team. This makes a busy day in and of itself, but what about all the interruptions that happen in-between these activities?

In an office setting, it’s hard to stay heads down. One moment you’re deep in focused work, and the next someone taps your shoulder and wants a “quick sync”.

And work-from-homers know they’re not off the hook either. You’re just as likely to get pulled into a spontaneous meeting with your remote team as you are sitting open in your cubicle. If anything, you’re even more available for that “Hey, do you have a quick second?” message over a Slack or Teams chat since your team's primary method of communication and comfort zone is virtual.

But here’s the big question about those spontaneous meetings and syncs  – are they helpful or disruptive? Let’s break down everything you need to know about unplanned, spontaneous meetings.

How common are spontaneous meetings?

It turns out spontaneous meetings are way more prevalent than you might expect. 27.3% of all meetings are spontaneous and unplanned as discovered in a recent trends report. That means less than three quarters of meetings are actually planned and pre-scheduled on the calendar.

As of 2024, the average person attends 17.1 meetings/week, which means employees are attending 4.7 spontaneous meetings a week. 

So as an average, this means some knowledge workers may only be pulled into a couple per week, but busy managers and leaders may be faced with accepting or declining requests for spontaneous meetings multiple times every day.

Benefits of spontaneous meetings

While spontaneous meetings can certainly throw a wrench in your daily plan, when justified, their benefits warrant getting the group together:

  • Agility: Spontaneous meetings allow teams to react quickly to changing circumstances, pivot on projects, and address challenges in real-time.
  • Improved communication: Spontaneous meetings encourage open dialogue and can lead to faster problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Increased engagement: The impromptu nature can make these meetings more engaging as the topic is fresh and ideas are already flowing.

But these benefits are only realized when spontaneous meetings are used judiciously and with a clear purpose in mind. When they become the default mode of communication, the potential for disruption outweighs the advantages.

Should you have unplanned meetings?

Overall, meetings have a pretty bad rep – and do you really need another one interrupting your workday? But we also need to consider that this stigma largely comes from unproductive meetings with too many attendees, lack of agenda items, and unclear objectives. The other problem with many meetings is that they’re often repeating when they don’t need to be, so people feel stuck in the same unproductive conversation week after week.

So how should we respond to these spontaneous meeting requests? For starters, if someone is asking for your time right now, they probably have something urgent and important to discuss. And they likely need your opinion, direction, or decision to unblock them and their work.

The next question is how high priority it is for you. Should you drop what you’re doing and change your plans to focus on someone else’s priorities instead of your own? Every decision we make about how we spend our time in meetings ultimately affects the time of our connected coworkers as well.

And the decision really boils down to the priorities of your team. If you’re an engineer working on a new feature, and some new feedback comes in that’s urgent for the team to resolve, it’s an easy decision to make yourself available for the meeting. But if another engineer wants to sync up on their side project while you’re busy on the feature, it might not be urgent enough to derail your day.

However, manager roles are a bit different because your primary responsibility is really supporting and directing your team. And as a result, you need to be more flexible for urgent meeting requests and quick syncs to keep your team on track. 

The big problem is managers already have a ton of meetings scheduled on the calendar – so how do you find time for these spontaneous meetings amid the chaos of a regular workday?

When to hold spontaneous meetings?

We've discussed the mixed feelings about spontaneous meetings, but let's dive into when they truly shine. While these meetings can be disruptive, they are also incredibly valuable in the right circumstances. Here's when they make the most sense:

  • Urgent issues: When a problem pops up unexpectedly and needs immediate attention, a spontaneous meeting can get everyone on the same page quickly to find a solution.
  • Quick decisions: Time-sensitive decisions that can't wait for a scheduled meeting benefit from a quick huddle to gather input and make a call.
  • Brainstorming: Spontaneous meetings can spark creativity and generate fresh ideas, especially when a project needs a boost or a new initiative is being explored.
  • Team alignment: If your team needs a quick check-in to coordinate efforts or ensure everyone is on the same page, a spontaneous meeting can be more efficient than sending a flurry of emails or messages.

If the topic isn't urgent or doesn't require immediate attention, it might be better suited for a scheduled meeting to avoid disrupting everyone's workflow unnecessarily.

The trickle effect of spontaneous meetings

It’s clear that spontaneous meetings happening nearly every day can be hard to manage. Of course, we have the cost of putting down our work, losing focus, and switching context, which can really break our productivity – but the larger issue for managers who are already slammed with meetings is that you’re probably going to have to skip one to make the other.

This is where the decision making gets even harder, and unfortunately our calendars really let us down outside of simply declining a meeting. The hard part (and hidden cost) is really around coordinating and rescheduling all of these meeting conflicts that trickle out from spontaneous meetings – to a grand total average of 3 hours/week just in managing meetings.

Overall, spontaneous meetings are necessary for communication and decision-making across teams, and they’re not going anywhere – especially because those meetings oftentime represent an opportunity or challenge that needs the attention of the team.

And managers and leaders need to be flexible to accommodate these requests, ideally without their calendars crumbling in the process.

Think about it – your calendar is back-to-back with meetings and maybe a few focus sessions. If you have to reschedule your product team sync to make an urgent executive meeting, you’re going to need to find another meeting to reschedule or cancel to make room for it.

This is a common scenario leaders face multiple times every day, and it’s not just their calendars they’re looking at. Meetings involve many people, and the more calendars you have to coordinate across, the harder it is to find mutual free time.

So since meetings aren’t changing, the workplace desperately needs automation and AI solutions to do the heavy lifting for them. That’s why many meeting-heavy folks use AI tools like Smart Meetings to automatically schedule meetings at the best time for their team, and auto-reschedule around common conflicts like another meeting, a higher priority task, or PTO. This keeps their team flexible for collaboration so groups can sync up for timely critical discussions that move the business forward.

Stay flexible with your meetings

So next time a spontaneous meeting request pops up, consider the potential benefits, weigh the urgency, and see if it makes sense. If you embrace the opportunity, and may spark some great outcomes for your business. Just remember, there's a fine line between spontaneous and chaotic – finding that sweet spot is the key to a productive and harmonious workplace.

Trend Reports

Smart Meetings Trends Report (145+ Stats)

Setting Priorities Report: Top Work Challenges (50 Stats)

Workforce Trends Report: +100 Stats on Employee Productivity Analytics

Meeting Scheduling Trends Report: 130+ Scheduling Links Stats

Burnout Trends Report: 200+ Employee Stress Stats by Department

Task Management Trends Report: +200 Stats on Managers vs. Individual Contributors

Productivity Trends Report: One-on-One Meeting Statistics

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