Default Meeting Duration (23 min. for a tele-conference)

I did 1,019 meetings in 2012 (as a startup founder) and to no surprise, most of them were scheduled as 1 hour meetings. It is obviously naive to assume that every single one of my meetings required exactly 1 hour to resolve what was on the agenda. Defaulting to 1 hour seems unacceptable, even with a general attitude of the allotted hour being nothing but an initial guideline – where the following would be true:

  • You should not be afraid to cut a meeting short if the initial ask is vague or need further data for the group to come to a decision; likewise
  • As you push the meeting toward a decision, given all the data is available, don’t be afraid to extend the time allotted, even if the initial hour is consumed.

This made me think about whether the de facto 1 hour invite is the most optimal way to schedule your meetings. The immediate response to this question, if you go google it, is that you should cut every invite to 30 minutes. The argument that accompanies the 30 min. meeting duration proposal, suggests that this will force the meeting attendants to a) prepare more vigorously for the meeting and b) be more focused on actually answering the initial ask for getting together.
It just seems a bit arbitrary to me that every invite is a choice between 60 or 30 minutes. There is very little research on this and the only “conclusive” material I could find was a reference to research conducted by C&W Worldwide.
“Recent research conducted by C&W Worldwide shows that, despite the reliance on an array of electronic communications, face to face contact, either via video conferencing or by being in the same room, is fundamental to positive business collaboration. Eighty seven per cent of British respondents claimed that seeing colleagues or a contact was important in making business decisions. The research also showed that people have a greater concentration span on video conference calls as opposed to those conducted over the telephone, with focus on telephone conference calls waning at an average of 23 minutes versus 35 minutes on a video call. Over 42 per cent of UK respondents admitted to having checked or written emails, while 35 per cent have doodled and three per cent have even fallen asleep on a telephone conference call.”
We could casually choose to deduce two things from this study: a) one would want a decision on the initial meeting ask before focus wanes and b) in-person meetings would keep the attendants’ focus longer than a videoconference, similar to how a videoconference increased the attention span over a teleconference. If we continue with that line of thought, one can construct a reasonably fair rule of thumb for meeting duration, depending on the chosen communication channel:

  • Meeting duration for a Teleconference: 25 Minutes
  • Meeting duration for a Videoconference: 35 Minutes
  • Meeting duration for an in-person meeting: 45 Minutes

The meeting type (All hands, Staff meeting, Interview, One-on-one etc.) is probably an even stronger indicator of optimal meeting duration, so use the above as simple multipliers and be skeptical when invited for that 90 minutes teleconference.
Below is anecdotal evidence, from my own calendar, of the de facto 1 hour meeting duration – I might also have to work on my Meeting Titles 😉