Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

A Scheduling Tool Can Tell You How Much That Pointless Meeting Cost Your Organization

Monkey Business Images/

Silicon Valley is famously allergic to meetings. Few things say bloated legacy business like the endless, pointless meetings that startups love to mock.

Even for successful former startups, however, some meetings are unavoidable. And Phillip Cohen, a Dropbox engineer, thinks he’s figured out a way to help figure out which ones are really worth your time, and which aren’t.

Last week, Cohen built a Chrome extension to calculate the cost of every meeting in your calendar. The prototype multiplies the rough hourly rates for participants by the total scheduled meeting time. This final cost is shown to everyone on the calendar.

While his is not the first meeting cost calculator, it may be the only one that makes cost a visible quality of the meeting, like time and place. After a quick chat with a friend, it only took him a few minutes to post a prototype on Twitter.

A few thousand retweets later, employees everywhere were celebrating. The ensuing Twitter comments saw meeting advocates defend their merits to legions of detractors. “We were not expecting to see such a reaction but so many people have asked for it and offered to help build it,” said Cohen in an interview.

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

For most large companies, Harvard Business Review estimates 15% of employees’ time is sunk into meetings each year, a number that is increasing annually. It’s easy to see why. A case study by Bain & Company found a single weekly executive committee meeting demanded 300,000 hours in employees’ time for support meetings and analysis. Multiply this by all various standing and impromptu meetings, and you get the modern corporation.

But even Cohen acknowledges not all meetings are useless. “There’s an argument to be made that meetings can make value,”he says. “It’s up to everyone to see that they do.” His idea has touched off a Twitter-storm that showcases the rift between Silicon Valley software developers’ focus on documenting process and avoiding meetings, and managers who say clear communication is necessary to reducing wasted time.

Cohen is planning to open-source his meeting cost calculator, and invites others to collaborate with him.

“I don’t have huge expectations, of people using it,” he says. “It’s a very funny concept in the abstract. I guess we’ll put it out there and see what happens.”

Close [ x ] More from GovExec