TIME SAVER

Tim Armstrong is on a quest to cut back on meetings at AOL

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is taking a new tack to boost company culture and efficiency: Discouraging unnecessary—and unnecessarily long—internal meetings.

At an all-hands session on Nov. 11, Armstrong exhorted employees to spend less time in meetings, according to multiple people in attendance. Specifically, he suggested that meetings should default to 30 minutes instead of one hour. And he asked that employees limit their total time spent in internal meetings per week.

“Tim recommended that every employee only spend 15% of his or her time in meetings, leaving the rest of their time open for strategic work,” one source said. “The idea is if you need to add another meeting to your calendar that cuts into your 85% non-meeting time, you have to swap out one of the meetings in your 15% time bucket in order to make room for the new meeting.”

It’s not clear if and how these limits would be enforced. The company now uses Google Apps, according to sources, which can be configured to allow employees to change their default new-meeting time to 30 minutes. AOL, now a unit of Verizon, declined to make Armstrong available for an interview.

This is not a revolutionary concept, but it’s refreshing, especially for a big company that has been around for several decades. Numerous studies have shown excessive or long meetings are wasteful (pdf), whether people choose to distract themselves or simply zone out. One study found that 65% of people on conference calls were also doing other work, while 9% were exercising and 6% were on another call.

It’s worth noting that most current and former AOL employees we spoke to said the company doesn’t have a particularly problematic meeting culture. (The company was, after all, attempting a major comeback, which requires communicating.) And external meetings—sales calls, for example—aren’t part of Armstrong’s push.

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