When To Decline Online Meetings And What To Do If You Can’t

15 March 2022

When To Decline Online Meetings Hc

Do I need to be here? The convenience of online meetings has become a bit of a double edged sword over the last few years. They are great from a practicality point of view, but this same convenience also means there are more of them, increasing the time we spend in them.

Weekly meeting time jumped 10% since remote working was introduced in 2020, leading to an additional 3 meetings a week. It is estimated that middle managers spend up to 35% of their time in meetings, hampering their ability to get on with other tasks.

Up to 67% of professionals believe excessive meetings and calls distracts them from making an impact at work, so how should you assess potential meetings and when should you decline them?

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When to decline a meeting

Here are four common mistakes that can lead to meetings you would rather miss. Keep in mind that for all of these scenarios, you will need to employ your soft skills as gently as you can to avoid offence.

You don’t have a role in the meeting

If you haven’t been asked to bring any materials or present anything in a meeting, it may not be worth your time. If it is important that you are aware of the context or outcome of a meeting then ask if it is possible to be updated later, either through notes, email or a shorter one-on-one catchup.

The meeting lacks a defined purpose

You shouldn’t be required to attend open ended meetings without a pre determined goal. Meetings without an agenda can run long and off-topic, wasting time you could be spending more productively elsewhere.

If there is no obvious goal, ask the organiser to clarify or restructure to establish an expected outcome.

The organiser isn’t present

If an organiser calls a meeting but does not intend to be there, ask why. After all if they set it up but don’t think it important enough to attend, why should you? Don’t be rude, but don’t be afraid to ask either. Most of the time there will be a perfectly good reason for an absence, but if there isn’t, and there is no clear goal for the meeting, consider skipping it.

Attendees are unprepared

If attendees are unprepared try to reschedule. Unfocused or unprepared people are sure to lead to an unproductive meeting, which is why it is so important for an agenda to be set and for everyone to ‘get the memo’.


What to do if you can’t decline

Sometimes it just isn’t possible to avoid meetings that you might consider to be a waste of time, so what can you do to remain productive?

Keep it short

If you have to present, keep your presentation on track, don’t allow yourself to be derailed into non sequitur or any other business topic outside the purpose of the meeting. This is not rude, merely courteous, respecting the time of everyone in the room.


The first thing to consider is how much attention your meeting requires, are you taking part or do you just need to be there?

If little to none of your attention is required, you may be able to just keep working, provided you keep an eye/ear on what is happening. This can work particularly well when catching up on administrative tasks that don’t require much active thought.

Mute your audio/video

Your ability to do this will depend on company culture and associated expectations, but in many cases particularly large meetings, it is perfectly acceptable to mute your audio or turn off your camera.

The amount of time we spend on camera these days can be debilitating, with studies showing that employees with cameras switched on experience greater fatigue, and even reduced performance during meetings.

So switching off from the pressure of observation may well help you to conserve much needed energy for other work tasks. It also allows you to do other things like sneaking in a quick lunch without offending anybody.


Worst case scenario

If all else fails you may well have to sit through an unnecessary meeting or two, but most of the time you will be able to use these tips to avoid wasting your time or at least maintain your productivity week to week.


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