Is It Ever OK to Have an 8 a.m. Meeting?

Proponents of 8 a.m. confabs say they’re useful for coordinating global teams across time zones. Others say they disrupt personal time and school drop-offs, and can throw off the rest of the day by upsetting their normal routines. Image: Pixabay
Proponents of 8 a.m. confabs say they’re useful for coordinating global teams across time zones. Others say they disrupt personal time and school drop-offs, and can throw off the rest of the day by upsetting their normal routines. Image: Pixabay

Summary

Employees want flexibility in their work-life schedules, while employers focus on the business needs.

Your calendar is full of meetings. There are weekly check-ins, one-on-ones, hybrid planning calls, the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting. One gathering inflames passions like no other: the 8 a.m. meeting.

Whether an early-morning meeting is a must-do or sign of management overreach depends on your feelings about work-life boundaries, and sometimes, your rung on the corporate ladder.

Early-morning work hours are a hallmark of the finance and healthcare industries as well as education, and a standby of high-powered executives. Proponents of 8 a.m. confabs say they’re useful for coordinating global teams across time zones. Others say they disrupt personal time and school drop-offs, and can throw off the rest of the day by upsetting their normal routines.

The reshaping of work and life wrought by the pandemic—plus a rising generation of professionals who are more comfortable than previous generations voicing their boundaries—has intensified the debate.

Jake Rudy, a human-resources specialist in Minneapolis, says 8 a.m. meetings give him sleep stress. Rudy, whose workdays normally begin at 9 a.m., finds he doesn’t sleep as well when he knows he has to get up earlier than usual.

“If I have to push myself to an 8 o’clock meeting, I really had better have a good reason for being there," says Rudy, 36 years old.

A clip from the business comedy podcast “Demoted" that recently made the rounds on TikTok has unleashed a wave of commentary about meeting times. One of the hosts read a listener email about a Gen Z employee missing an 8 a.m. meeting because of a workout class.

The conversation went viral, with various tweets sharing the clip reaching more than 29 million views. On TikTok, those sharing and debating the now-deleted video led to more than 250,000 likes, and subsequent discussion garnered millions of views.

“If the norm has been set that the workday is 9 to 5, then I don’t think you can all of a sudden say, ‘But on this day we’re going to do an 8 o’clock meeting,’" says Lorna Hagen, a managing partner of Culture Playbook Partners, a business-process improvement firm. If an early meeting has to happen, managers should notify people well in advance, she says, and acknowledge that it’s an unavoidable necessity.

“Companies have to be very intentional about what conditions they set," Hagen adds.

‘The early-riser mentality’

Chris Lenhart, a senior user-experience designer in Chicago, blocks time on his calendar to prevent colleagues from adding him to meetings outside his normal working hours. It usually works.

Lenhart, 38, says he doesn’t mind the occasional off-hours meeting, though he’ll sometimes ask for a new time if the meeting is too early or late.

“People have always been understanding about that because they in turn have their own life," he says.

Last year, 43% of meetings logged by the scheduling automation company Calendly occurred between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Just 3% of meetings occurred between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Red Thread PR in Philadelphia designates the same working hours for all employees—9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.—and discourages them from sending nonurgent emails between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., says Laura Emanuel, the firm’s managing director. Most employees are in the same time zone, but their clients might not be.

If there’s ever a need to have an early or late meeting, Emanuel asks ahead of time. And if employees do end up taking a meeting outside of working hours, she tells them to leave early or arrive later the next day.

Joey Hodges, a chief executive of a marketing and communications agency, normally takes 8 a.m. meetings at least three days a week. Hodges, who is based in San Francisco, sees it as a reality of working with global clients while living on the West Coast.

“I developed the early-riser mentality, because so much had already happened by the time I woke up" out West, Hodges says. While he makes himself available at 8 a.m., he doesn’t expect everyone on his team to log on early.

Hodges’s company lets staff work remotely, so an 8 a.m. meeting doesn’t always mean showing up at the office.

“I think if we were still living in a world where you were required to get on public transit and travel an hour to get to work and spend eight or nine hours at work and then an hour home," he says, “we’d probably have a little bit less flexibility from the team."

‘It’s just about respect’

Making an 8 a.m. meeting can mean finding backup options for school drop-offs, or rescheduling a workout.

Natalie Marshall—who is known online as Corporate Natalie and is the co-host of the podcast that inadvertently started this debate—says she sometimes had to take early meetings when she worked at the consulting firm Deloitte and the cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks. Now 26, she owns her own content and business-strategy company. She and her employees take 8 a.m. meetings if clients require them and then end their days early when they can.

“The corporate world is shifting—employers have to offer more flexibility," she says, adding that ultimately, the debate is about whether employees and employers have shared expectations.

Brie Burnham says companies shouldn’t get unrestricted access to workers’ days. For the 38-year-old freelance graphic designer based in Bend, Ore., those boundaries can be particularly vital: Anything that spills over its allotted time can encroach on another client’s schedule, not just her personal life.

“It’s about communication and it’s about it being a mutual agreement and it’s just about respect," Burnham says. “That allows us to have a better conversation about ‘Hey when are you available?’"

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at ann-marie.alcantara@wsj.com

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