One of the problems with New Year’s resolutions is that bosses have them too. How many workers, still adjusting to a mince-pieless breakfast, warily log on to their laptops at the start of the year? Yet one announcement this week by Shopify, the Canadian ecommerce platform, seemed to stir an enthusiastic response: namely, a meeting purge.
Kaz Nejatian, its chief operating officer, tweeted the new rule, “Meetings are a bug. Today, we shipped a fix to this bug at @Shopify. To start 2023, we’re cancelling all Shopify meetings with more than two people. Let’s give people back their maker time. Companies are for builders. Not managers.” He also banned meetings on Wednesdays and ruled that those for 50 or more people could only be held between 11 and 5 on Thursdays. In a memo to staff, Nejatian explained: “Shopify is planning to delete nearly 10,000 events which equates to approximately 76,500+ hours of meetings.”
People love productivity hacks and never more so than those applied to meetings. A few years ago, Jeff Bezos made waves with his two-pizza rule, which meant that meetings should only be attended by the number of people who could eat two pizzas. The Amazon founder also banned PowerPoint and insisted on starting all meetings in silence so attendees could read a preparatory memo providing the agenda because he was tired of ill-prepared executives bluffing.
Meeting culls are also popular. No one leaves school hoping to make a career staggering from the 10am gathering to the 11am gathering, after all. But for many white-collar workers, too many days are lost to such pointless events, veering off agenda (if there even is one) with the result that they spend nights or weekends catching up with their actual work. One business consultant undertook an inventory at a global consumer products company and found that directors and above across the enterprise (a population of about 500), “collectively spent more than 57,000 hours per year in recurring meetings. That’s the equivalent of six and a half years.”
That was before the pandemic. Remote working has triggered further bloat. Last year, Microsoft said that for the average Teams user, the number of meetings per week had risen 153 per cent globally since lockdowns were imposed. “The strain is clear,” the tech company said. “In an average week, 42 per cent of participants multitask during meetings by actively sending an email or ping — and that doesn’t include practices like reading incoming emails and pings, working in non-meeting files, or web activity.”
Last year, I spoke to employees at companies participating in the four-day week trial, which offered staff 100 per cent of pay for 80 per cent of working week with no reduction in output. For many, the obvious efficiency saving was meetings. One art director at a games company in London reduced the time he spent in meetings by half, and would later listen to recordings of them while doing other tasks such as admin. Another told me, “Quite often I’d invite people because I feel like they’d get upset if they were not at the meeting.” It was an epiphany. He was “inviting that person for the wrong reason”. The disruption to their ingrained work practices helped them reappraise their routines and become more productive.
But others voiced concerns about the effects of too much meeting ruthlessness, such as the loss of sociability and exposure to new ideas. One worried that it cut down the opportunities for younger workers to learn from their older peers, or indeed give fresh perspectives.
So, yes, cut the meetings. Apply rigour. Create opportunities to focus on work. But don’t be surprised by unintended consequences.