The company purging meetings from calendars: ‘Uninterrupted time is precious’

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A new year often brings about purges – closet clean-outs, Dry Januarys – and one company is urging its employees to ditch work meetings, too.

Shopify, the Canadian e-commerce company, announced this week that it will conduct a “calendar purge” in 2023, requiring staff to scrap recurring meetings with more than three people in attendance. Meetings of any sort held on Wednesdays are out, too, and any event with an invite list of over 50 people can only be held on Thursdays between 11 and 5pm ET.

“Uninterrupted time is the most precious resource of a craftsperson, and we are giving our people a ‘no judgment zone’ to subtract, reject meetings, and focus on what is most valuable,” Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s vice-president of product and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

A representative for Shopify said on Wednesday that the change gave employees time to actually get work done – a task that can be near impossible if they have three or four 30-minute meetings in a morning, with not much space between Zooms to do anything else.

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The news, first reported by Bloomberg, may sound familiar to those who follow trendy policy changes affecting many businesses. According to Bloomberg, Meta, Facebook’s parent company; the software company Atlassian; and Clorox all have no-meeting days on the calendar.

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Reclaim.ai, a scheduling app, found that meetings increased by almost 70% between February 2020 and October 2021, as the pandemic pushed office work remote. Nixing meetings may be a boon for Zoom-fatigued workers, but some experts say leaving gatherings totally behind in 2023 does not help employees.

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“Most organizations have too many meetings, and most meetings aren’t good,” Lee Gimpel, founder of the Washington DC-based meeting facilitation and training firm Better Meetings, told the Guardian. “Canceling all meetings is a blunt tool that still doesn’t necessarily fix what’s going on.”

According to Gimpel, meetings drag on because most bosses are not trained on how to effectively run them, and too many people are invited. “Small meetings work well. Two, three, four, or five people can get together fine, but when you have meetings of 20, 30, or 50 people – which is easy to do when you blast out a Zoom request – those are not good,” he said. “It’s very hard for all of those people to talk over the course of one hour, so you have a lot of meeting tourists who are just sitting there, observing.”

Jon Petz is a motivational speaker and the author of Boring Meetings Suck: Get More Out of Your Meetings, or Get Out of More Meetings. He says that quashing recurring meetings, as Shopify plans to do, is a good start for workers. “When we get together on Friday afternoons because that’s what we always do, we don’t have a mission or a specific task, so we don’t do anything,” he said. “Those are time-killers.”

Petz and Gimpel say shortening meetings is key to improving them. A meeting scheduled for an hour should end at the 45-minute mark to give employees time to take a break, Gimpel suggested. If a company has to hold weekly recap meetings, Petz suggests keeping speakers to a strict two-minute limit, with other employees keeping time with buzzers. “That teaches people to be succinct, and to pass the mic if they don’t have anything to share,” he said.

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Eliminating gatherings altogether frees up workers’ calendars, but does it also isolate them? “There are lots of staff meetings held every Monday morning that have been held for 20 years straight that we don’t need to have, but they are what brings an organization together,” Gimpel said. “It’s what gets Mary from accounting and Jim from marketing to be in the same room together, so they grow to know and like each other. That won’t happen if people sit in cubicles or at home, typing emails and never meeting.”

The minutes before and after a meeting allow people to make informal connections. Those workplace friendships may make employees feel more connected to their jobs. “Those little interpersonal moments, where people get coffee, file in, or hang out, are where an organization is made and strengthened,” Gimpel said.

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