As many businesses feel the weight of economic slowdown, leaders are trying to swing the pendulum back after an influx of meetings took over employee calendars. They now want workers to have as much heads-down time as possible.
On Tuesday, Kaz Nejatian, VP and COO at Shopify, sent an internal email to staff detailing new communication standards for employees. Nejatian said the company is clearing employee calendars of all recurring meetings with more than three people and restricting all meetings on Wednesdays.
Nejatian also encouraged staff to decline or remove themselves from meetings, according to the internal email shared by Shopify to CIO Dive.
The change is expected to remove nearly 10,000 events, which equate to more than 76,000 hours of meetings, according to a Shopify spokesperson.
The new policy also flips the script on what became the norm during the pandemic, when businesses replaced in-person interactions with online meetings. Concerned about engagement, employee well-being and productivity, many leaders filled their teams’ schedules with allotted times to connect and check-in.
Employees participated in 60% more remote meetings in 2022 than in 2020, according to research conducted by Andrew Brodsky, assistant professor of management at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, and Mike Tolliver, director of product management at workspace collaboration analytics company Vyopta.
“I think a lot of organizations are trying to course-correct by scaling back meetings or at least making leaders more thoughtful before they just automatically schedule a meeting,” said Anita Williams Woolley, professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
The economic slowdown and customer scrutiny on spending has pressured businesses to make employees more productive, but experts are split on the impacts of policies such as Shopify’s.
Opening up time for employees could push them toward more ad hoc discussions with colleagues and result in stronger connections, according to Mike Fasciani, senior director analyst at Gartner.
“We want to be able to give employees flexibility in terms of how they engage with one another, but the first step is to give them time to do so by basically cutting back on the number of formal meetings that they’re being invited — or almost forced — to attend.” Fasciani said.
This newfound time could be essential to boosting productivity among staff, but some analysts suggest that implementing a policy of this nature could create unintended consequences.
Many employees expect managers to facilitate socialization, whether that is a moment of non-work talk at the beginning of meetings or setting up designated spaces for small talk, according to Angelina Gennis, senior analyst at Forrester’s Future of Work.
“I think a lot of organizations assume that meetings are not as participatory [and] there’s a lot of people sitting on meetings not really socializing or participating in any way,” Gennis said. “There really needs to be more guidance for what happens in a meeting, and specifically guidance for managers who are having team meetings for what that structure should look like.”
The question is not whether employees have too many meetings, but rather are the meetings that they do have productive, goal-oriented and participatory. For team leaders, Gennis suggests all meetings should:
If businesses implement restrictions on meetings, having an alternative outlet for these depleted interactions is essential, according to Woolley.
Nejatian acknowledged this potential issue with employees.
“It means we have to relearn habits and figure things out on the fly,” Nejatian said in the email. “It means there will be casualties (an important meeting that was clobbered) or confusion (when should I use Workplace vs Slack?).”
“This intentional chaos is ok,” he said.
Some experts are concerned, if alternatives are not provided, employees could begin to find their own solutions and tools creating even more bloat and confusion resulting in decreased productivity.
“You can’t just say we’re not having meetings, and then everybody’s sort of left to figure out how they’re going to coordinate, how they’re going to make decisions, foster social connections [so] you have to have some alternatives,” Woolley said.
As businesses look to boost employee productivity, meeting restrictions could become more commonplace. But it’s important to remember that policies from one business should not be lifted and shifted to another.
“Whenever there’s change, you’ll go to one extreme,” said Amanda Mathieson, research director at Info-Tech Research Group’s CIO Advisory Practice. “Then you’ll go to the next extreme before you find out what works best for you and there’s no one-size-fits-all.”