Less Meetings, More Work

The e-commerce company Shopify recently announced that they will be implementing a “calendar purge” of meetings company-wide so that they can allow their employees more time to work on their actual tasks instead of being stuck in meetings all day. And business executive and leadership professor Harry Kraemer seems to think they’re on the right track.

Kraemer joined John Morales on Morning Air to discuss Shopify’s recent decision, why that might be a smart move, and why work should be prioritized over meetings, Zoom calls, and conferences.

“In any occupation, there seem to be, John, just a lot of meetings. And many people come to work and they’ve got a lot to do, but, ‘Oh, I’ve got a meeting at 9. I’ve got a meeting at 10. I’ve got another meeting on Zoom at 11.’ And all of a sudden, they realize, ‘Wait a minute. I’m just not getting a lot done!’”

For many, that scenario rings a bell. Every hour, they find themselves brainstorming on a different aspect of some team project and by the time the clock strikes 5, they’ve hardly made any progress on the tasks themselves! Shopify is seeking to boost productivity by removing nearly 10,000 events that added up to more than 76,000 combined hours of meetings to provide more individual work time for employees. They also restricted Wednesday meetings, removed all recurring meetings with more than three people, and encouraged people to decline meetings if need be.

Kraemer explained that many companies are considering following in Shopify’s footsteps because of how inundated their employees are with group calls and gatherings for their own sake. Certainly, meetings are necessary to some degree, but how often does a business really need them, and how long do they need to be? From Kraemer’s point of view, meetings are for solving problems. From beginning to end, team members should focus on finding solutions. Once a strategy has been decided on, the meeting should adjourn, and the responsible parties should take action.

Over the years, businesses have approached the workplace dynamic as an opportunity to do more and more faster and faster. Meetings have worked in the past. They serve a purpose. Why not have more collaboration and more teamwork to bounce ideas off of coworkers? But that philosophy isn’t quite right.

“What are the things that we’re doing that we can do less of? What are the things that we can eliminate? And it goes both ways,” said Kraemer. “What are the things that we’re not doing that we could do more of?”

Is a meeting really necessary for this task or project? Could it be replaced with an email or a phone call? And if we eliminate that meeting, what time and space has been created? How do we occupy that time and space with more productive things? What could we do more of to become more efficient?

And for those meetings that are required, Kraemer says, the process should be streamlined. Employees who don’t need to be there should not be invited. Materials that are dispensed to the team previously should not be covered in the meeting, and it should be assumed that everyone has gone over the materials on their own. Meetings that include large groups of people and last for 30-60 minutes can very frequently be carried out in smaller groups in under 15 minutes.

Overscheduling group work is a symptom of the corporate mindset that has plagued office productivity for years now, and was only exacerbated by the pandemic. According to a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, employees were subject to 60% more remote meetings in 2022 than in 2020, the worst of the pandemic. Supervisors felt the need to check in, micromanage, and schedule meetings because it was online and at their fingertips.

This year, businesses aim to scale back on meetings, and allow for more people to cover more ground with actual work. And when a meeting is called for, team leaders should ask themselves these questions:

  1. Is it necessary? Can this be solved through an email/phone call/message?
  2. What team members need to know this information and can participate in problem-solving?
  3. What is the purpose of this meeting?
  4. Did we achieve our goals in that meeting? Was it productive?

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.