Shopify made headlines last year when it announced its calendar purge and subsequent meeting cost calculator. From there, many other large companies followed suit and asked themselves how they, too, could minimize the amount of meetings on people’s calendars.
Some companies – among them work management platform Asana – doubled down on efforts it was already making around streamlining meetings. In early 2022 Asana conducted a “meeting doomsday” exercise. Employees were asked to identify recurring meetings that they found lacked value and then remove all of the standing meetings with fewer than five attendees from their calendar for 48 hours.
The results: a few months later meeting lengths had shrunk. Most 30-minute meetings were converted to 15 minutes, some weekly meetings were moved to every other week or month, and others were deleted entirely. That meant each person was saving an average of 11 hours per month, totaling about 3.5 workweeks per year.
Meetings overload, and the correlation this has to employee burnout and poor productivity, have been talking points for years. Asana first began attempting to keep internal meetings from becoming unwieldy over the last decade, with its “No Meeting Wednesdays” protocol. But its research found that when colleagues violated the explicit company norm of not scheduling meetings on that day, attendees felt resentful.
“After the initial pilot program, we ran a larger experiment in the marketing department called the Meeting Reset,” said Dr. Rebecca Hinds, Asana’s head of the Work Innovation Lab. That meant working with Stanford professor and Work Innovation Lab research partner, Bob Sutton, to develop a rating system for participants to assess the value of their meetings. It involved a three-point scale for two dimensions: impact of meetings, and effort it required with prep and follow-ups. “After leveraging this rating scale, even before the 48-hour deletion period, several participants told us that they changed and eliminated meetings that required a lot of work and were of little value because of the helpful two-dimensional framework.”
The 60 participants saved 265 hours per month in total when reducing unproductive recurring meetings.
“Following our Meetings Doomsday and Meeting Reset interventions, the biggest change we’ve seen is a more thoughtful approach to both scheduling and structuring meetings, such as moving meetings to async or delegating attendance at the meeting to one or two team members,” said Hinds. “We found that restructuring meetings in this way drove the most time savings. In the aftermath of our meeting reset, employees are much more strategic and thoughtful about removing items from meeting agendas that can be effectively handled asynchronously.”
Slack’s Workforce Lab revealed similar findings when looking at meeting culture. According to Slack, more than two hours a day in meetings is the tipping point at which a majority of workers, including executives, say they’re spending “too much time” in meetings and don’t have enough time to focus on their core work. That’s why Slack has its own initiatives to limit the amount of meetings for its employees as well.
“At Slack, we avoid cluttering calendars with status meetings that are best handled asynchronously and instead post updates in a channel,” said Christina Janzer, svp of research and analytics at Slack. “We find the most valuable meetings have a clear, previously agreed upon purpose and end after that purpose has been achieved, rather than extending to the full 30 minutes or one hour default.”
Slack has instituted no-meeting Focus Fridays and Maker Weeks to also optimize its meeting culture. On Focus Fridays, teams cancel internal meetings and disable notifications to have uninterrupted focus time. During Maker Weeks, teams cancel recurring internal meetings and focus on creating, whether that’s coding, writing, planning or something else.
“This break in regularly scheduled meetings encourages teams to reevaluate their calendars and ask, did we really need that meeting at all?,” said Janzer.
Global HR platform Remote is also a strong advocate for purging meetings.
“If you can avoid having a meeting, consider not having one,” said Job van der Voort, CEO of Remote. “By cutting down on meetings, we’re not just saving time. We’re also empowering our teams to work on their own schedules. This gives our employees a sense of autonomy and keeps them motivated, fostering a culture of productivity and efficiency.”
He also argues that when you reduce meetings, you inspire a culture of documentation.
“At Remote, one of our strategies is to share department updates through Loom videos that team members can access at any time, regardless of when they log in,” said van der Voort. “This practice is not only efficient but also ensures that vital information is consistently available to all team members.”
And when people do still decide to meet, having an agenda for the meeting is crucial to also aid in saving time. “An agenda is helpful in figuring out ‘should I have this meeting or not?,’” said Gabie Kur, svp of PR at communications agency Codeword, whose motto is “no agend-y, no attend-y.”
Small to mid-sized businesses like Codeword are also seeing how meeting purges can pay off big time. In fact, Codeword’s year-end gift to employees included baseball caps that say “Cancel Friday Meetings.” Starting in January, it put no meeting Fridays into effect.
“The idea is not to smash more meetings into Monday, but that you’re essentially going to prune which meetings actually have to happen,” said Kur.
And at form builder Typeform, internal surveys found that too many employees were concerned about the number of meetings they were in. Similar to Codeword, the company has since implemented Focus Fridays as a meeting-free day. And it’s paid off.
“We sent another engagement form to the team to see how they were feeling after we made these changes,” said Patricia Rollins, vp of marketing. “The ‘ways of working’ score went up more than 10 points. Trimming our meeting time has helped our employees and our customers, which is really satisfying. Marketing undoubtedly can be chaotic and fast-paced, so the key to success lies in creating our own playbook.”