Business leaders are applauding Shopify’s decision to temporarily scrap most meetings so workers can devote more time to other tasks – but they also caution that decluttering employee calendars might be easier said than done.
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Business leaders are applauding Shopify’s decision to temporarily scrap most meetings so workers can devote more time to other tasks – but they also caution that decluttering employee calendars might be easier said than done. The Ottawa-based e-commerce powerhouse said Tuesday it is wiping more than 10,000 meetings off its books over the next couple of weeks in a bid to boost productivity. Recurring meetings with three or more participants, all meetings on Wednesdays and meetings with 50 or more people outside of a six-hour slot from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays will be shelved under the plan. The company said the move was part of a “ruthless internal prioritization effort” as it looks to rebound from a disappointing 2022 that saw its valuation plummet and its revenues grow at a much slower pace than earlier in the pandemic. “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,” Shopify chief operating officer Kaz Nejatian said in a statement. That sentiment resonated strongly with human resources expert Kathryn Tremblay, who praised Shopify for issuing a “clear directive” aimed at freeing employees to focus on work that has more meaning and purpose than sitting in time-consuming meetings. “I absolutely know it’s going to help their employee engagement,” Tremblay, the CEO of Ottawa-based Altis Recruitment and excelHR, told OBJ. “What they’re doing is they’re being extremely intentional in their language. I love that they’re doing that, and I think that’s what it’s going to take.” Still, the longtime business owner knows from firsthand experience that cancelling meetings, while a nice idea in theory, can be a difficult policy to maintain in practice. Tremblay tried implementing meeting-free days at her companies last year. While the initiative was successful at first, she says it didn’t take long before colleagues started asking if they could chat during periods that were blocked off for projects and other tasks. “We would suddenly find ourselves fully booked even on meeting-free days,” she explained. “The meeting creep seems to just happen.” At Kanata-based Calian Group, which began scrapping meetings on Tuesdays and Friday afternoons a few months into the pandemic, CEO Kevin Ford says the policy has given employees a much-needed respite from endless Zoom calls and allowed them to focus their energies on activities that really matter. “People were getting exhausted,” Ford said of the firm’s jam-packed meeting schedule in the early days of the COVID crisis. “There was just meeting after meeting because people had no other way to communicate. It’s not just about productivity – it’s about personal wellness. People just can’t survive in meeting mode every day.” Like Tremblay, Ford said Shopify’s move is raising awareness about an issue that’s been festering in companies around the world for years. According to a 2022 survey from California-based productivity app-maker Dialpad, a majority of business professionals spend up to a third of their work week in meetings. “I think (Shopify) is trying to shock the system and challenge everyone’s thinking,” the veteran executive said. “In COVID, everything was a meeting, because it had to be. I think the spirit of this is right in the sense that we should all take a step back … and think about our governance practices.” Tremblay agreed, saying moves like cutting meetings are part of the “disciplined pursuit of doing less” in a hectic workday and concentrating on what really needs to get done. “I think anecdotally business leaders are talking about it, but I don’t hear anyone coming up with the grand solution,” she added. “It takes leaders setting the tone for it.” At the same time, Ford says companies must guard against blanket no-meeting policies that discourage employees from getting together to chat and exchange ideas – interactions he believes are the cornerstone of any successful business. “You still need to meet, and you still need to have collaboration,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful you don’t swing the pendulum too far the other way, because then I think you also feel the effects of people not being connected. “People still need to talk to people. I think we have to be careful of creating hard policies that prohibit people from thinking that they can still reach out whenever they need help.”