Last Tuesday, Fortune reported that Shopify — the tech company that offers an e-commerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems — has eliminated “all recurring meetings involving more than two people.” Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s vice president of product and chief operating officer, also announced that no events would be scheduled on Wednesdays and “large meetings involving more than 50 people can only be held on Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Time.” Furthermore, Shopify is limiting large meetings to only one per week. As most of us in the business world can likely relate, this sounds great!
The reality of life is that we all have a set number of hours — 168 — every week. How we allocate those hours across work, family, spirituality, health, fun, and making a difference is something we should reflect on deeply. In class when I ask my students to do this, I often hear the frustrated feedback that their work demands are so endless that they don’t have the time for anything else. At least the Shopify folks seem to have figured out that not all work commitments are actually productive. The article cited a study by Otter.ai which estimated that as much as one-third of all work meetings may be completely unnecessary. Based on my own interactions with hundreds of companies, I believe that an average company could probably reduce its workload by at least 25% without having any impact on customers, team members, or shareholders.
I believe Shopify is on the right track. Of course, meetings aren’t going to go away — and they shouldn’t. Especially in the increasingly work from home / remote / virtual environments we are trending towards, it’s critical that we make it a point to connect live instead of relying on emails or text messages. However, it often happens that many of the things we do — especially business meetings — are done without a clear purpose or without a defined timeframe. When I was the CEO of Baxter I made it a point to ensure we weren’t having meetings for the sake of having meetings. To that end, in any meeting, we would determine: Why are we meeting? What is the purpose? What decision are we trying to make? Similarly, my colleague, Khalid Ali, shares that at his company, whoever calls a meeting makes it a point to clearly state and align the following at the start of the meeting:
- Purpose – What is the purpose of the meeting?
- Process – How will we achieve that purpose?
- Payoff – What will be the value that comes out of this time we’re spending together?
If a team is not able to satisfactorily answer the above questions, they should really question whether it’s worth having the meeting. Additionally, there are ways to make necessary meetings more productive. For example, to have meetings just to share information doesn’t make much sense. This can almost always be done more efficiently by sending materials out ahead of time and limiting the actual meeting time to discuss any concerns or opportunities and focus on making decisions.
What Shopify — and others seeking to emulate Shopify — must avoid is assuming that a blanket edict will work for all teams and all employees. Everyone needs to work with their teams to figure out what makes the most sense for them. A company-wide declaration like Shopify’s give all team members license to call a timeout and reflect on how necessary their meetings truly are — or if those precious hours from their weekly 168 could be better utilized in other activities.