Eliminating Meetings for Remote Workers: How Shopify Is Clearing Out Employee Calendars
The latest trend in remote work is to clear out recurring meetings from employee calendars. In the early days of the pandemic, companies fled from cubicles to virtual meeting rooms to navigate the unfamiliar situation. Nowadays, meeting fatigue is rising, and eliminating meetings for remote workers seems to be the option that makes the most sense for companies.
The Canadian e-commerce company, Shopify, started the new year with a new policy to reduce the number of meetings their employees were having. The so-called “Calendar Purge” came as a surprise, but it was a calculated measure from leadership to avert the consequences of the global downturn the world is heading into.
As a remote-first company, we were impressed by Shopify’s approach to clearing out recurring meetings. Their new policy reflects the tech industry trend to go async to guarantee flexibility and improve documentation practices.
While companies like Doist have been async for a while, others like Meta and Twilio are starting to implement no-meetings days. The push for this policy stems from the idea that flexible remote work is only achievable when daily meetings and video calls do not tie down employees.
What Is the Calendar Purge?
Shopify announced in the first days of 2023 that it would conduct a company-wide calendar purge, requiring employees to eliminate all previously scheduled recurring meetings involving more than three people. There would be a two-week cooling-off period before those meetings could be added to calendars.
The company also implemented meeting-free Wednesdays and has limited meetings with more than 50 participants to a 6-hour window on Thursdays.
This new meeting policy was described as “useful subtraction” by Shopify COO Kaz Nejatian and is intended to free up employee calendars. The move would eliminate almost 10,000 events and free up more than 76,500 hours. Kaz also expects employees to be critical about booking new meetings after the two-week scheduling freeze.
The e-commerce firm also plans to rethink how employees use workplace communication tools like Slack, saying that the app can be distracting. Shopify will split internal communication between Slack and Workplace by Meta to be more intentional about how team members receive and share information. Leaving large, distracting Slack groups will also be encouraged.
“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,” said Kaz in a statement as reported by The Guardian.
Regarding the decision to eliminate recurring meetings, Chief Executive Officer and Cofounder Tobi Lutke said in a statement for Bloomberg that "the best thing founders can do is subtraction. It’s much easier to add things than to remove things. If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done with that period of time. As people add things, the set of things that can be done becomes smaller. Then, you end up with more and more people just maintaining the status quo.”
However, some might wonder if Shopify’s decision to scrap recurring meetings goes beyond providing flexibility for employees or is more of a competitive advantage.
Shopify’s Decision as a Competitive Advantage
It’s all about efficiency. Many companies experienced a sharp increase in meetings during the pandemic. According to Microsoft 2022 data, the average Teams users saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time since February 2020, and the number of weekly meetings increased by 153%.
Shopify had a challenging year in 2022 as the company cut 10% of its staff after experiencing high expansion during the early days of the pandemic. In 2020, the e-commerce company saw an 86% growth in revenue and reported having almost 10,000 employees by the end of 2021.
This policy change is expected to make the company more efficient and boost employee morale. After all, as Kaz wrote in a memo for employees, “no one joined Shopify to sit in meetings.”
Following the announcement, however, Kaz tweeted that the measure had received positive feedback and that the company would ship a new product focused on helping others to become meeting-free.
But the benefits of asynchronous work arrangements don’t stop at making companies more efficient. They can also improve employees’ health and reduce the mental load for already stressed and concerned workers.
Too Many Meetings Are Inefficient:
Most people are not trained on how to run efficient meetings, which leads to gatherings that don't accomplish much and leave attendants feeling like they wasted their time. According to Harvard Business Review, 71% of people find meetings unproductive.
Excessive meetings can lead to burnout:
Constant meetings can leave little time for focused work, causing employees to feel stressed and frustrated by those nonstop interactions. This, in turn, can contribute to burnout, which can harm productivity and well-being.
Virtual meetings don’t accommodate all employee needs:
The reality is not everyone feels comfortable in a virtual meeting. While some people may thrive speaking in public, others prefer nonverbal communication. If you work with remote teams across time zones, you will struggle to find an hour that suits everyone.
If meetings are completely necessary and it’s the best way to come to a solution for a project, then leaders must make sure that those events are productive for everyone. Basic etiquette like establishing an agenda and limiting the number of attendees is a good starting point. Dedicating a few minutes to go over action items and deadlines will also help identify accountability and ensure that things get done.
While reducing or eliminating recurring meetings can benefit employee health and improve morale, it’s hard to say if the measure will impact Shopify’s growth in the future. Productivity inside teams can improve, and decisions can be made more effective, but the company is also going against an uncertain economic climate.
The first effects of this calendar purge have been positive for Shopify and have even led to a new product idea, which can also have a say in the company’s growth. However, this no-meeting policy is on the right track to creating a remote work culture where employees can thrive.
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