We have all been there: sitting at a table with an array of teammates, twiddling your thumbs as a supervisor drags on numbers or analytics. In your head, seemingly ashamed by the possibility of being a lazy or bad employee, you question whether the meeting is necessary. You question whether business meetings, in general, are necessary. Can’t you just relay this information through a memo or well-crafted email?
Pondering whether a business meeting is both vital and productive is an activity executed by more than just those with lower attention spans (or an eye on lunch ahead). Plenty of business professionals have wondered about the validity of business meetings as a whole. It may be possible that you, as the employer, are just wasting your own time.
And in business, time is money.
So, should business meetings be cut back? Should employers stop holding so many get-togethers during the work week?
The answer may be more shocking than you’d expect.
- It All Started With Shopify
- What Really Are Meetings, Anyway?
- How to Make Sure Your Meetings Are Useful
- How to Know If Your Meeting Isn’t Needed
It All Started With Shopify
Shopify, the Canadian e-commerce giant, spent the majority of 2022 tumbling downward. After a significant loss in an overestimated expansion, the company cut its labor force by 10% last July. Though it seemed like that would be the majority of the company’s headline-forming news, it was anything but.
Cutting costs wasn’t the only bastion of the company’s new forced strategy. Just last week, Shopify told their employees that meetings were officially off the table for the time being.
And thousands of bored board members rejoiced with a labor-filled smile.
The company called the idea a ‘calendar purge’, removing all recurring meetings with more than two people in perpetuity. They also established a rule that there will be no meetings on Wednesdays and meetings of more than 50 employees must be held on Thursdays within a 6-hour window.
“The best thing founders can do is subtraction,” Chief Executive Officer Tobi Lutke, who co-founded the company, said in an emailed statement. “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. 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.”
Is the Meeting Cutting Just a Necessary Aboutface?
Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s vice president of product and chief operating officer, said in an email, “We know no one joined Shopify to sit in meetings.”
Though Shopify has no fear of disappearing into oblivion, they were facing rough times last year. Is it possible that the company is making bold and drastic cultural movements to save face? Are they attempting to retain employees and engagement through drastic and favorable changes? Are they making controversial pivots just for the sake of making pivots? Is this a desperation move to keep employees happy?
Nope. Shopify seems to truly stand by its metrics.
They believe meetings are reducing overall productivity.
A recent report by Otter.ai found that employees spend about 18 hours a week in meetings. The survey concluded that going to unnecessary meetings wastes about $100 million a year at big organizations.
Consequently, Shopify took this shocking statistic to heart. Why waste money and lower the happiness of employees, especially during a time of financial hardship?
Are Other Businesses Following Suit?
Shopify can make as many radical moves as they want, but that doesn’t mean its ideas will become a trend. Until a large selection of employing juggernauts make the move, cutting business meetings will stay a tradition-bending taboo.
Fortunately for those that hate unnecessary business meetings, other companies are already on the same path. Facebook parent Meta, household Clorox, and tech firm Twilio have all instilled no-meeting days in their work weeks. They have yet to cut meetings as significantly as Shopify, but a start is a start.
Overall, companies are quickly realizing how much time they are wasting with drab conversations. Holding meetings just because it’s the ‘normal’ thing to do leads to a contagion. An upkeeping of a status quo that no one dares question.
What Really Are Meetings, Anyway?
When speaking of labor and corporate means, meetings are the act of getting workers together to discuss a topic. It could be reviewing recent work trends, discussing forward movements and next steps, or disciplinary actions. One-on-one meetings are not necessarily within the same category (even Shopify agrees, keeping them open and on the agenda).
One-on-one meetings are more so a conversation, not a waste of company and employee time.
Therefore, when we speak of meetings, we are referring to the act of getting an array of employees in a room to discuss a topic (whether important or not). This does not refer to personal meetings or project discussions.
Advantages of Meetings
Though technology has moved us into a world of differentiating communication avenues, the act of getting workers together will never go away completely. Simply put, if you need to express information to the entirety of your staff, a meeting will always be the easiest way to do it. The question becomes whether it is taking up too much time or whether the information truly needs to be discussed.
Regardless, business meetings do have their advantages. Overall, they can help keep effective communication and productivity amongst a team of individuals. As a species that thrives on social structure, we need to be able to share ideas and express emotions openly. That’s the basis of human nature. When holding meetings, workers can express their thoughts and learn the thoughts of others, boosting production efforts and forward-thinking intuition.
Furthermore, meetings can work to keep everyone on track. When you have a mutual goal (say, a business project) but have a plethora of workers moving individually, it can be impossible to make sure everyone is in the right place. The larger the team, the harder it is to keep them all on the same pace. Meetings allow everyone to reconvene and reinforce the necessary actions for the success of the goal.
Meetings have advantages. They will never truly be extinct.
Remote Work Has Different Needs
If meetings work to keep a large group on the same production page, remote work meetings do so to a tenfold extent. If keeping track of a group of workers is hard at an office, keeping track of them in their individual remote work settings is nearly impossible. Therefore, remote meetings will continue to be even more of a necessity.
Breaking down the needs and advantages of business meetings with your remote work team is a discussion that could take up its own article. To put it lightly, the need for remote meetings is much higher than in-person meetings. When you aren’t communicating with each other on a daily basis, keeping track of progress and headspace is crucial.
Furthermore, the need for communication as a means of increasing production is necessary for remote workers. We need communication, and remote workers tend to lack the avenues to reach it (with text chats being an outlier). We broke down the need for remote work communication here.
So, if your team is entirely remote, you may find that your needs and reasons don’t necessarily match with the rest of this article. Yes, some tips may apply (if not most of them), but it is an entirely different beast.
How to Make Sure Your Meetings Are Useful
As we have established, meetings aren’t going anywhere. Even Shopify didn’t outright ban meetings. They are still a necessity for business means, but they are only a necessity when they are a necessity. Make sense?
Therefore, if you are going to hold meetings, you want to make sure they are worth the time. If they are not, you are wasting company time, employee time, and lowering overall profits (remember the $100 million average from before).
If you are going to hold a meeting, you should follow the next tips to make sure it is worth everyone’s while.
1. Keep On Topic
We’ve all had that one boss that rambles on. And on, and on, and on. What seems to be a quick and punchy meeting can slowly turn into an all-out spiderweb of different topics. It’s rough to sit through and it causes time to fly by.
Secondly, we have all been a part of a team that tends to go off on tangents, discussing personal matters and pop-culture reviews before even scratching the meeting subject. Though this is a sign of a cohesive team and friendly business culture, it’s not great for the necessity and time constraint of successful meetings.
Keep on topic. Make an outline for the meeting including specific topics and points that need addressing. Do not go over this. It may take some constraints, but it will significantly lower the time of the gathering. And the lower the time, the higher the attention rate. Even the most attentive of workers will find themselves wandering off after a significant ramble.
Keep track of what truly needs to be discussed and discuss it. If you expect employee input, send the meeting schedule and memo to the employees at least a day ahead of time. This time allows employees to think of their points and ideas before, cutting down on rambling time.
If you still tend to ramble, write a script and stick to it. It may not be the most riveting of ways to conduct a meeting, but a short script read is still easier to follow than an hour of rambling.
2. Keep On Time
Furthermore, make sure you stick to the time. If you believe the meeting should only take 30 minutes, make the schedule fit 30 minutes. On the meeting notes, state what topics will be discussed and how long the conversations should last. Stick to this schedule.
According to Booqed, the average employee spends at least 3 hours a week in meetings. This means 24 billion hours are wasted each year because of unproductive meetings.
You can maintain productivity and lower company waste by keeping on schedule. This is not to say that going over is the end of the world, but it should be avoided.
Make sure to lay out time for discussions afterward, too.
3. Keep the Schedule Necessary
Studies show that in meetings that aren’t longer than 15 minutes,
almost all of the attendees are paying attention at 91% overall.
Once a meeting goes past 45 minutes, attendee attention drops to 64%
There’s nothing worse in a meeting than discussing things that, frankly, do not need to be discussed. Therefore, work to trim the fat. The problem with business meetings, as seen by the majority of statistics found throughout this article, is that they tend to be unnecessary.
Your job as a leader or supervisor is to make sure the meetings are necessary.
Keep the schedule down to the nitty gritty. If you finish all the talking points early, let the meeting end. You do not need to fill out the entire 60-minute block just because you predicted the meeting will be 60 minutes. End the meeting early if you can. This gives employees time to go back to being employees.
As stated above, the longer the meeting, the less attention is paid. Keep it simple.
4. Less People = More Productivity
Experts believe that meetings are more useful and productive when the attendance is 8 or fewer people. Though it may seem more efficient to jam-pack everyone into a meeting, it is often better to do less at a time.
For example, instead of holding a meeting with the entire staff, hold meetings by team or specific departments.
The more people, the more communication and ideas. If you leave a meeting open for discussion, 30 people will take up significantly more time talking than 8. The more people, the higher the chance of rambling.
Furthermore, if you are holding the meeting via software or application, the more people means the higher the chance of technical difficulties.
Try to break business meetings into corresponding groups, if possible.
5. Be Able to Say No
Is the meeting truly needed? If not, don’t hold it. It’s that simple.
If your business is set on holding a meeting once a month, supervisors can feel forced to put together a plan for the meeting. If you make it feel like a necessity, it can become less of a necessity. Don’t try to stretch information just so you can keep on the normal meeting schedule.
Say no if a meeting isn’t needed.
This new wave of anti-meeting thought is truly a time to look in the mirror. Are you holding meetings just because you believe that’s what successful businesses are supposed to do? Are you just following suit, copying those you deemed successful, despite not truly needing the effort?
Give it some thorough thought.
How to Know If Your Meeting Isn’t Needed
Riding off the last point, deciding whether or not a meeting is needed can be tough. If you are set in the mind frame that successful companies need frequent meetings, you may have already poisoned the pudding. You may already be stuck in the romantic idea of successful business meetings, even if they are anything but.
If you are stuck in that headspace, figuring out if a meeting is needed can be tough. Therefore, here are a few questions to ask yourself before scheduling that next get-together:
1. Is Your Team On the Same Page?
Up to 71% of respondents in a Harvard Business Review survey
found that most meetings are inefficient and unproductive.
Most often, meetings are used to make sure that every member of a large team is on the same track. If a project is due in a month and requires multiple different working pieces, it’s important to ensure that everyone is on the same page and will be done in time for launch. At the end of the day, this makes complete sense.
The question is whether or not your team really needs to be put on track.
If production is continuing at a smooth pace, there aren’t any glaring issues, and every department is meeting its corresponding deadlines, is a ‘coming together’ meeting necessary? It seems as if everything is going well, right?
If your team is on the same page and there’s nothing to discuss, why hold a meeting at all? It’s just disrupting production for no valid reason.
2. Does the Conversation Need to be In-Person?
As we stated earlier, modern technology has created multiple avenues of communication. The remote working world of the pandemic speed lined this process, boosting beautiful tools like Google meetings and Zoom into modern relevance. Everyone now knows how to work a virtual meeting. Everyone knows how to add to a shared spreadsheet or send an email.
Does the information or discussion truly need to be held in person (or over call), or can it just be shared via another form of communication? Will an email or document not suffice?
If the information is timely, communication methods like chat clients and emails may actually be quicker and more efficient than having to set a time for a meeting and meet. For example, if you need to let a team know something must be changed, instant messaging them can let them change it immediately. Holding a meeting would require scheduling a time and letting them know about the time (ironically, via instant message).
Some discussions should be held in person. We aren’t stating that everything should go the way of text. But, pick and choose what’s needed.
3. Is Input From the Team Necessary?
Once again, it’s time to question validity.
According to LifeSize, the most common reasons for a business meeting are as follows:
- Status Update Meetings – catching up on the progress of production or project.
- Decision-Making Meetings – discussing and choosing an option for a business solution.
- Problem-Solving Meetings – similar to decision-making, but involving an overall problem.
- Team-Building Meetings – meeting and discussing various topics to help build camaraderie.
- Idea-Sharing Meetings – speaks for itself.
- Innovation Meetings – attempting to find or brainstorm a way to make processes easier or better.
How many of the above topics seem to require in-person communication? Not a lot.
How many can be done over time via a chat or shared document? A lot.
How many need to take longer than 45 minutes? None.
At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself if team input is needed for the subject at hand. if everything is going well and production is in great shape, what even needs to be discussed? Can the idea process just, instead, be an open discussion shared when ideas come up? Does it need a designated meeting?
Obviously, this all depends on the business and industry. As we stated, we are not here to squash meetings as a whole. We just believe that leaders should think about necessity before wasting company and employee time.
4. Ask for Opinions
Here’s the wonderful thing about having a team of employees that are professional, mature, and respectable: you can ask them their opinions on business subjects are trust their input!
Firstly, the employees are the ones that have to sit through the meetings. They are the ones we are currently discussing regarding attention span and productivity in relation to business meetings. Employees are the main point of the argument. Therefore, employees are the ones that know whether a meeting is truly necessary.
If you find yourself pondering the necessity for a gathering, there’s nothing wrong with asking your employees (if only managers), whether it should be held. While some may be prone to always saying no, especially if they hate meetings, there are others that will give you unbiased input. Some will simply say “I don’t think a meeting is needed.”
Send out an email or message and ask if the team believes you need to meet. If the majority say no, there’s your answer. Easy peasy.
If you cannot trust the options of your team, that’s another problem entirely. (Cough, you may need a staffing agency like Tier2Tek. Cough).
5. Is It Too Similar to the Last Meeting?
Last but not least, the final question to ask before deciding on business meetings is whether the topic is too similar to the one before.
Look at the aforementioned list of meeting topics. Let’s say you had a meeting discussing decision-making last month. If you are to try to plan a decision-making meeting again, is it too soon or similar to the last?
Once again, we ask: is it really necessary?
There’s no easier way to reduce attendee attention and productivity than having a meeting rehashing the same ideas and cliches. Repeating is the quickest way to lose the minds of others. There’s no need for insanity.
Are business meetings on their way out? Of course not. The concept of meeting together as thought-provoking humans will never falter. We, as both a society and a business, will always require meeting together to share ideas and perspectives. A meeting of the minds is needed to move forward as a species (and company).
The point here is that not all meetings are necessary. As business leaders, we often fall into the same boring tactics, reducing company and employee productivity. Why do the same things over and over just because that’s what we believe we are supposed to do? Why not break from the norm?
Shopify may just be on the right path. The need for business meetings may no longer be as significant as we believed.