What would you do if we told you that you could get up to 12 hours of your life back each week? That’s essentially what Shopify aimed to do when it implemented its calendar purge policy. The company’s chief human resources officer told Bloomberg this decision eliminated the equivalent of more than 320,000 hours of meetings. That’s a lot of hours!
Although the thought of turning all meetings into emails might sound enticing, it’s not practical for every business or department, especially if done haphazardly. However, when feasible, eliminating or restricting meetings can have practical benefits. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of setting meeting restriction policies.
What is a meeting restriction policy?
A meeting restriction policy is just that: a policy that dictates when and how often meetings can be conducted within an organization. The ideal guidelines for meeting restrictions depend on specific company, department and team needs, but any meeting policy should clearly state the rules around setting and attending meetings each week.
One recent example of a meeting restriction policy is Shopify’s calendar purge. The company set meeting restrictions regarding when certain meetings could be held based on size. For example, the company canceled all recurring meetings that involved two or more people. On top of that, it implemented other restrictions, such as no meetings on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, the company said meetings of 50 or more people can be held only on Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET and are limited to one per week. [Want to learn more about Shopify? Check out our comparison of the Shopify and Square POS systems.]
If canceling meetings isn’t really an option for your business, check out these ways to make your meetings more productive.
Why should you implement a meeting restriction policy?
Although canceling meetings might not work for everyone, there are several benefits that can come from setting meeting restrictions – because, let’s be real, some meetings really can be emails.
It can save you money.
In a recent study about the state of video conferencing, Dialpad found that the majority of people (83 percent) spend up to 12 hours per week in meetings. If that number sounds familiar, it’s because it’s referenced in the first sentence of this article. Yes, you can scroll up to check. It’s OK; we’ll wait. [See our review of the Dialpad business phone system, which is a helpful platform for companies keeping meetings on the docket.]
Twelve hours is a lot of time an employee could spend working on other things instead of sitting in meetings; namely, things that make your company more money. Let’s do some simple math. Say an employee makes $40 per hour and they spend 12 hours per week in meetings; that means they would be making $480 per week for those hours. That’s nearly $25,000 per year you are spending for someone to attend meetings. Isn’t there a better use for your salary funds?
Obviously, this example is a bit extreme, and we understand it’s not realistic to just cancel all meetings. However, there is a good chance some are largely or entirely unnecessary and can be eliminated so employees can work on revenue-generating tasks instead.
A study featured in Harvard Business Review found that 92 percent of employees consider meetings to be costly and unproductive.
It can increase productivity.
As mentioned above, setting limits for recurring and large company meetings can be a good way to give employees some of their time back so they can be productive with other tasks. However, meeting restriction policies can also increase meeting productivity itself.
In-person and online meetings tend to be more productive when they follow a clear agenda, but conversations can quickly go off the rails if there are too many people involved or if too much time is allotted for the meeting. Dialpad’s video conferencing study found that the most efficient meetings are stand-ups with 20 or fewer people that last an average of 12 to 13 minutes.
Setting limits on how often certain meetings can occur or for how long will force employees to be more intentional with the time when they are able to meet. Plus, given the connection between stress and productivity, reducing meeting-induced stress can also boost productivity.
It can reduce employee burnout.
Meetings are exhausting, so much so that the term “Zoom fatigue” was coined not long after the world started taking every meeting in their PJs. Although video conference meetings have their own pain points (no one should have to stare at their own face that much), too many meetings of any kind can ultimately cause employee burnout. That, in turn, can cause diminished productivity, engagement and retention.
A meeting restriction policy, such as no meetings on Fridays or no large meetings more than once per week, can give employees a bit of reprieve so they have time to mentally reset before their next big meetup. Also, with fewer meetings on the calendar, employees will be less stressed about finding the time to get all of their actual work done. This can help keep team members from being overwhelmed by all they need to do.
What are the drawbacks of eliminating meetings?
There’s a reason why meetings are a workplace standard across industries. Sometimes they’re truly necessary, even if some of your staffers beg to differ. Before you go blasting through Outlook and clearing out everyone’s calendars, consider some of the drawbacks to eliminating meetings.
Synchronous communication is restricted.
Regardless of whether employees are meeting in an office, online or a combination of the two, meetings are a great way to improve workplace collaboration, share information and create new initiatives. Communicating face to face (or screen to screen) has some advantages that just can’t be replicated over Slack messages, which can be misconstrued when it comes to tone and intention.
Although scheduling meetings across time zones can be challenging, at least everyone participating is in sync. In contrast, setting limitations on when or how often your staff can meet with one another can hinder or delay communication and prevent everyone from being on the same page. If it gets bad enough, this can have a ripple effect, causing project delays or mistakes.
>>Read next: Time-Zone Mania: How to Deal With Geodiversity
Employees might not receive as much support as they need.
Eliminating or restricting certain meetings might leave some employees without the level of support they need to be successful. While some team members might find large company meetings a waste of time, other workers may find them valuable for staying up to date on companywide or department-wide initiatives. Meetings can also make employees feel more connected and invested in the organization.
With any meeting restriction policy, it’s vital you always encourage managers to still host frequent one-on-one meetings with their direct reports so employees can receive the support they need. This is essential for building manager-employee relationships and managing employee performance.
Workers may be inconvenienced.
The main goal of setting guidelines and restrictions around team meetings is to give employees more of their time back so they can focus on other work, but sometimes this strategy can backfire. If you set guidelines that are too restrictive, you might unintentionally inconvenience your staff.
For example, say you follow Shopify’s lead and prohibit Wednesday meetings. OK, cool. But what if a large client meeting was previously always hosted on that day and now that client can’t meet on a different day? Not so cool. Having limited meeting hours can also be especially tricky for company leaders who are pulled in many different directions, ultimately causing them to have scheduling conflicts during the small window allowed for meetings. Also not cool.
To find the best meeting policy for your staff’s unique needs, survey your workforce on what kinds of meetings and times help them fulfill their roles and which hold them back.
What are some best practices for eliminating meetings?
No boss should wake up tomorrow and suddenly announce meetings are off the table. If you’re going to implement such an initiative, ensure you do so strategically. The below tips can help.
Solicit staff input.
Like any new policy, a meeting restriction policy shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum. Instead of leaving it up to isolated high-level leaders to create your new policy out of thin air, get feedback from your staff on what kinds of guidelines they’d like to see. You can also hold a meeting with your employees (ironic!) to discuss what such a policy might look like. Outline the restrictions you’re considering, and give team members the opportunity to voice any questions or concerns they may have.
Use employee monitoring software and productivity tools.
In addition to surveying workers, you can get insights by tracking employee productivity and burnout through high-quality employee monitoring software. These tools can give you a baseline for how productive each employee is throughout the week in comparison to how many meetings they have. You can continue monitoring their activity once your meeting restriction policy goes into effect to see how well or poorly the new guidelines are working. (Just make sure you tell employees you’re monitoring them.)
Develop team-specific rules.
Before your meeting restriction policy goes into effect, you should have each department and team set some specific rules on how they plan to work asynchronously. What type of software will everyone use to communicate outside of meetings? How soon should people expect responses before following up? How will cross-functional teams ensure nothing falls through the cracks? Establishing these game plans ahead of time can help reduce some of the problems that arise when you rely more heavily on nonverbal communication.
With some thoughtful planning and strategic implementation, a meeting restriction policy can give you and your staff the extra hours needed each week to take your operations to the next level.