Get rid of meetings to unlock your workforce
Could it create happier, more productive workplaces?
Why You Should Care
It's been three years since the pandemic began, and employers are still grappling with meeting fatigue.
Aleksandra Sulimko has a drastic solution: get rid of meetings altogether.
Should you follow suit?
Meetings dominate today’s business culture.
This trend has been steadily rising for over a decade but was accelerated by the enforced shift to remote working caused by the global pandemic.
From 2020-2022, the time spent in meetings more than tripled, according to Microsoft, to the point where today’s employee spends an average of 18 hours a week in meetings.
The problem with meetings
When an employee’s day is filled with back-to-back meetings, there is little time left for heads-down work.
The constant interruption of meetings disrupts creative flow and focus, thus compromising the quality of work employees can produce.
This is particularly damaging for larger strategic tasks, which, at worst, can impact the future trajectory and success of the business.
To accommodate their intense schedule of meetings, employees end up putting off the larger projects in favor of day-to-day administrative tasks, which require less creative headspace.
This creates bottlenecks and damages productivity because important projects are consistently put off until after check-ins are complete.
Beyond causing frustration for teams, this can have a tangible impact on a company’s success rate and delivery of work.
For service-based organizations, this is especially dangerous as failure to deliver will see them lose client trust and could result in an eventual loss.
Despite the problems they cause, many leaders need help to visualize how their organization would function collaboratively without meetings.
My experience with TheSoul Publishing proves that it is possible to communicate without meetings and that under this structure, teamwork, morale, and productivity thrive.
The decision to ban meetings
My company made the decision to eliminate internal meetings and emails in 2019, before many organizations had become aware of the problems they caused.
We recognized that facetime does not correlate to productivity, and scheduling back-to-back meetings can be detrimental to team morale.
This, and the desire to scale a business across different countries, were two defining reasons for our transition towards a “no-meetings” policy.
Why did we notice the issue sooner than others? As a digital publishing studio with a global workforce spanning 70 countries and six continents, the damage to productivity and wellbeing caused by the need to work around others’ schedules was more apparent than it would be if we had all been working in one time zone. We needed to create a new way of working that empowered employees and reflected our workforce’s global nature.
To put power back into the hands of our teams and give them the freedom to work according to their schedule and location, we devised an asynchronous communications process that would alleviate the pressure for everyone to be at their desks simultaneously.
Put simply, asynchronous communication means that individuals can communicate with one another without expecting an immediate response.
How asynchronous communications works in practice
For a no-meetings policy to be effective, it is vital to build a robust infrastructure and culture, so employees don’t feel isolated or stuck about what to do next.
Initially, leaders need to invest in the tools and resources that will allow their teams to collaborate effectively without needing to hold meetings. Company-wide project management tools can work well for this purpose.
This could be a project management application, an internal Wikipedia-style program, and/or an instant messaging program, to help ensure that employees can always find the answers they need by referring to past projects and messages.
Teams then need to be fully briefed to understand the purpose behind the new no-meeting approach. With understanding, education, and training, teams will be able to glean maximum benefit from the tools and infrastructure that have been implemented.
Once educated and equipped to use an asynchronous communications model, employees can buy into a shared culture around the approach, which allows the entire organization to work harmoniously within an asynchronous system.
Can any meetings take place?
Flexibility is an important component of asynchronous communications, and there may be exceptional circumstances where a meeting needs to be held.
To ensure these meetings are only implemented where necessary, my company implemented a business-wide protocol for employees to assess whether to organize a meeting. Within this, there is clear guidance on how the meeting should be approached and run.
First, the employee should try to solve the issue without calling for a meeting by referring back to technology and tools to look for answers. If they decide that a meeting is required, they should make every effort to ensure that the time is spent productively.
This means providing their colleagues with 24 hours notice and a meeting agenda so they can prepare accordingly.
For us, meetings are limited to two people, and 30 minutes. Full details of the discussion are created following the meeting and posted on our project management platform so that all other colleagues can benefit from the discussion.
Removing meetings won’t damage company culture
As an HR leader, my goal is to create the best possible environments for teams to be successful and enhance their productivity, no matter where they are. I understand that there is concern over business models that eliminate meetings and emails, compromising collaboration and morale.
My experience, however, is that when managed effectively, a no-meetings structure is actually a highly human-centric approach to managing teams.
With almost two-thirds of people wanting to work remotely permanently and the rising trend towards digital nomadism, a business culture built around meetings no longer works for many modern employees.
HR professionals and business leaders need to innovate to deliver a human-centric culture that will satisfy today’s employees, as well as those of tomorrow.
Asynchronous communications put your employees at the heart of the company because it demonstrates that you trust them to work productively in whatever way works best for them. It’s also highly empowering for individuals because they can get to know their own working styles and play to their strengths.
Happiness, diversity, and inclusivity are crucial elements of any successful company. With fewer and fewer team members working together in offices, it’s easier to forget to congratulate or call out your colleagues on their successes. As such, individuals can feel underappreciated for their work.
Asynchronous communications help remote-first teams build a positive culture. You can establish creative and engaging ways to circulate positive messaging using transparent, company-wide communication channels.
Above all, business leaders and HR teams must listen to their employees when looking to transform their company culture for the better. While banning all meetings may sound extreme, the approach can have genuine benefits for streamlining communications, empowering employees, and fostering cohesion.
By regularly sharing internal surveys, leaders can discover how positively their initiatives are being received, measure engagement, and then use these to iron out issues and improve current processes.
Provided sufficient attention and resources are given to building a culture and infrastructure around no-meetings and this culture is clearly communicated to teams, then the model can lead to positive results for productivity, communication, and morale.
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Sulimko brings her HR expertise to strengthen day-to-day operations of TheSoul Publishing's global team.