Last year, Shopify had famously gone all-remote in a bid to boost productivity. This year, it’s come up with a different plan.
Shopify has started off 2023 by canceling all recurring meetings with more than two employees. When employees joined back after their holiday break, all recurring meetings were taken off their calendars, and they were told not add them back for at least two weeks. After that initial two-week period, employees were instructed to “be really, really critical about what you’re adding back.” Shopify says this is to make sure that employees only have “truly essential” meetings on their calendars.
“People join Shopify to build. To make cool sh*t. To see the thing they had their hands on get released so they can say, ‘whoa, I made that.’ Meetings are a bug along that journey,” said Shopify COO Kaz Nejatian. Shopify expects that 10,000 meetings will be freed from its calendars from this move.
Shopify says that if this doesn’t work, and meetings return to calendars, it has other tools in its arsenal. Shopify says it could disburse a “budget” of meeting hours to managers will not be able to exceed. It can also add a counter to the top right corner of workers’ video conferencing screens to remind people what the cost, or dollar value, is of participants’ time while they’re in the meeting.
The cancellation of all meetings with more than two people isn’t the step that Shopify has taken in its assault on unproductive meetings. Shopify has already declared Wednesday as a “no meeting day”. It has also created a bot that will alert anyone who tries to schedule a meeting on Wednesdays to think twice, and plans to actively encourage workers to cancel unneeded meetings. Shopify also requires that all large “all-hands” meetings with more than 50 people to take place no more than once a week, and only during a six-hour period on Thursdays.
Shopify isn’t the only company that doesn’t seem to think highly of meetings. GitLab has annual “meeting cleanup” days to reset which recurring meetings are really needed. Asana conducted experiments last year called “meeting doomsday”, where workers delete all meetings and only add back ones deemed valuable. Slack has “Focus Fridays” and executives there have practiced “calendar bankruptcy” to remove and evaluate standing meetings.
The usefulness of meetings — or the lack of it — has long been debated. More than three decades ago, Indian sitcom Flop Show had lampooned meetings, with the main character spending time during meetings debating the placement of refreshments on the table, and holding entire meetings only to decide the dates of the following meeting. While Flop Show was based on an Indian PSUin the 90s, and Shopify is a new-age tech startup, they might not be all that different after all — anyone who’s worked in tech would attest that the number of meetings keeps increasing until there’s very little time to get any actual work done. But companies now seem to be waking up to the problem, and — with some somewhat drastic measures — are clearing up their employees’ calendars.