Most corporate employees already know that most meetings on their calendar aren’t very useful, but a company has gone to great lengths to show them exactly how much value they add.
Shopify has introduced a feature in its employees’ calendar app that estimates that cost of any meeting with more than three people. “Estimated meeting cost is $2,115 USD (Rs. 1.73 lakh),” Shopify’s calendar app tells employees when they’re about to add an hour-long meeting to 8 people’s calendar. The tool uses the average compensation data across roles and disciplines, and combines it with meeting length to estimate the “cost” of the meeting. Shopify says it’s done this to discourage useless meetings.
“The goal of these initiatives is to change the default answer from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ about meetings,” said Shopify Chief Operating Officer Kaz Nejatian. “No one at Shopify would expense a $500 dinner. But lots and lots of people spend way more than that in meetings without ever making a decision. The goal of this thing is to show you that time is money. If you have to spend it, you think about it,” he added.
Shopify’s move was lauded by several prominent tech voices. “So many people enact Shakespearean theater at work by engaging others in useless meetings and gatherings. Stop these useless meetings and do something measurable and valuable instead,” said VC Chamath Palihapatiya while sharing a screenshot of Shopify’s new calendar.
This isn’t the only change that Shopify has instituted in its war against meetings. In January this year, Shopify had automatically cancelled all recurring meetings from employees’ calendars, and had told them to not add them back for 2 weeks. It had also declared every day Wednesday as a “no-meeting day”. Shopify had then said this was to ensure 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,” Nejatian had then said.
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 meetings. 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 with Shopify now going as far as to assign a dollar cost to each meeting and showing it to employees, it might have taken the strongest step yet in helping employees helping eliminate meetings which don’t add a lot of value.