Why Cutting Back On Work Meetings Is the Best Thing Employers Can Do

Shopify significantly reduced the number of meetings it was having per week, and the effect was that employees became far more productive.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Updated

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We’ve all been there – sitting in our sixth (or more) meeting of the week, wondering when we can bolt. It is a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Thankfully, recent news from Shopify may help employers finally see that work meetings are not the end all, be all.

Work meetings were bad before the pandemic. But once companies started shifting to remote or hybrid work options, they seemed to take off out of nowhere. All of a sudden, everyone had easy access to you with a quick Zoom or Teams conference call. 

And if you felt like the number of meetings you now have to wade through somehow doubled overnight, you would be right. According to NPR, “Microsoft found that the amount of time the average Teams user spent in meetings more than tripled between February 2020 and February 2022.” No wonder nobody managed to get anything done. 

Things got so bad for Shopify that company leadership finally decided to do something about it. In January, all 10,000 employees got a memo that meetings were effectively dead. Well, not all meetings. 

The goal was to eliminate excessive and unnecessary meetings, which is always welcome news. “Naturally, as a tech company, Shopify wrote code to do this. A bot went into everyone’s calendars and purged all recurring meetings with three or more people, giving them that time back.”

People had mixed emotions about Shopify’s decision. Some believed it was a fantastic decision. But others were more skeptical, calling it “well-intentioned, but an overcorrection.”

The real question is – how well has the move worked? And the answer is fairly straightforward. The company got rid of 322,000 meeting hours less than two months into the experiment!

And with all those hours freed up, employees have actually had a chance to do their jobs again. The deletion of work meetings allowed Shopify to increase productivity hours. Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s chief operating officer, said it is the equivalent of hiring 150 new employees.

Nejatian said they want employees to start scheduling work meetings again. But the caveat is that each one should get scrutinized. The overarching goal is to ensure there is intentionality in scheduling meetings. 

That is a sentiment that one organizational psychologist agrees with. Steven Rogelberg from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte strongly believes in the power of good meetings. And while he’s not a fan of deleting work meetings as Shopify did, he understands the underlying motives. 

Rogelberg believes that “Meetings can be incredibly engaging, satisfying sources of inspiration and good decision making when they are conducted effectively.” And he has science on his side. Numerous studies show that good meetings lead to higher engagement among staff and, subsequently, more profitability.

And the good news is that the tide of work meetings may finally shift. Rogelberg said, “I am talking to organizations all the time, and I am just finding the appetite for solutions the highest it’s ever been.” So there is a chance other organizations have watched Shopify closely to see if doing away with work meetings leads to success.