Will others follow Shopify’s lead and cancel recurring meetings?

Discussion
Source: Twitter/@CanadaKaz
Jan 05, 2023

So many meetings. So little time left to get actual work done. Shopify isn’t having it anymore, at least for the next two weeks as part of a meeting freeze intended to boost productivity.

The e-commerce platform’s chief operating officer Kaz Nejatian earlier this week tweeted: “Meetings are a bug. Today, we shipped a fix to this bug at @Shopify. To start 2023, we’re cancelling all Shopify meetings with more than two people. Let’s give people back their maker time. Companies are for builders. Not managers.”

Shopify, the Financial Times reports, didn’t stop there with its anti-meeting crusade. Management has banned meetings on Wednesdays, and those with 50 or more people can only be held on Thursdays between 11 and five. Mr. Netajian told employees in a memo that the new rules will “delete nearly 10,000 events which equates to approximately 76,500+ hours of meetings.”

The company has also placed limitations on the use of internal messaging apps like Slack that leadership believes has also taken employees away from more critical activities.

Tobi Lütke, Shopify founder and CEO, called the company’s action a “calendar purge” in a statement to Fortune.

The same article pointed to a study published last year by Otter.ai, which found that up to one-third of all corporate meetings may be unnecessary. The research found that companies with more than 100 employees could save more than $2 million a year by cutting meetings and those with more than 5,000 employees could save $100 million a year.

CNN reports that Mr. Nejatian is urging Shopify employees to “be really critical” about how their time is used once the two-week freeze period is over. The company, he said, wants employees to cancel meetings going forward if they don’t serve a clear purpose.

Shopify, like Amazon.com and others in the e-commerce space, comes off a challenging 2022. The company cut its staff count by 10 percent last year after having engaged in a hiring spree in response to a boom in online shopping brought about by the pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How big an issue are excess meetings in corporate environments? What criteria should be used to decide if meetings are necessary and who should participate in them?

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20 Comments on "Will others follow Shopify’s lead and cancel recurring meetings?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Recurring meetings have a way of setting a cadence for recapping weekly results, and discussing items such as upcoming recurring events. One way to maintain productivity is to cancel each occurrence if there is nothing to discuss that day.

Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

We live in a time where everyone is consumed by meetings, always preaching how busy they are. But less meetings means more actual output – which I’m not sure every employee actually wants. And these meetings are often driven by both consensus culture and the need for everyone’s “signoff,” and poor delegation, micro-management, and lack of clear accountability.
While I like the idea in theory it feels like we are treating the symptom, not the cause.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

If we remember that it isn’t just the time spent in the meeting, it’s the time, concentration and productivity lost before and after the meeting, then we can see the true impact that meetings can have on effective work. An average one hour meeting usually means significantly reduced productivity for a total of three hours. Two needless meetings can blow an entire day of real work.

Nicola Kinsella
BrainTrust
A lot of companies have too many “standing” meetings. They should be challenged. Especially as modern tools give us more options for reducing meetings. Group chat tools. Documentation tools that allow asynchronous collaboration. The ease of pre-recording video messages. But like everything it’s a balance. With lots of “two-person meetings” managers can end up having a slightly different conversation with each team member, resulting in misalignment and frustration. What’s more, to solve big problems you need to tap the combined brain power of a slightly larger group. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And the reality is, it’s still faster to talk something through than type it out — especially for team members who speak different native languages. Group meetings help ensure remote employees are all on the same page. They let your team ask clarifying questions quickly, and have open dialog in real time. At the end of the day a lot of more one-way information dissemination meetings could probably be cut, but the interactive, collaborative, value generating meetings will… Read more »
Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
30 days 49 minutes ago

At this point there should be very little disagreement about the impact of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies on business operations, particularly in the area of connectivity and asynchronous communications. Very few meetings actually require all the participants present to be able make important decisions — the necessary criteria for having a meeting. Otherwise, send a video, survey, or memo.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
30 days 47 minutes ago

My first reaction was, how the heck would you get anything done? I think it’s very healthy to evaluate meeting schedules and composition maybe as frequently as quarterly — there is definitely “meeting creep” that happens and it’s always worth questioning how much time is given over to regular check-ins every week. But also, it’s not so bad to get together even if it’s to chat about the weather or the kids and disband after 5 minutes if there is nothing of substance — or cancel it altogether. Definitely don’t have meetings for meetings’ sake. But the other side to all this is it didn’t seem like Shopify gave options for what else you could do. I see the end result of this being a huge increase in email volume — which isn’t going to help in creating more focus at all.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

This seems a bit blunt. Daily stand-ups for IT projects are worthwhile. Team meetings involving remote workers are important. Having useful meetings is probably the right focus, starting with a zero base may be a good place to grow from.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Color me skeptical. Particularly in this era of remote work. Are there too many meetings? Of course. But that is not the real question, in my mind. Meetings (and messaging apps like Slack) are critical to communications and culture when so much of the workforce is remote and distributed. I work with people in NORAM, LATAM, EMEA and APAC on a daily basis. Meetings and messaging are critical to our ability to function. The real question is how to make meetings more productive. Long ago, I set a personal policy of scheduling 15-minute and 30-minute meetings whenever possible. The decreased time forces us to get to business quickly and to stay focused. That may not be the answer for everyone, and there are certainly other ways to boost productivity, but blanket meeting policies like these, in my opinion, run the real risk of becoming counterproductive to healthy cultures and communications.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This reminds me of the old adage that says half of all advertising is ineffective, but which half? Meetings can be critical for team building and cross-silo communication. In apparel there needs to be more linkage between planning, merchandising, design and supply chain — not less. Which does not mean everyone needs to be in every meeting. So sure, less meetings with less people per meeting. It’s going to take really astute managers to figure out the right cadence and content of the new meeting schedule.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Yes, there are too many non-productive meetings on nearly everyone’s calendars. But just canceling them, as Shopify is doing, is not solving the problem. They’ll just slink back on people’s calendars after the two-week moratorium ends and people will find themselves in a similar situation. The larger issue is a lack of understanding about how meetings should be run. It’s an education and experience issue. Meetings should be treated like customer sales calls. They should have a purpose, a series of objectives, and a short list of attendees. They should be time-bound with action items and followup steps accounted for prior to leaving. My personal goal is to have 30-minute meetings and if these can be shortened to 15-minute stand-up sessions, even better. They are worth their weight in gold. Let’s remember, planning is necessary — but execution rules!

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Meetings are like a virus. After a time of constant business interruptions, attendees get lethargic and sometimes fearful of stating their thoughts. That leads them to skate through the time that meetings take, and sometimes create issues of business just to enhance their need to participate. If there is a definite meeting need roll on to the issues — then get to work.

KarenBurdette
Guest

Mr. Finkelstein is following Mr. Musk’s footsteps and I’ve often wondered if and when more would follow. Excessive meetings are not just an issue in corporate giants; they are a problem with a lot of companies. Personally, I’ve blocked time on my calendar to focus and get work done for years; that’s one way to deal with the symptom.

I completely agree with Katie here, and I truly believe companies need to deal with the cause(s). Employees schedule meetings all day long to collaborate, communicate, get buy-in, etc. but if they understand their roles, responsibilities, and how they fit into the bigger picture of the mission and goals, perhaps they don’t need all the meetings.

Mark Self
BrainTrust

This is a huge issue. I applaud Shopify for taking this step, and I believe that more companies will follow suit. White collar productivity is an issue that should be addressed and this is a big step to doing just that. Another reason to have some kind of “in office/out of office” policy too — these meeting I believe take on what would happen at the “water cooler.”

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Some meetings are necessary, some are highly beneficial, some are a complete waste of time. There is no hard and fast rule. To minimize the latter, all meetings should have a clear purpose, desired outcome and an agenda. It then comes down to individuals to push back on things they don’t deem necessary.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I LOVE this idea. They are taking it to the extreme, but better to add than slowly cut back. Pull the Band-Aid off! So much wasted time, it’s about time.

Derek Williamson
Guest

Agreed! Meetings beget more meetings, and it’s very hard to work backwards once you’ve dug yourself into “meeting hell.”

Ben Ball
Guest
Happy New Year to the entire RW community! As per my last “guest appearance” when Ryan Matthews teased “so this is what it takes to wake the Bear…” I write to amend, if not outright dissent, with the general line of commentary here. The root cause of this issue has not been named outright — human nature. People create meetings to fill their calendars because they are an acceptable substitute for real work in companies, governments, etc. It’s a way to make yourself look valuable and like a contributor when you either a) don’t have the opportunity, or b) don’t have the ability, or c)and most prevalent in my estimation — don’t have the inclination to do real work! Sure some meetings are necessary and productive. That’s why this blanket ban is more “efficiency signaling” (to co-opt a term) than real policy change. Leaders know some meetings are mission critical — and the ones they most view as mission critical are the ones they call. Jeff Sward got as close to the bone as anyone… Read more »
Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Recurring meetings should have a purpose, if they are set up properly and limited in scope. They need to be organized with agenda and prepared output for group to review and sign off or ask questions or brainstorm new ideas.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Not all meetings are unnecessary, and not all meetings are required. Identifying which meetings can be omitted and holding only those that are necessary, in my opinion, is the best course of action. Meetings spark new thoughts because they allow people to hear and be heard. As a result, we cannot conclude that carrying meetings leads to decreased productivity. Additionally, are companies still micromanaging their employees? Organizations cannot control how employees utilize their time, and also cannot force people to structure themselves according to the company’s belief system. Therefore, Shopify should rethink the changes they are trying to bring in their corporate culture.

Derek Williamson
Guest

As a fully remote company, we’ve found that no meetings is also bad — you miss opportunities to connect and have those “water cooler” things that come up and end up very valuable. That said, it’s a balance:

Meeting is just to report progress or share updates? Async communication is fine.

Meeting is to make a decision or discuss a problem? Live may be better.

Each company will vary, but I’d bet that Shopify employees start to feel more isolated and silo’d fairly soon.

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Braintrust
"While I like the idea in theory it feels like we are treating the symptom, not the cause."
"I LOVE this idea. They are taking it to the extreme, but better to add than slowly cut back. Pull the Band-Aid off!"
"At this point there should be very little disagreement about the impact of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies on business operations..."

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