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Shopify deleted 322,000 hours of meetings. Should the rest of us be jealous?

The amount of time people spend in meetings tripled in the pandemic, Microsoft found in one study. Now, companies are looking at ways to cut back.
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The amount of time people spend in meetings tripled in the pandemic, Microsoft found in one study. Now, companies are looking at ways to cut back.

It was the announcement heard round the internet: Shopify was doing away with meetings.

In a January memo, the e-commerce platform called it "useful subtraction," a way to free up time to allow people to get stuff done.

An emotional tidal wave washed through LinkedIn. While some called the move "bold" and "brilliant," the more hesitant veered toward "well-intentioned, but an overcorrection." Almost everyone, though, expressed a belief that meetings had spun out of control in the pandemic and a longing for some kind of change.

So, a month in, how's it going?

"We deleted 322,000 hours of meetings," Shopify's chief operating officer Kaz Nejatian proudly shared in a recent interview.

That's in a company of about 10,000 employees, all remote.

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.

Those hours were the equivalent of adding 150 new employees, Nejatian says.

The e-commerce company Shopify announced in January that it was purging employee calendars of recurring meetings. A month later, Shopify's COO Kaz Nejatian says people are happier.
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The e-commerce company Shopify announced in January that it was purging employee calendars of recurring meetings. A month later, Shopify's COO Kaz Nejatian says people are happier.

Nejatian has gotten more positive feedback on this change than he has on anything else he's done at Shopify. An engineer told him for the first time in a very long time, they got to do what they were primarily hired to do: write code all day.

To be clear, meetings are not gone all together at Shopify. Employees were told to wait two weeks before adding anything back to their calendars and to be "really, really critical" about what they bring back. Also, they have to steer clear of Wednesdays. Nejatian says 85% of employees are complying with their "No Meetings Wednesdays" policy.

Nejatian says the reset has empowered people to say no to meeting invitations, even from senior managers.

"People have been saying 'no' to meetings from me, and I'm the COO of the company. And that's great," he said.

Meetings upon meetings upon meetings

Three years into the pandemic, many of us have hit peak meeting misery.

Microsoft found that the amount of time the average Teams user spent in meetings more than tripled between February 2020 and February 2022 (Microsoft Teams is a virtual meeting and communications platform similar to Zoom and Slack.)

How is that possible? People are often double-booked, according to Microsoft.

But if Shopify's scorched-earth approach to meetings doesn't appeal, there are other options out there for alleviating the suffering.

Many companies, NPR included, are trying out meeting diets. A day after Shopify's news dropped, NPR newsroom managers sent out a memo imploring people to be on the lookout for meetings that can be shorter, less frequent or eliminated all together.

You can also put yourself on a meeting diet. Before you hit accept, ask yourself: Do I really need to be at this meeting?

Meetings are dead, long live meetings

Steven Rogelberg, an organizational psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is emphatic that meetings are not in and of themselves the problem.

Bad meetings are.

They're made up of the stuff that inspires constant phone checking and longing looks at the door: the agenda items are all recycled, there are way more people than necessary in attendance, one person dominates, and they stretch on and on.

In fact, last year, Rogelberg worked on a study that found companies waste hundreds of millions of dollars a year on unnecessary meetings.

But good meetings? Rogelberg may be their biggest cheerleader.

"Meetings can be incredibly engaging, satisfying sources of inspiration and good decision making when they are conducted effectively," he said.

Moreover, studies have found that companies that run excellent meetings are more profitable, because their employees are more engaged.

And Rogelberg is "pretty darn excited" (his words) about how virtual meetings are helping with this.

With everyone reduced to a small rectangle on a screen, there are no head-of-table effects. The chat box, too, lets more marginalized and less powerful voices be heard.

And for those of us who feel fatigued after staring at our own faces on Zoom for three years, he's got a solution: Turn off your self-view.

Needless to say, Rogelberg is not a fan of the Shopify-style meeting purge. But he does see a silver lining. He's been studying meetings for decades. He's written books about how to fix them. He talks a lot about what to do in meetings, and what not to do.

And now, we all do too.

"I am talking to organizations all the time, and I am just finding the appetite for solutions the highest it's ever been," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
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