How to transform your culture? Have two days with no meetings
Two meeting-free days increases productivity, autonomy and satisfaction
It’s an interesting thought experiment: if someone offered your team a way to increase productivity by 71% would you adopt it?
How about if you learned it meant having two meeting-free days every week? Well that might sound personally appealing but you might feel fearful that you wouldn’t be able to get the job done.
These were the findings of some brand new international research that was published this month.
Meetings are a curse of work for many of us. We often understand why we’ve arranged a gathering but then find ourselves distracted or daydreaming when the calendared time actually comes round. So unproductive do many meetings feel that some have suggested that rather than accomplishing anything meetings are an evolved way to signal status. In that spirit, one study found that newly promoted managers schedule almost a third more meetings that their experienced counterparts.
The researchers of the latest work persuaded 76 companies (each with between 1000 and 100,000 employees) to adopt at least one meeting-free day a week. It proved to be an unequivocal success - at the end of the experiment all of the participating companies maintained the rule. 9 of the companies went meeting-free all week. The researchers gave a sense of what they observed:
“Micromanaging came down when there were fewer meetings… stress came down… autonomy increased, communication was better, there was better cooperation… better engagement… better productivity, and there was better satisfaction.”
The best results were achieved by firms who went to two days a week with no meetings: ‘Across the 76 companies we surveyed, we found that employee productivity was 71% higher when meetings were reduced by 40%’.
Critically removing meetings didn’t reduce interactions, in fact workers enjoyed the freedom of contacting colleagues directly. The authors of the paper aren’t shy of giving their own suggestions based on the data - suggesting that they believe firms should set out to go further and create three days without meetings (offering a 55% increase in cooperation in return). They also delve into the specifics of what should replace meetings, for example they suggest changing a daily stand-up meetings to a pre-10am Slack thread where workers are prompted to reply with what is ‘on their plate today’.
The above findings are certainly adjacent to another article that HBR revived from their archives this week. When workers are trusted they tend to do their best work.
This article about how senior Facebook/Meta execs are relocating to idyllic locations in pursuit of a remote working balance is worth reading. It might seem a long away from your firm but the companies with ambitious interpretations of new ways of working are going to set the standards that other firms scramble to follow.
(BTW for the organisations concerned this also has potential negative implications for leadership - workers demonstrate the greatest levels of happiness when they can say ‘my boss is a good reflection of the people who work here’. A leader dialling in from the beach in Hawaii challenges that. More on this next week)
Good Washington Post piece (free to read as my gift to you) seeking to answer the hybrid doubts that still remain amongst many bosses (‘we need random encounters’, ‘people are shirking from home’, ‘workers who come into the office will make more advancement than those who don’t’). The piece acts a good sense check on how your own culture is going
In the same spirit, this article about companies being in denial about how much has changed has some resonance
Lots of first person testimonials about the return to work experience in this piece: ‘The office is just another place to do video meetings’ (familiar if you’ve chatted to anyone since the big return, but might be of interest if you’ve not canvassed opinions)
Always nice to read something by Rory Sutherland (who was on the podcast way back when making a demand for more hybrid working) and while this post wishing for a growth in voice transcription apps is a little undercooked it’s nevertheless an interesting jumping off point for a bit of reflection about the gaps in our technology