Could Banning Meetings Be the Key to a Happier Workforce? As people look for a better work life balance, employees must be empowered to work in ways that deliver the best results. Banning meetings and relying on asynchronous communications could be key to creating a workplace that suits everyone.
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Employees' expectations of the workplace have changed rapidly in the last two years. As we've seen from the Great Resignation, people are looking for roles with purpose, a better work-life balance and access to the technology that will allow them to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. With this shift has come a reduced tolerance for wasting time and spending hours a day on video calls. In fact, 80% of U.S. workers said they had attended a "useless" meeting in their current job.
We were really ahead of the game here. As a company with a 2,700-person global workforce, we were already used to the challenges of managing teams remotely, across multiple time zones. This schedule coordination puts a sharper focus on the value of every meeting, especially where it risks trespassing on employees' own time. To address this, in late 2019, we made the decision to formally ban internal emails and meetings.
Instead, we embrace asynchronous communications. It's a model where our workforce is empowered to work in the ways and at the times that are most conducive to them delivering their best results. This reduces "Zoom fatigue" and allows employees to take control of their responsibilities in a manner that suits their personal schedules.
Negating time zones to build lasting bonds
Removing the need for real-time comms means fewer distractions, and longer uninterrupted chunks of time for producing and creating. When employees are no longer restricted to working within specific time frames due to the need for them to overlap with colleagues, an environment can be created that promotes productivity and collaboration across the globe.
Many companies are concerned asynchronous communications will remove the human element of the work experience. We've not found this to be an issue. Instead, teams seek each other out on a personal level. Conversations on more informal platforms like Slack may be about team members' weekend plans or old-fashioned water cooler talk. But they're never forced by the fact that teammates are required to be in the same place at the same time. Asynchronous communications does not mean teams will not communicate. Instead, moving collaboration onto shared platforms allows all team members to create on their own terms. Rather than diminishing relationships between team members, it actually enhances them, because they're no longer dependent on whether someone is free at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday for a regular project progress call.
Creating a transparent workplace
Emails are a fast way of providing information, but they have a lot of flaws. Most notably, transparency is entirely dependent on whether the sender remembers to "copy" the right people. How many times has one team member gone on holiday only for their colleagues to realize mid-week that they have no idea where a discussion stands?
Particularly in an environment that is highly remote, it's important to empower people to make autonomous decisions. But, you can't expect people to perform as a team when they're not all on the same page. By removing communications from email and live meetings, and instead sharing all relevant information on a platform that everyone has access to, you'll ensure that all relevant information is readily available. That means no time is wasted waiting for a response from a colleague. It's already at everyone's fingertips.
Having a team that can work in this way begins with recruiting people with a flexible mindset and a desire to do things differently. Then, you need to ensure they understand this new way of thinking. The more non-standard the culture is, the deeper and lengthier your onboarding process has to be. At TheSoul, new employees are taught how to communicate with each other. There's a learning curve and time allowed for new employees to digest it before they dive into the working process. Ultimately, we train against the very established and automatic desire to set up a meeting to solve problems.
Deciding when a meeting is required
Of course, it would be naive to think that a meeting is never required. Like any business, there are times when face-to-face communication is essential, whether that's in person or via a screen. There are special cases where meetings can proceed.
We've developed specific criteria as to when a meeting should take place and how to set it up. First of all, the employee needs to attempt to resolve the issue using our project management platforms. If this proves to be impossible, they must create an agenda for the proposed meeting and schedule at least 24 hours in advance, to avoid disrupting a colleague's workflow and to be respectful of their time.
With this in mind, we also limit the number of people that need to participate. Our rule of thumb is two people only and 30 minutes maximum. This really pushes the meeting host to be laser focused on what needs to be achieved. Every meeting is also followed up with detailed notes on the topics discussed and shared with the wider team. For virtual meetings, we also keep the spirit of transparency alive by recording and posting the session to the shared project management workflow.
It's perhaps no surprise that needing to follow such a structured process really does discourage calling meetings unless entirely necessary.
A win-win situation
Having a diary full of meetings is a huge cause of stress for many and is the antithesis to success at TheSoul. We don't want people sitting on calls that have no tangible outcomes. We want them to be able to focus on getting their work done, within their working day, and allow them to create the headspace to bring their full inspiration, creativity and expertise to the role. We understand and accept that this policy won't work for everyone. That's why we aim to hire agile learners who are comfortable with technology and can control their own workflows to effectively meet deadlines. If they possess those capabilities, they tend to embrace the standard and thrive in the improved work environment.