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A ban on work meetings? Some businesses are trying it

Posted by Shivali Anand

May 24, 2022    |     5-minute read (890 words)

When it comes to attending lengthy meetings, whether virtual or in-person, many employees have reached their limit. Although we may joke about feeling overwhelmed, the implications of meeting fatigue shouldn’t be taken lightly. Too much time spent in endless meetings has a negative impact on our ability to think creatively.

The continued disruption of the pandemic made it difficult enough to get into a productive workday routine. But just as your mindset to work feels like it has been restored to normal, a notification prompting you that the next meeting will start in a few minutes can throw you off-kilter again.

For most people, productivity requires blocking off specific times of the day or even an entire day to work without interruptions. Ultimately, time spent in meetings translates to time not spent working. Depending on the circumstances, cutting back on meetings might very well be a better use of time and resources.

If you've ever pondered what it would be like to work a full day without any meetings, the concept of the "no-meeting day" could be the answer. But no-meeting days are about more than just getting rid of meetings — they’re about changing the way you think about meetings.

What's in a no-meeting day, and which business have them?

Just as it sounds, a no-meeting day refers to a day, typically one every week, which is set off on your schedule to solely focus on your own work and concentrate on the business at hand without being disturbed by meetings. This implies that you will not have meetings of any kind, including those with your team, one-on-ones or recurring meetings.

Meeting-free days are about freeing up time to work, but also about how we perceive meetings and their significance. Over time, they provide insight into the company’s values and its approach to meetings. 

Among the businesses that have launched no-meeting days are Facebook, which holds no-meeting Wednesdays; Citigroup, which schedules Zoom-free Fridays; Airbnb, which follows meeting-free Wednesdays; and Asana, which sticks to no-meeting Wednesdays.

Why it makes business sense to limit meetings

Even if you attend a few meetings a day, you may still think you’re managing to get a sufficient amount of work done. On the other hand, it’s possible that you are unaware of how meetings are affecting your productivity and how much time they actually consume. It may be that you’re spending more time attending meetings, which are typically packed with ideas for upcoming work, rather than finishing daily responsibilities. 

According to a study published by MIT Sloan Management Review, businesses should give serious consideration to a policy of one or more no-meeting days a week. A typical worker spends more than 85% of their time in meetings on an average day, the authors write. Meanwhile, it has been well-documented that sitting in meetings for extended periods of time has a detrimental impact on people's mental, physical and psychological well-being.

While it seems reasonable that a day without meetings would foster productivity, the impact of this change is startling, according to an article published in Inc. When organizations stopped holding meetings one day a week, productivity improved by 35%, and productivity increased by 71% when meetings were dropped two days a week. Three meeting-free days pushed productivity up by 73%. Involvement, autonomy, communication and satisfaction also improved, while employees' stress and instances of micromanagement decreased, the authors write. 

Optimizing no-meeting days

Work with your team before introducing no-meeting days. You want to ensure the potential meeting-free days mesh with your company's existing processes. If a client, customer or leader can only meet on a no-meeting day you’ll need to work around this or make an exception. For the plan to work, senior executives must also adhere to and enforce no-meeting days.  

What to consider when implementing a no-meeting day 

1. Keep your team informed. Communicating the notion of a day with no meetings to your team is the first thing that needs to be done to put it into action.

2. Explain. Have a clear explanation ready as to why a meeting-free day is being implemented.

3. Choose a day. Select a day of the week when you will not have any meetings, as well as the date you will start.

4. Meetings overflow. Handle meeting scheduling overflow the next day. A careful balance is required when scheduling days without meetings. Implementing these days of deep concentration could result in an excessive number of meetings being planned on other days of the week, defeating the purpose.

5. Improve the efficacy of your meetings. If the meetings you are hosting or attending are not being managed smoothly, then it will be more challenging to find days when there are no meetings scheduled.   

6. Prepare your team to achieve its goals. Make sure your team is on the same page before introducing this productivity strategy. Give them a rundown of what to expect.

7. Delineate expectations for internal communications. Finding a balance between meeting frequency (too many versus fewer) and communication can be tricky. If you establish a meeting-free day, define expectations for internal communications so no one feels confused or overwhelmed.

8. Pay attention to what others say, and act on it. If your staff feels burnt out, undervalued, overworked or anxious, a no-meeting day may be what they need.

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