No. 1 lesson from 3 years of no-meeting Wednesdays, says HR expert: Meetings aren't 'the enemy'
Jennie Rogerson was working as the executive assistant to the founders of graphic design platform Canva when she noticed a problem: Her bosses were too bogged down by meetings to actually get work done.
"Their calendar looked like a massive game of Tetris, where they didn't have breathing space," Rogerson, now the company's global head of people, recalls. "They were constantly changing gears from topic to topic."
Sixty-seven percent of workers say excessive meetings prevent them from doing their best work, a 2019 survey from consulting firm Korn Ferry reported.
Yet they're becoming more common. Meetings escalated especially noticeably when the Covid pandemic hit American workplaces in 2020, according to a Harvard Business School study of 3.1 million people in 16 cities.
Rogerson pitched her bosses on meeting-free Wednesdays — just for their own schedules, not as a company-wide initiative — so they could regroup, catch up on work and plan for the second half of the week.
It worked well enough for Canva to institute it as a company-wide policy in 2020. "If you've been in back-to-back meetings, even having an hour break is just bliss," Rogerson says.
Just one no-meeting day per week leads to improved employee engagement, satisfaction and autonomy — plus decreased stress and reports of micromanagement — according to a 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review survey, which studied 76 companies across 50 countries.
But making these no-meeting days work is a bit more complex than simply banning meetings from your Wednesday calendars, Rogerson says. You might not end up with fewer meetings on your weekly calendar, either — and, turns out, that's perfectly fine.
The No. 1 lesson from three years of no-meeting Wednesdays
For Rogerson, the lesson isn't necessarily to hold fewer meetings. It's to rethink how you prioritize them.
The real problem is too many pointless meetings, she says. To slim down your calendar enough for meeting-free days to exist, you need to make the specific goal of each meeting you schedule clear.
That means making sure everyone knows why they're there, and what they're contributing. Is the focus brainstorming and idea generation? Are you planning for an upcoming event? Is this just for team bonding?
If clarifying a meeting's goal means disinviting some people, great: The most productive meetings typically only have five to eight participants, research shows.
Then, once you're in the meeting, take thorough notes, Rogerson recommends: Documentation cuts down on unnecessary meetings in the future, especially for people who were invited but couldn't attend.
"Let's be really intentional about our time, versus just seeing meetings as the enemy," Rogerson says.
No-meeting days aren't the only solution
Meeting-free days aren't the perfect solution for every workplace, Rogerson says. Indeed, you can probably implement her advice about prioritizing meetings without nixing a day from the calendar.
Companies with remote or hybrid workforces — or any workplace spread across multiple offices, for that matter — might need daily meetings to help keep co-workers communicating with each other.
That's become a challenge at Canva, which now has offices in eight countries, up from just two in 2020. The company has to "tweak and adjust" its policy on occasion to meet deadlines across time zones, Rogerson admits.
Meetings can also be socially beneficial, she adds: They're an opportunity for interaction and collaboration, especially for people who don't have very many of them on their schedule.
And meeting-free days don't always translate to fewer meetings. If all your Wednesday meetings migrate to your already-busy Thursdays, you've arguably made the problem worse — and there's a limit to the number of meetings per day you can handle.
That makes prioritizing your schedule all the more important. Meeting-free days aren't meant to "paint meetings as the enemy," Rogerson says. "Meetings should be really high quality. Every meeting should have a goal."
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