Here's what happened when this company banned meetings
By: Stephanie Vozza
Most of us consider meetings a necessary evil of getting work done. While some are clearly a waste of time, others can provide opportunities for teams to collaborate and make decisions. But what would happen if you banned them altogether?
That’s what the online media company TheSoul Publishing did when it adopted a “no meetings” policy across their global company. The reason? Eighty percent of the company’s 2,100-member global workforce work remotely, and live, in-person meetings were not an effective form of communication.
“I like to compare meetings to large conferences,” says COO Arthur Mamedov. “Speaking in front of a group of people easily becomes an inefficient information exchange. Some people might get distracted in the moment. For others, the information may not be relevant. And during Q&A sessions, the speaker may forget important details. Meetings can easily become a passive activity that waste participants’ time.”
This is especially true when people are spread across time zones. “You cannot expect to get connected with people in a seamless manner,” says Mamedov. “It is always out of business hours for a group of participants.”
A more efficient way to communicate to a group is to post information online. Moving the information-exchange process to written formats first allows people to get updated at their own pace.
HOW TO BAN MEETINGS
While it sounds simple, rolling out a no-meeting policy takes foresight and planning, says Mamedov, adding that how employees communicate is part of your corporate culture.
“Corporate culture has to be focused on value creation,” says Mamedov. “It’s doing things rather than talking about them. Again, this sounds simple, but there are lot of cultural touch points that you need to address. You need systems to support the workflow and very clear principles of communication. Once a model of interaction is set up, you can build deep professional connections and trust within the team.”
For example, TheSoul Publishing banned internal emails. “Getting rid of meetings requires radical transparency, which is usually the most uncomfortable one for people,” says Mamedov. “Emails are the opposite of transparency. Exchanges are only visible within the group. Anyone who needs access to the information should be able to get it to make sure that everyone is in sync.”
Instead, information should be shared on a platform that provides everyone with equal access and instant updates whenever anyone posts anything. “You cannot expect people to perform as a team when they are not on the same page, even at the high level where our organization is moving,” says Mamedov.
Having a team that can work under this model starts with recruiting. “You have to hire agile people who are likely to adopt those approaches and abandon the old way of doing things,” says Mamedov. “The more non-standard your culture is, the deeper and lengthier your onboarding process has to be.”
New employees are taught how to communicate with each other. “There’s a learning curve and time allowed for new employees basically to digest it before they dive into the working process,” says Mamedov. “Otherwise, it would be disrupting if a person is not trained basically to operate in such manner. The first thing they would likely do is try to set up a meeting with someone.”
While they’re banned, Mamedov admits that meetings do sometimes happen, but only for special cases. “We have a two-page manual on how to set up a meeting, but for them to happen, you need to follow a very strict protocol,” he says.
First, the employee will need to try to resolve the issue without a meeting, using the company’s project management software. If they reach a point where they cannot move forward in an asynchronous discussion, the employee who wants a meeting needs to create a plan and agenda for the conversation beforehand. The request for a meeting must be done at least 24 hours in advance.
“Then you need to make sure that you’ve invited only those people who really need to participate,” says Mamedov. “Usually, we try to limit all the meetings to two persons only and for 30 minutes maximum.”
After the meeting, the person who called it logs in the result in the location where the project work is stored, so everyone can benefit.
“If the meeting was on Zoom, the recording is posted, as well,” says Mamedov. “With such a robust preparation process, people often push harder to resolve things without a meeting. And that’s the ultimate goal.”
BENEFITS OF BANNING MEETINGS
The goal of the no meetings policies is to make sure that everyone stays productive, minimizes distractions, and spends their time on focused work. Mamedov says he gets feedback from new employees that the no-meeting model is unusual and a bit stressful in the beginning, but once they get into it, they feel liberated because their productivity skyrockets.
“Usually, people are best at their work and at their profession,” he says. “For most roles within the company, talking and discussing things is not part of their core job description. We’ve established an environment where people can generate incredible value in a faster turnaround time.”
While it sounds a bit robotic on the surface, Mamedov says it doesn’t remove the human element. “People tend to socialize when they’re working colleagues and form a professional relationship,” he says. “Even if everything you’re doing is in a thread, you still enjoy conversations with colleagues.”
In fact, TheSoul Publishing has set up social platforms, such as book clubs, where coworkers can connect. The focus is on removing the barriers to work that can be frustrating, says Mamedov.
“Work has to deliver joy, and we’re just trying to design the processes in such a way that is both joyful and efficient, so people can concentrate on things that they’re best at,” he says. “Once they start doing more of what they’re good at, they become happier in general.”