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Shopify Tells Employees to Just Say No to Meetings

Large, long and unproductive meetings have become a scourge of today’s hybrid workplace, prompting companies to try and curtail them.

(Bloomberg) --  Shopify Inc. spent last year cutting costs. Now, it’s cutting meetings.

As employees return from holiday break, the Canadian e-commerce firm said it’s conducting a “calendar purge,” removing all recurring meetings with more than two people “in perpetuity,” while reupping a rule that no meetings at all can be held on Wednesdays. Big meetings of more than 50 people will get shoehorned into a six-hour window on Thursdays, with a limit of one a week. The company’s leaders will also encourage workers to decline other meetings, and remove themselves from large internal chat groups. 

"The best thing founders can do is subtraction,” Chief Executive Officer Tobi Lutke, who co-founded the company, said in an emailed statement. “It’s much easier to add things than to remove things. If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done with that period of time. As people add things, the set of things that can be done becomes smaller. Then, you end up with more and more people just maintaining the status quo.” 

Large, long and unproductive meetings have become a scourge of today’s hybrid workplace, prompting companies to try and curtail them. Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., household product maker Clorox Co. and tech firm Twilio Inc. are among those that have instituted no-meeting days. Employees spend about 18 hours a week on average in meetings, according to a survey conducted last year, and they only decline 14% of invites even though they’d prefer to back out of 31% of them. Reluctantly going to noncritical meetings wastes about $100 million a year at big organizations, the survey found.

Poorly managed meetings can also hurt employee engagement and even boost their intention to quit, according to Steven Rogelberg, a professor of organizational science, psychology and management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Data from Microsoft Corp. based on thousands of users of its workplace software found that time spent in meetings more than tripled in the first two years of the pandemic, and the number of weekly meetings more than doubled. The share of virtual meetings that are one-on-one, though, increased from 17% in 2020 to 42% last year, a study of 48 million meetings from collaboration analytics firm Vyopta found, a sign that companies are trying to rein in participants.  

Shopify said that a bot will serve as the policy’s enforcer, reminding meeting organizers of the new rules starting Jan. 5. 

“Over the years, we’ve seen excess meetings creep back into our day to day,” Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s vice president of product and chief operating officer, said in an emailed reply to questions. “We know no one joined Shopify to sit in meetings.”

The meeting purge is the latest workforce experiment from Shopify. In May 2020, soon after the pandemic hit, Shopify went “digital by design,” letting all employees work from anywhere indefinitely. Last year, amid industry volatility that battered shares of technology companies, Shopify changed its compensation practices to let staff decide how much of their pay will be cash versus equity, rather than having management decide the mix.

The latest changes come amid a cost-cutting drive at the company, which lets merchants set up websites for online sales, allowing them to manage inventory and process payments, along with tools for in-store purchases. It was among the hottest pandemic stocks as online shopping boomed and became Canada’s most valuable company, but the shares plummeted 75% last year. Shopify cut about 1,000 jobs from its workforce of 10,000 over the summer as Lutke acknowledged that he overestimated the pandemic’s impact on e-commerce.

No-meeting policies can boost productivity and reduce employee stress, according to research from France’s NEOMA Business School. But meetings aren’t disappearing entirely at Shopify. The company said there will be a “two-week cooling off period” before anyone can reconvene a canceled meeting. It will only use Slack as an instant messenger from now on, with “large, unwieldy” chat groups used only for announcements, it said.

To contact the author of this story:
Matthew Boyle in New York at [email protected]

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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