Don’t cancel that meeting

TheSoul Publishing adopted a ‘no meeting’ policy at their company. They literally took the meme that said–this meeting could have been an email and turned it into reality; or attempted to. For an organization that has over 80% of its employees working remotely and across time-zones, this space was ripe for experimentation. Yet, it didn’t happen overnight. While the meticulously planned execution often leaves new hires confused as their first instinct is to set up meetings with everyone they’re going to work with, they apparently settle in well. I, however, continue to be skeptical about the claims that the policy still allows teams to build trust and stay connected.

I am not a big fan of meetings, love my emails and coffee chats; and love my uninterrupted blocks of time even more. If I stumble across a day with fewer than 4 meetings, my mood is automatically better and productivity shoots through the roof. Yet, over the past year, I have come to realize that work without meetings would likely be a disaster. Some background for those who’ve not been here long–I moved from India to Ireland in October 2020 and work with people I have never met before. I have had the good fortune of meeting a few of my team members over the last two months, however, everyone in the business teams I support are still bobbing heads. The only way I have had any form of camaraderie going is via video calls. To imagine being a part of a team that exists only via emails and chats is to visualize Dante’s hell (at least for me). Given that virtual and remote work are now a reality, living a no-meeting life may not be the best way forward. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Building a team: If I were to strip away every single reason and choose just one, it would be this. Human connection is important. I find it hard to imagine devoting 40 hours of my week (often more) interacting with humans via emails and chats only. There is something very impersonal about these modes. Hearing and seeing another human being, albeit via a screen, connects people in a way that can be beaten only via in-person interactions. Strip away meetings and there is no way for me to feel like I’m a part of a team unless there comes a point in time that we’re all in the same office space sharing coffee and lunch breaks. Take it from someone who has switched teams, businesses and countries that meetings are a saving grace. Yes, I often cancel 1:1s and disappear from team meetings but that doesn’t mean I am ok with zero.  
  • Gauging emotions: A month ago, I was struggling to stay motivated at work. I had been languishing for far too long; to the extent that I had begun to reevaluate all my life decisions. I thought I’d been an expert at masking my languishing. I was wrong. My manager had identified the change in energy via the regular 1:1s and spent some time finding solutions on how to help me overcome this. Had it been only emails and chats, it is likely I’d have gotten away with faking it. Similarly, 1:1s and team connects help managers figure if their new hires are thriving, surviving or struggling. Remember the second trend called out in Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trends Index report – Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call? I can guarantee the situation would be far worse without meetings.
  • Arriving at decisions: TheSoul Publishing’s move to abolish meetings is the second topic on the latest episode of HR Bandit (Go listen if you haven’t yet). During the initial discussions with the guests, they mentioned the ‘venting’ meetings, where people gather purely to complain about the issue at hand. My rebuttal was that despite these meetings appearing to be a waste of time, they are great to help with gauging where the attendees stand on the issue, which aspect they are most opposed to and maybe even a way out of the maze. Yes, these could be organized better but the endless email thread would likely be just as painful. I cannot list the number of times when someone came to me looking for advice on sorting an issue and I replied saying–Just pick up the phone. Does a 15 minute call count as a meeting?

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: one can always work their way towards minimizing the number of meetings, ensuring agendas and a lean participant list. One could also create a policy around which meetings can be organized and when, but eliminating them altogether may well be a fool’s paradise.  

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