Could banning meetings be the key to a happier workforce?

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Employee expectations of the workplace have evolved rapidly over the past two years. As we saw in The Great Resignation, people are looking for roles with purpose, better work-life balance, and access to technology that will allow them to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. Along with this change came a reduced tolerance for wasting time and spending hours a day on video calls. In fact, 80% of American workers said they had attended an “unnecessary” meeting at their current job.

We were really ahead of the game here. As a company employing 2,700 people worldwide, we were already used to the challenges of managing teams remotely, across multiple time zones. This coordination of schedules puts more emphasis on the value of each meeting, especially when it may encroach on employees’ time. To remedy this, at the end of 2019, we took the decision to formally ban emails and internal meetings.

Instead, we adopt asynchronous communications. It’s a model where our people are empowered to work in the way and at the times most conducive to achieving their best results. This reduces “zoom fatigue” and allows employees to take control of their responsibilities in a way that suits their personal schedules.

Related: Why 2022 is all about asynchronous communication

Denying time zones to create lasting bonds

Removing the need for real-time communications means fewer distractions and more uninterrupted time for production and creation. When employees are no longer restricted to working to specific deadlines due to the need for them to overlap with colleagues, an environment can be created that promotes productivity and collaboration across the globe.

Many companies fear that asynchronous communications will remove the human element from the work experience. We did not find this to be a problem. Instead, teams seek each other out on a personal level. Conversations on more informal platforms like Slack can be about team members’ weekend projects or old-fashioned discussions about water coolers. But they are never forced by the fact that teammates have to be in the same place at the same time. Asynchronous communications doesn’t mean teams won’t communicate. Instead, moving collaboration to shared platforms allows everyone on the team to create on their own terms. Rather than diminishing relationships between team members, it actually improves them, as they no longer depend on someone being free at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays for a regular call on the progress of the project.

Create a transparent workplace

Emails are a quick way to deliver information, but they have many flaws. Most notably, transparency depends entirely on the sender remembering to “copy” the right people. How many times has a team member gone on vacation only to have their co-workers realize mid-week that they have no idea the status of a discussion?

Especially in a very remote environment, it is important to empower people to make autonomous decisions. But you can’t expect people to work as a team when they’re not all on the same page. By removing communications from emails and live meetings, and sharing all relevant information on a platform that everyone has access to, you will ensure that all relevant information is readily available. This means you don’t waste time waiting for a colleague’s response. It is already within everyone’s reach.

Having a team that can work this way starts with recruiting people with a flexible mindset and a desire to do things differently. Then you need to make sure they understand this new way of thinking. The more atypical the culture, the deeper and longer your onboarding process should be. At TheSoul, new employees learn to communicate with each other. There is a learning curve and time given to new hires to digest before diving into the work process. Ultimately, one trains against the very established and automatic desire to have a meeting to solve problems.

Related: Why Transparency Across Teams Is So Vital For Production

Decide when a meeting is needed

Of course, it would be naïve to think that a meeting is never necessary. As with any business, there are times when face-to-face communication is essential, whether in person or via a screen. There are special cases where meetings can take place.

We have developed specific criteria as to when a meeting should take place and how to organize it. First, the employee must attempt to solve the problem using our project management platforms. If this is not possible, he should create an agenda for the proposed meeting and schedule at least 24 hours in advance, so as not to disrupt a colleague’s workflow and be respectful of his time.

With this in mind, we are also limiting the number of people who must participate. Our rule of thumb is two people only and a maximum of 30 minutes. It really pushes the meeting host to focus on what needs to be achieved. Each meeting is also followed by detailed notes on the topics discussed and shared with the entire team. For virtual meetings, we also maintain the spirit of transparency by recording and publishing the session on the shared project management workflow.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the need to follow such a structured process really discourages calling meetings unless absolutely necessary.

A win-win situation

Having an agenda full of meetings is a huge cause of stress for many and is the antithesis of success at TheSoul. We don’t want people sitting on calls that have no tangible results. We want them to be able to focus on getting the job done, during their working day, and allowing them to create the headspace to bring all their inspiration, creativity and expertise to the job. We understand and accept that this policy will not work for everyone. This is why we aim to hire agile learners who are comfortable with technology and can control their own workflows to meet deadlines efficiently. If they possess these abilities, they tend to embrace the norm and thrive in an improved work environment.

Related: 3 Things We Did That Saved My Business From Meeting Hell

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