As a result of the ongoing pandemic, gone are the days when team members could drop by one another's desks to brainstorm solutions for every problem. Zoom calls have quickly become the preferred alternative to in-person interactions, and the constant back-to-back chats have inflicted fatigue and employee burnout within corporate workplaces.
At one time, my company Storyblocks was no different. We grew from double to triple digits in less than two years, and with a continuously growing team, over time it was clear that things were changing with the way we collaborated. We learned that most of our company spent the majority of working hours participating in meetings. Team members reported that their workdays were less productive. In some cases, it was slowing down progress on projects.
Meeting-packed days also required people to make more time at night or on weekends for uninterrupted, heads-down work. We needed a change. We looked for a solution and ultimately found a simple yet game-changing fix--No-Meeting Wednesdays.
We ran a pilot program for several months to get a better understanding of how the policy would work in practice before formally instituting a major change to our workflow. Our final follow-up survey after the pilot showed it was so effective that we have kept the policy in place for nearly two years.
Here are a few reasons why it works so well:
A full day of uninterrupted working time has been a tremendous productivity win
After piloting No-Meeting Wednesdays, there was a clear majority who advocated for keeping the policy in place. Team members valued the dedicated time for heads-down work, as jumping from meeting to meeting often requires context-switching.
If you are spending most of your day context-switching, it can damage your productivity. We have team members who need to crank out code, edit videos, form business cases, and design new UX features. This type of work benefits from dedicated attention, which is much easier to capture with an open schedule.
With less meeting real estate, meeting time is more valuable
Now that an entire business day is off the table as available meeting time, we take a more critical approach to how we spend our time in meetings. Shortly after rolling out the policy, we developed a set of best practices to help teams ensure they spend their meeting time efficiently.
This includes things like sending contextual information or pre-read documents at least 24 hours in advance, establishing a clear agenda, giving freedom to decline meetings you really don't need to be in, and purging recurring meetings every six months. By evaluating and rationalizing the importance of the meetings we hold, we haven't needed to co-opt time back for them as we've continued to grow.
There is more time for spontaneous collaboration
No-Meeting Wednesdays doesn't mean that everybody ignores one another one day a week. In practice, it means it is highly discouraged to schedule a meeting on a Wednesday unless it is critical, and recurring meetings are taboo. But plenty of team members still take advantage of the uninterrupted time to collaborate.
What we've gained is more flexibility for impromptu, yet important, working sessions that won't be interrupted by something else on the calendar. It can be nearly impossible for this type of work to occur when two people have conflicting schedules throughout the entire week.
Personal flexibility has increased as employees work remotely
Technology has given us the flexibility to make remote work as efficient as ever in the past year. It's helpful for our people to know they will have a day free of conflicts so they can, for example, schedule a doctor's appointment without worrying that they may need to move it.
Other team members use Wednesdays as a great time to run errands or maybe take a break in the workday for a virtual exercise class. The opportunity for personal freedom within the workday contributes to reducing ongoing Zoom fatigue and employee burnout many have experienced as a result of the pandemic changing the way we all work.
What We Learned
As with any drastic policy change, our "No-Meeting Wednesdays" policy didn't come without its own growing pains. For example, one challenge we found was that meetings that were supposed to be on Wednesdays were simply getting moved to other days, ultimately leaving stacks of meetings on the remaining workdays.
To avoid this, we've put guidelines in place to ensure meetings are evenly distributed throughout the week--except for Wednesdays. This is why it's crucial to keep an open line of communication with your employees and ask for their feedback--both the good and the bad--throughout every step of the process.
In addition, it is important to continually evaluate the usefulness of meetings, to make sure that all parties involved are benefiting from the time together. Including all of your team members in the process will help you determine if what you're proposing will be wholly successful or if it addresses an issue only management is experiencing.
Either way, it's not harmful to look at your meeting culture through a critical lens. If a drastic policy change isn't the right solution, you may find that refreshing your meeting best practices can make a significant impact.
As the world continues to navigate the virtual workplace, companies, leadership, and employees alike are looking for effective ways to combat burnout within the remote workforce. Instating a solution such as "No-Meeting Wednesdays" is not just a temporary fix while the world works from home, but a great solution to implement forever to increase productivity even once people go back to their traditional office settings.