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How reducing meetings increases employee autonomy

Meetings are hindering, not helping, your employees.

Over the last 50 years, meetings have grown in number and length, to the point where, on average, today’s executives are stuck in them for nearly 23 hours a week.

Despite evidence showing that 71% of executives find meetings to be unproductive, and the growing dialogue around meeting fatigue, meetings remain ubiquitous for the majority of organisations.

Pointless meetings:

Workers wasting over five days a year in 'pointless' meetings

Employees find work meetings pointless and stressful

Bosses 'waste three days per year' in meetings

Steps have been taken to reform meeting culture, such as Google and Shopify’s calendar purges and the introduction of initiatives such as meeting-free days across many industries. However, there is a reluctance to make change at systemic level, with many leaders still wondering how their teams could collaborate effectively without meetings.

At TheSoul Publishing, we bucked the meeting trend in 2019, implementing successful changes to our meeting policies across our entire organisation. As our team is dispersed across 70 countries and six continents, we required a model that gave employees the autonomy to control their work schedules, and communicate with their colleagues when it is convenient for them.

To replace meetings, we designed an asynchronous communications process, which utilised a variety of tools, most notably a company-wide project management application, which alleviated the pressure for our employees to be at their workspace at the same time.


The human benefits of reducing meetings

Since introducing our asynchronous communications model, our communication has flourished. With reduced meetings, our teams are more focused and clear with their communication.

Misunderstandings have been minimised as our employees are no longer rushing to recall details from verbal discussions.

Instead, they can find answers to their questions by referring back to past projects stored on our project management application (Asana), our internal Wikipedia-style program (Confluence), or in our instant messaging program (Slack).

Our productivity has also flourished. Each of us works differently and is productive during different time periods throughout the day. By handing back autonomy to our employees and giving them flexibility with their work schedules, we have helped our teams to maintain focus without the interruption of scheduled meetings.


How does reducing meetings impact company culture?

At TheSoul Publishing, we have ensured that culture, community, and a sense of teamwork are not compromised through numerous initiatives. These kinds of initiatives are instituted via trial and error, such as our 'Kudos Wall', an internal Slack channel where teammates can publicly congratulate and show appreciation for one another.

We have found this one to be our most popular as it took off instantly and it now adds to the flow of positivity circulating among our teams.


Asynchronous communications can work for you too

Many organisations can benefit by implementing an asynchronous model of communications, especially as our working lives are becoming increasingly digitised and the popularity of remote working grows.

But making a reduced-meetings initiative human-centric and successful requires you to go beyond cancelling calendar invitations. Leaders must invest time in building a company culture outside of meetings by providing their employees with the resources and training needed to communicate positively and productively.

Leaders who are looking to adopt an asynchronous model of communications should first clearly explain the purpose of the model to employees, and follow this up with the training and infrastructure they’ll need to operate effectively.

Once equipped to use the new model, an entire organisation can work harmoniously within an asynchronous system because a shared culture has been created around it.

If this transitional approach is taken, globally dispersed teams can collaborate, celebrate, and move the needle towards higher performance, all while maintaining work-life balance and individual wellbeing.

Aleksandra Sulimko is chief HR officer at TheSoul Publishing