What about a meeting-free day?

The designated meeting day

In order to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of their teams working from multiple locations, organizations are proposing or even imposing that certain days are to be designated as “meeting days”. On these days, remote workers are expected to be present at the office to participate in meetings. Now, while it makes sense to have these people present at the office in certain situations, I feel it puts the accent in exactly the wrong place.

The message such an organization sends to its collaborators is that having meetings is the most important thing they can do. After all, as an organization we are blocking a specific day in the week for just that purpose. And we explicitly communicate about it. So it must be important. Now, is that really the message we want to send?

This is why I would like to propose to complement such an initiative with another one, that puts the accent where it should be according to me: on creative production. I believe – I hope – my employer hired me not for my ability to conduct and participate in meetings, but rather for the contribution I can bring to the realization of the vision of the organization.

The meeting free day

So let’s also impose a strictly meeting free day. During that day, our collaborators have the obligation to work instead of spending their times in meetings that may or may not yield any significant added value for the organization. Such a meeting free day should allow collaborators to get real work done. That work could be processing notes from the many meetings they had in previous days, over extracting the to do’s from those notes, planning them and actually doing the work of those to do’s. Because a to do strives to evolve to a done. And that’s unlikely to happen in meetings. Ideally, such a day should be an email free day as well. No distractions, no excuses to not focus on what matters most: getting work done.

However, with meetings taking the place of actual work in many organizations, it appears they are evolving to structures where many speak and few act. We exchange a lot of opinions and a lot of ideas. We may even agree. But when there is work to be done, we don’t have the time. After all, we’re important. We have to attend another meeting.

And in those other meetings, everyone has an opinion about what others have done or failed to do, but little to no assessment of our own concrete contribution. Now, this means that our total cost per unit of work done increases: all other things remaining equal, the work will have to be done by fewer people, because more people are in meetings. That spells trouble, for such a situation is hardly sustainable.

So let’s use that meeting free day figuring out how to do what needs to be done and then getting it done, rather than just talking about work.

Knowledge work environment or extractive industry?

Blocking longer periods for reflection and work, at whatever location collaborators see fit for their specific purposes, is the hallmark of a mature organization that considers its collaborators as mature knowledge workers. Other organizations appear more as an extractive industry, aiming to reap hours from collaborators but never considering that not every hour is created equal, and productive time is not necessarily and most often not the same as time spent in meetings.