Why Shopify wants employees to just say no to meetings

Large, long and unproductive meetings have become a scourge of today’s hybrid workplace, prompting companies to try to curtail them

An employee at Shopify's headquarters in Ottawa, Canada. Reuters
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Shopify spent last year cutting costs. Now, it is cutting meetings.

As employees return from holiday break, the Canadian e-commerce firm said it is conducting a “calendar purge”, removing all recurring meetings with more than two people “in perpetuity”, while reinstating a rule that no meetings at all can be held on Wednesdays.

Meetings of more than 50 people will be shoehorned into a six-hour window on Thursdays, and limited to one a week. The company’s leaders will also encourage workers to decline other meetings, and remove themselves from large internal chat groups.

"The best thing founders can do is subtraction,” chief executive Tobi Lutke, who co-founded the company, said in an emailed statement.

“It’s much easier to add things than to remove things. If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done with that period of time.

"As people add things, the set of things that can be done becomes smaller. Then, you end up with more people just maintaining the status quo.”

Large, long and unproductive meetings have become a scourge of today’s hybrid workplace, prompting companies to try and curtail them. Facebook parent Meta Platforms, household product maker Clorox and tech firm Twilio are among those that have instituted no-meeting days.

Employees spend about 18 hours a week on average in meetings, according to a survey conducted last year, and they only decline 14 per cent of invitations even though they would prefer to back out of 31 per cent of them.

Reluctantly going to non-critical meetings wastes about $100 million a year at big organisations, the survey found.

Poorly managed meetings can also hurt employee engagement and even boost their intention to quit, according to Steven Rogelberg, a professor of organisational science, psychology and management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Data from Microsoft based on thousands of users of its workplace software found that time spent in meetings more than tripled in the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, and the number of weekly meetings more than doubled.

The share of online meetings that are one-on-one, though, increased from 17 per cent in 2020 to 42 per cent last year, a study of 48 million meetings from collaboration analytics firm Vyopta found, a sign that companies are trying to rein-in participation.

Shopify said that a bot will serve as the policy’s enforcer, reminding meeting organisers of the new rules starting on January 5.

“Over the years, we’ve seen excess meetings creep back into our day to day,” Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s vice president of product and chief operating officer, said in an emailed reply to questions.

“We know no one joined Shopify to sit in meetings.”

The meeting purge is the latest workforce experiment from Shopify. In May 2020, soon after the pandemic hit, Shopify went “digital by design,” letting all employees work from anywhere indefinitely.

Last year, amid industry volatility that battered shares of technology companies, Shopify changed its compensation practices to let staff decide how much of their pay will be cash versus equity, rather than having management decide the mix.

The latest changes came amid a cost-cutting drive at the company, which lets merchants set up websites for online sales, allowing them to manage inventory and process payments, along with tools for in-store purchases.

It was among the hottest pandemic stocks as online shopping boomed and became Canada’s most valuable company, but the shares fell by 75 per cent last year.

Shopify cut about 1,000 jobs from its workforce of 10,000 over the summer as Mr Lutke acknowledged that he overestimated the pandemic’s effect on e-commerce.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 3:30 AM