Today`s workplaces are overwhelmed by meetings. This is especially true for the software development industry, and switching to remote work has made this issue even more severe: the number of meetings has increased and their quality has worsened.
This redundancy of meetings leads to the situation when workers simply don’t have enough time to do their actual job. They`re jumping from one meeting to another the whole day, switching contexts and wasting their precious time, and at the end of the day it turns out that even half of the planned work wasn’t complete due to these distractions.
One of the reasons for such a pitiful situation is a poor meeting culture in the company: when those who organize and facilitates meetings can`t tailor a good agenda for the meeting, can`t figure out who is necessary to participate and who is not, can`t drive the conversation productively, etc. Unfortunately, meeting culture is not something that can be fixed in a week or a month. That’s why employees and sometimes the management of the companies often come up with a “No Meeting Day” initiative.
What is a No-Meeting Day?
So, what is a “no-meeting day” or a “meeting-free day”? Actually, its name speaks for itself. It’s essentially a designated day when meetings can not be scheduled in order to let you and your team focus on getting things done (by the way, in some companies this initiative is called “get shit done” day).
It can be any day of the week or month depending on its regularity. Each company or team defines which particular day will be free of meetings according to their project specifics. Let’s try to figure out what the benefits of no-meeting days are.
No-Meeting Day`s Pros & Cons
The main benefit of a “no-meeting” day is that people can focus on deep work on that day. It is very helpful to have such a day because you don’t have to spend your working time on discussions and switch the focus between different activities. If your regular days are overwhelmed by meetings, your direct responsibilities are impacted by this (unless organizing meetings is your main responsibility). So, quite often you may end up being behind the schedule on your tasks due to the endless meetings. In this case, a no-meeting day will allow you to catch up with your tasks which is quite important.
Another benefit of a no-meeting day is that it allows you to relax and get some rest from the stress. Communicating with other people is one of the most stressful activities at work, especially if you`re engaged in a debate that involves a group of people. If these activities repeat daily, several times per day, it is a direct route to burnout. In this case, meeting-free days can serve as a refresh and a retreat from the continuous stress.
There are a few problems with the no-meeting day, though. The main risk related to the introduction of the meeting-free days is that you may not get buy-in from some of the company stakeholders, or it is better to say that they can give you their buy-in in words, but in practice, they will regularly violate the policy. One day they may say: “Yes, we have agreed on having a meeting-free day on Wednesdays, but, you know, there is an emergency, so we should make an exception just once”. Unfortunately, these exceptions become regular and the overall idea of no-meeting days becomes obsolete with such an approach. We`ll cover later in this article, how you can deal with such an attitude.
Another issue that may happen after you have introduced a no-meeting day is that people will move meetings scheduled previously on a No-Meeting Day to other days. This will make the days that are already overloaded with meetings even more packed.
How to establish a No-Meeting Day on your project
Let’s see now how one can implement a no-meeting day policy in a company or on a project avoiding the pitfalls mentioned above. If you want to have effective meeting-free days in your company, follow the next steps.
1. Get buy-in both from the employees and the TOP management
The first step in establishing a No-Meeting Day in your company is to get a buy-in of this idea from different stakeholders. To achieve this you have to explain the benefits of this approach to your colleagues and the key point is that you have to focus on different benefits for different groups of people in your organization or your project.
When presenting your idea to the regular employees you must emphasize the opportunity to have deep work days free of distractions at least once a week.
When explaining the benefits of the endeavor to the top management use the argument of better team performance and give examples of successful implementation of this practice in the industry. At the end of the article, you may find the list of the companies that have successfully implemented meeting-free days initiative.
2. Define the weekday free of meetings that works best for your project
The next step for the introduction of a No-Meeting Day in your company or on your project should be defining the regularity of no-meeting days and the exact day that will be free of meetings. You may survey employees on this matter, however, I would warn against Mondays and Fridays. Monday is not a good choice because it is the beginning of the working week and usually it serves for planning purposes. Fridays are dangerous because in case of an urgent issue people will tend to engage colleagues in meetings on the weekend.
3. Define boundaries and exceptions
Another very important step that you should not forget is defining rules, boundaries, and exceptions for a No-Meeting Day policy. First of all, make sure that the policy of no-meeting days is documented and everyone in the team or organization is aware of it. You may even create a brief training, which explains the initiative, and make sure that everyone in the company has passed it. It also makes sense to assign a committee (in case if it is a company-wide initiative) or a person (in case if it is a project-wise initiative) who will track adherence to the policy and educate people, similarly to the role of Scrum Master in Scrum.
However, besides the rules on how to apply the policy, it also makes sense to directly define what can be an exception. I mean in which particular emergency cases a no-meeting day may be skipped or canceled. When you have clear exceptions put in place, there is less temptation to violate the rules.
The one thing, in particular, that you should beware of is that oftentimes the meetings that would take place on the No-Meeting Day are just pushed to a different day. That is natural because, if employees, who normally have planned two meetings on a particular day, free up their calendar from these meetings, they have to find another place for them. So, a No-Meeting Day can have an impact on the workflow of other days. You should think about what to do with it before the implementation of a meeting free day.
4. Send a no-meeting day invitation into the calendars of the participants
There is a simple trick that can reduce the temptation to schedule any meeting on a No-Meeting Day. Go and schedule a whole day event on the no-meeting day and send invitations to all eligible people for this meeting-free day initiative. It doesn’t disable the technical ability to schedule a meeting on that day, however, it may have certain psychological effects. When someone looks into the colleague`s online calendar and sees the whole day greyed out, he may think twice before scheduling his own meeting.
5. Practice meeting hygiene
It is worth mentioning that there were reasons why a No-Meeting Day initiative emerged. From first sight, the reason is obvious: overwhelmed with meetings people needed to free some time for a heads down work. However, there is a not-so-obvious reason why people become overwhelmed by meetings and that is a poor meeting culture. Thus, by introducing a meeting-free day, we are curing a symptom, not a root cause. That’s why besides keeping a No-Meeting initiative it is also very important to improve the overall meeting culture in the company. You may start with those things that are very important but often overlooked. Ensure that every meeting has a clear agenda and a meeting outcome. Meetings that lack these two elements are probably not fully thought-through or could be better served in email.
6. Collect feedback
Whatever new initiative you`re starting in your organization it always makes sense to set some checkpoints to understand how it goes. One of the ways to do this is to collect feedback from those affected by the changes. This will allow you to understand any shortcomings on the way of adoption and course-correct when necessary. The most simple way to collect feedback is to take an anonymous survey.
List of companies that implemented meeting-free days
If you want to establish no-meeting days in your company but struggle where to start or if you`re still not sure whether no-meeting days will work in your particular case, you may study the experience of prominent companies that have adopted this practice. Here is the list of the companies that have successfully (or not really) implemented meeting-free days:
If you have any questions remaining on introducing No-Meetings Day or you`d like to share your experience, welcome to comment.