Meeting purge risks a loss of business humanityby
E-commerce giant Shopify’s decision to implement a meeting cost calculator to minimise group gatherings may be effective, but misses a wider point about the world of work.
What’s the point of meetings? I mean, when it comes down to it, isn’t it just a bunch of people in a room yakking away? Shouldn’t they be working or something?
In an era where ‘time is money’, Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify has taken that well-worn phrase to its logical conclusion and added a ‘meeting cost calculator’ to clamp down on what it sees as an excess of pointless group gatherings.
This calculator is embedded in the employees’ calendar app and estimates the price tag of any meeting that has three or more people, based on ‘average compensation data across roles and departments’. Here’s an example of the tool in action:
According to Shopify's CFO, they’re all about ‘clearing the calendar’, and the discussion-dodging firm predicts it will swerve a projected 322,000 hours of meetings this year thanks to the initiative.
From a practical perspective, surely the first thing any sane person would do when confronted with this is to book a meeting with a couple of colleagues, then add various members of the senior leadership team to see how much they’re being paid, but that might just be me.
While Shopify has been at pains to state that meetings have not been ‘banned’, the calculator tool comes hot on the heels of its ‘Chaos Monkey’ initiative, which in broad strokes meant less time in meetings and more “maker time” for employees to work on their own projects.
A common denominator
But what if meetings aren’t a “bug”, as Shopify’s CEO is on record as saying, but serve a wider, dare I say more noble, purpose?
Meetings are an easy target in modern corporate culture. They’re a common denominator: from school assemblies to ‘all-hands’ company gatherings, the act of coming together to listen to an authority figure drone on while living in fear of being asked to contribute is something the majority of us can relate to.
And moaning about meetings is the glue that bonds companies together. It’s the small-talk equivalent of Brits mulling over the weather, or accountants discussing the HMRC hold music.
Stating that you enjoy meetings marks you out as something of a maniac, and while your correspondent can’t claim to be first in the boardroom every time, there are certainly small pleasures you can take from them.
During particularly irrelevant monthly meetings, a colleague and I evolved a game in which the aim was to drop in a selection of pre-agreed words without being spotted. One point for innocuous random words such as ‘marmalade’ or ‘foxglove’, while a full three was allocated to choice corporate jargon like ‘crocodile in the canoe’, ‘aces in their places’, or ‘pig in a python’.
As a coda to the above nonsense, out of this chaos emerged one of the company’s more successful projects – perhaps creative food for thought?
In an era of remote work, the issue of work-from-home loneliness also looms large – a plethora of studies link good mental health to increased productivity. While somewhat intangible, the opportunity to goof around while teacher sets up the overhead projector (kids ask your parents) can bond employees and give them a boost and a sense of belonging.
So in the relentless pursuit of productivity and profit, is there a chance that axing the humble meeting, we risk removing an essential element of how companies, teams, and humans in general work?
While Operation Chaos Monkey might save Shopify money in the short term, will it end up costing them staff morale and employee retention in the long run?
There’s certainly a case to be made that by adding its meeting cost calculator Shopify may end up knowing the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.