How to thrive in a no-meeting work environment

This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

Workers switching to hybrid and remote work has changed the amount of time they spend in meetings. According to data from technology company at the end of 2020, 70 per cent of employees experienced a 70-per-cent increase in meetings after work-from-home was initiated at their company.

Recently Canadian companies including Shopify have experimented with initiatives that significantly decrease the amount of meetings in an effort to boost productivity by giving workers more time to think and work on projects.

Less face-to-face time — whether virtually or in person — means more work and communication will happen asynchronously.

Asynchronous work happens when employees are working independently, at times that work for them, instead of relying on in-person meetings or set hours to get work done.

McKenna Sweazey, a workplace expert and author of How to Win Friends and Manage Remotely, said there are challenges and benefits to this way of working.

“Asynchronous work is really hard. I think it can be very lonely for people working from home,” she says. “If they’re extroverts and they need that contact, they don’t necessarily get it from Slack messages.”

Less meetings also mean people need to rely more on written communication.

Ms. Sweazey says this can be a challenge for those who speak multiple languages, are dyslexic “or any other host of things that might make it difficult to communicate with your colleagues in the richest way possible.”

She also said that work doesn’t always happen faster just because employees aren’t in meetings all day. “It can actually slow things down if you have to wait for people to come online or approve your work.”

However, there are strategies people to help people thrive when working at a company that is looking to cut back on meetings.

Tips for thriving in a no-meeting workplace

  1. Get feedback on your communication. Knowing how your communication is landing, and making adjustments as needed, is key, Ms. Sweazey says. It can be hard to know how people are receiving your communication when you can’t see their faces in real time. She said you can ask questions such as: Hey, did that email land? or did that make sense? “Then making sure that as a team, everyone feels like that communication process is working,” she says.
  2. Give more context than you think you need. “Context is everything,” Ms. Sweazey says. If you’re asking someone to do something, you need to remember that they need the same information you would provide in a meeting, and you need to be clear and specific, or it could delay work. “If it’s asynchronous, and now I’m offline, they have no idea until I come back on 12 hours later,” she says.
  3. Build in-person relationships. Most companies still bring their employees together online or in-person for team building and specific work-related events. Ms. Sweazey says it’s important to take advantage of this time. “It makes it easier to provide additional context and to assume the best from your colleagues,” she says.

The future of work is always shifting, and a no-meeting approach along with remote or hybrid work means people need to learn new skills or ways of working.

“It builds up the need for asynchronous work and being able to communicate using tools other than meetings, which have been a pretty standard way of getting work done,” Ms. Sweazey says.

What I’m reading around the web

  • Many workers advocate for a four-day workweek, but what about a four-day school week? CBC reports one Ontario school board wants to test a shorter school week next year. School would start a week earlier, and students would spend 38 more minutes learning per day. The idea still needs approval at the provincial level, but it could be an interesting pairing for those who are working a four-day workweek.
  • According to the 2023 Global Trends Report by HireVue, 60 per cent of leaders are investing in initiatives that will help them hire more neurodiverse candidates. Here, experts provide insight into how leaders can create more inclusive environments for neurodiverse individuals to succeed at work.
  • Being a funny woman at work works, despite some of the stereotypes that might say otherwise, according to this piece in the Harvard Business Review. After analyzing 2,400 TED and TEDx talks, and more than 200 startup pitches, it was found that women who used more humor were perceived as more influential and inspiring.
  • According to Whitney Dailey from Allison+Partners’, ESG isn’t changing, but the way we talk about it will. In the article, she shares why ESG has become politicized and what communications professionals need to know despite what headlines are saying.

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