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Hey, could I borrow £950 of your time?

28 July, 2023

Over 70% of meetings are pointless. Or so a recent survey by the Harvard Business Review claims, which – like other similar research – suggests that workers waste an inordinate amount of time in meetings. One study even found that since 2020 the average office-worker spends 252% more time in meetings than they did before the pandemic.

All this time costs money. Millions actually. But businesses are beginning to fight back. Shopify, the e-commerce giant, has created a tool to calculate the price of meetings based on time and employee salary, and number of people present. Not, it says, to save money, but – in the words of the COO – to make employees reconsider the need for meetings and find creative workarounds.

Shopify reports that since implementing this change the company now spends 14% fewer minutes in meetings, which, given that over 12,000 meetings were cancelled by the retail platform, speaks to the scale of the issue and the huge productivity rewards that could be reaped if managed correctly. So what does this mean for workplace culture? Shopify’s meeting calculator is currently an internal tool only, but it does point to the likelihood of an increase in productivity tools to maximise worker output. Watch out for real versions of punctuality score calculators! We also liked some of the more light-hearted suggestions from Quartz, which reported on the Shopify story – particularly the “brainstorm boat-rocker” where the speaker gets a background that looks as if a shark is chasing them. If they speak for longer than 30 seconds, they get eaten.

But why this overabundance of meetings? Recent research suggests that most of the time wasted stems from a sort of meeting FOMO, where employees feel they will be judged for not showing up, or even forgotten about if they don’t attend. This could indicate the tendency of the current workplace culture to equate presence with productivity, and visibility with value. Challenging this stigma in a healthy, playful way may well be an answer. Spending time together matters, but it needs to be the right time, with the right people.

By Isaac Lockwood

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