Jul 12, 2019
'Working hard, but smart': How these Canadian companies are making meetings more productive
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It’s the middle of the afternoon, you have a pile of work to get through by the end of the day, and suddenly, a calendar notification pops up on your screen reminding you about a meeting in 15 minutes – your fifth one this week.
Anyone who has been in the workforce long enough has likely experienced a similar scenario. Even though they’re often an unavoidable aspect of work life, some companies are making a concerted effort towards preventing employees from getting bogged down by countless meetings, or ones that feel pointless.
Below, BNN Bloomberg spoke to four Canadian firms about the strategies they have integrated into their workplaces to make meetings more effective.
The chief executive officer of investment management firm WealthSimple says well-managed meetings are integral to maintaining one of his company’s core values: Getting things done quickly.
“We achieve this by working hard, but smart,” Mike Katchen told BNN Bloomberg in an email. “That means being efficient, remembering what our priorities are, and finding the simplest ways to accomplish them.”
“Meetings are a critical component of this because if they’re not managed properly, they can reduce our ability to get things done.”
Katchen recommends sharing an agenda prior to any meeting in order to increase efficiency and inclusivity. He also encourages employees to end meetings five-to-10 minutes earlier than they’re scheduled.
“It’s a subtle way of reminding people to keep it concise while giving them a few minutes back throughout the day,” he said.
To stay on top of whether his strategies are working, Katchen says every Friday at 5 p.m., he looks back at his calendar to assess how much of his week was spent in meetings and how many were truly valuable and productive.
“Recurring calendar audits can also help you identify inefficiencies, condense overlapping meetings and manage the overall volume,” he said, noting this exercise has helped him reduce the number of overall meetings.
While Cineplex Inc. is based in Toronto, the entertainment company's employees work in different locations, especially because of its flexible work policy, according to Chief Human Resource Officer Cindy Bush.
“We have to be really creative about how we meet,” she told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview, from her cottage where she was working that day. “People are working any time, anywhere.”
“We encourage people to not be a slave to Outlook,” Bush added. “You don’t need to meet for an hour just because it’s booked.”
Bush says Cineplex actually trains employees on how to have effective meetings, offering tips like setting objectives, focusing on goals instead of topics, determining actionable next steps and finding ways to engage attendees, such as taking a vote or brainstorming.
Shopify Inc. has made a company-wide push to give employees more flexibility and control over how meetings are conducted with several new practices, according to the e-commerce company’s director of culture.
“For example, we’ve asked employees to be selective about setting recurring meetings and offer a wide range of alternative technologies and platforms for people to stay connected on projects, and share relevant updates and information,” Catherine Hughes said in an email.
“We also recommend capping meetings at 45 minutes to allow transition time between sessions.”
Hughes said the Ottawa-based company also encourages “no meeting Wednesdays” to preserve time for distraction-free work.
“We encourage our teams to use their best judgment, to use time wisely and have clear, intended outcomes when setting up a meeting,” she said.
Allen Lau, chief executive officer and co-founder of online storytelling platform Wattpad says being resourceful is one of his company’s values. Part of that is being able to optimize how employees spend their time.
“We make the most of every minute and every dollar,” he said in an email. “We want to ensure people aren’t burdened by meetings, while also making sure people stay connected.”
Lau took a page out of Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos’s playbook by introducing the study hall format last summer. The method allows employees to review briefings silently at the start of each meeting so everyone is equally prepared.
“It’s not a concrete rule that people must use the format at Wattpad, but it’s a model we’ve found successful for certain types of meetings,” he said. Lau also applauds Bezos’s “two pizza rule,” in which meeting groups must be small enough to be fed by just two pizzas.
Like Katchen, Lau said he conducts audits of his meetings, which he says has become increasingly important as his firm continues to grow with employees spanning from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.
“I’ve cut certain meetings from one hour to 30 minutes, and moved some weekly meetings to bi-weekly when topics became repetitive,” he said.
“The most important thing is that meetings become more efficient for everyone involved, without losing the regular contact they provide for creativity, critical thinking and discussion.”