Health and Wellbeing5 ways meeting-free days transform the workplace experience

5 ways meeting-free days transform the workplace experience

From employee autonomy to measurable increases in productivity, leading research suggests that meeting-free days transform the experience of work.

5 ways meeting-free days transform the workplace experience

Brand new research has suggested that unshackling employees from the calendars for the day unleashes their autonomy and transforms their experience of work. Are you willing to follow the data? 

The study, from the University of Reading, which surveyed 76 companies, with more than 1,000 employees each and operations in more than 50 countries asked companies if they would consider making an intervention that had been found to improve team productivity by over seventy percent. It’s such a showstopping uplift that any business would be foolish not to consider it. The only change that a team needed to enact, the researchers declared, was to commit to one or two meeting-free days a week. Of course, the nature of the intervention might give us pause for thought. ‘We’ve only just dealt with the bombshell of people working from home’, our more traditional colleagues might grumble, ‘how can we do our jobs with the additional complication of having no meetings?’

Meeting-free days give workers autonomy

According to the study, having one or two meeting-free days increased employee satisfaction by almost fifty percent and left workers feeling autonomous (rather than micromanaged). Researchers found that workers reported coping quite easily. Stripped of the weight of scheduled meetings employees fashioned easy discussions with co-workers, enjoying the flexibility of contacting colleagues themselves. There was no shortage of connection, but there were fewer Teams calls with colleagues silently listening to each other.

Meeting-free days give workers space

According to the research, introducing meeting-free days not only gave employees the space to build their own communication channels with colleagues, but it made them feel less overwhelmed by their overscheduled calendars. When contemplating the burnout epidemic that has, in many cases, become priced into our expectations of modern working, it is worth contemplating ways for us to stem this overload. The researchers reported a 26% decline in colleagues reporting feeling stressed from one meeting-free day, rising to 43% with two.

Meeting-free days see measurable increases in productivity

Introducing a single meeting-free day was also demonstrated to have had a measurable impact on productivity. Across 70 firms, with at least 1000 employees each, one day without meetings increased total productivity by 35%. Introducing two meetingless days saw productivity increase by 71%. At the end of the experiment, not a single company in the study reverted to their old approach.

Meeting-free days invite reappraisal of ‘what the work is’

One of the challenges of thinking about productivity and employee-experience is that it’s possible to get caught up in detail and lose sight of the objective. The objective is to create a productive workforce, to empower the team to get a job done, it is only afterwards that we add conditions about the meetings and emails that our teams need to also commit to. 

Meeting-free days enable us to get more value from the office

I was struck last week when someone told me that their firm encouraged team members in the office to put an autoresponse on their emails. ‘I’m in the office today so I won’t be able to answer your message – I’ll get back to you when I’m out of the office”. It’s such a brilliant inversion of our expectations that it forces us to think about whether we’ve missed the opportunity that’s sitting right before our eyes. A meeting-free day in the office might liberate us to have a day’s worth of those quick watercooler moments that we’ve romanticised while we were shuttered in the spare room. This is illustrative of the ‘great unbundling’ of the office. The office has completed its journey from being central and synonymous with all aspects of working, to being a tool that we use when needed. Organisations like Dropbox have declared that the office is a place ‘for experiences’, Salesforce have said the office is now the place we gather for what we once might have gone ‘offsite’ for. Unbundling is challenging and it is forcing us to reappraise how we get work done. Much like choosing to forge a meeting-free space in our calendar, it could well be in service of employees getting more done than was managed before.

Conclusion

If 2022 is a time for learning, experimenting, and improving in the workplace then this research is a wake-up call. If we’re not giving new ideas a go, then what are we hoping to learn?

 

 

Bruce Daisley is a bestselling author and podcaster. His new book, Fortitude, challenges how we think of resilience incorrectly.

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