As part of our No Meeting Week initiative, we aimed to work 100% asynchronously, with no meetings booked. It’s something that has been tested by the likes of Salesforce, Zapier and even specific teams at Google. Our key reasons for trying the initiative was to understand if this would have a positive impact on both the wellbeing and productivity of our team.
A deeper look at why we decided to do this.
We’re a globally distributed startup. Our team is based across 4 continents, meaning that not everything we do is always synchronous. It means that getting really good at working together asynchronously is a huge lever in us achieving our ambitious goals.
Let's be honest- for many of us, meeting fatigue is real. Research from the likes of Gartner suggests that “excessive team meetings can have negative consequences, tanking productivity and wasting company time and money”.
Meetings can also be well-intentioned but not always productive. According to productivity and design expert Rich Webster, a meeting should “create at least as much value as everyone present’s lost time.” That means that meetings we don’t really need aren’t just exhausting, but have a multiplier effect for poor productivity, depending on how many people attend them.
How We Made an Effective Plan for an Asynchronous, No Meeting Week
We’ve documented our learnings for our Third Edition of No Meetings Week, and will optimize our process further before our Fourth Edition. The most crucial aspect to making async week work is being more intentional with our communication.
Some principles are the same - if you need something from a colleague by Wednesday afternoon, it’s better to be clear about exactly what you need, and when that deadline is.
Other things are slightly different. More considered threads of communication will help other people understand the context behind your questions, or your progress updates. By being thorough and considered with our communication, we’re far more likely to avoid this type of text-tennis, which is no more productive than a 5 minute meeting. The website ‘No Hello’ is a clear example of what to do and what to avoid to nail async communication.
For creating good async habits, it’s worth thinking about the goal of the message, what success looks like to us and what outcome we want. These details will usually mean we stand a better chance of getting what we need.
There are some pitfalls in running an async, no meeting week, especially for the first time.
Async isn't suitable for everything. If we were to start something new, kicking off a project would be harder. Synchronous time is good for these situations, as it helps us to brainstorm freely, accept ideas, reject them and set our priorities in order.
Also, meetings can feel like productive, busy time. When we are not collaborating in meetings with colleagues, there can be the sense that you’re not working to your full extent. What happens if you achieved all of your objectives within 4 hours of your day?
In these situations, it’s important to know what you can individually work on whilst you’re waiting for a colleague to hand back the baton. From our side, setting the occasional hour aside for unwinding is also helpful for productivity and avoiding burnout, too. An async week works best if individuals have plenty of deep work they can get stuck into. Communication is the key to making this process more simple.
Dealing with the Pressures of Launching your First Async Week
It might not feel like there’s ever a ‘right’ time to start your first async week. Preparation here is key, and one of the practical things you can do is look at the adjustment period for your team. Starting with an async day might be better than jumping into a whole week. There are a number of companies that dedicate 2 days per week to deep work, where no meetings are permitted. They’re clearly seeing the benefits, so trying a single day is a great way to test this out and measure the results.
The timing won’t always feel possible, either. If you were planning to launch on Product Hunt, for example, the launch week and the weeks prior would need a good amount of synchronous communication to make it work. For us, it means that if we’re serious about running this every six weeks, then we have to be mindful of how we make this work, and create new ways of engaging with one another when being synchronous isn’t an option. This is something that poses unique but exciting challenges for all departments, from engineering, to the studio, to marketing.
Then there’s the boundaries and the questions the team might have. How do we define a meeting? Are Slack huddles allowed? Is sending a 20-minute Loom video cheating?
That’s why we plan this out for every 6 weeks, so we can do this in a way that has practical benefits and doesn’t actually have detrimental effects on our daily outputs as a team. Repeating this initiative and being clear with feedback means that we can make this experience smoother and more valuable each time.
The Positive Effects We’ve Seen During No Meeting Weeks
Trying to achieve all of our objectives across an async week requires a great deal of trust from one another. With each edition of No Meeting Week, we can become ever-clearer about what’s expected and what success looks like. This time spent away from meetings gives us space to focus more intensely without distraction, and do some of our best deep work.
One of our best learnings is how to create a culture of clarity. By being intentional and using best practice with our async communications, we can take these techniques and apply them, anytime. When we write better, we communicate more clearly.
Feedback from Our Team
We also asked our team “What are the main things you have learned (or benefitted from) during this No Meeting Week?”
“My days feel much more structured now as I don't need to context switch as much. I can focus on the main priorities, finish each one at a time, and move on to the next.”
One of the more common responses we received related to context-switching. Many of us felt lesser-pressure to be ‘always on’ when it came to Slack. This meant that many of us had opportunities for deep work for longer periods of time.
“It has helped me to work on my async comms skills, knowing that the clearer I am, the easier it is for everyone.”
Async communication is a huge part of our everyday process as a distributed company. The better-equipped our team feels to communicate in an asynchronous way, the more that everyone feels the benefit.
“The quality of work we get done during our No Meeting Weeks is incredible. On top of it: we will see the phenomenal impact of the mental space it creates carried over the next few weeks.”
Working async from time to time requires us to tap into our core values of trust, accountability and flexibility. Just because we’re not having meetings doesn’t mean we’re vanishing from the face of the earth. Instead, it is this trust that allows the team to create meaningful work with fewer distractions.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m playing a long tennis rally. But it forces me to be clearer and more specific so the ball doesn’t come back.”
We all love a tennis analogy. However, asynchronous communication is much more like playing chess. Taking a bit more time and being intentional ideally leaves the other person on the other side of the table with almost everything they need to make their next move.
We’re Still Learning, and We’ll Keep Trying to Make No Meeting Weeks Drive Greater Impact for Our Team.
After reflecting on our third no meeting week, we’re feeling prepared for the fourth edition in six weeks’ time. This is a continuous learning process for our team. In the beginning, No Meeting Week was a challenge, firstly to see if we could do it and secondly to see if there were any impacts it had on our output.
Now, we’re picking up the pace. Instead of the No Meeting Week being a one-off, we decided to implement it every quarter. Now, we run it at a frequency of every 6 weeks, knowing it’s an initiative that has clear benefits to our business.
Whilst synchronous communication is crucial, spending some time async does give people back some headspace and energy to do some of their best work. However, this is only true when our intentions and frameworks for working asynchronously mean that we can be productive, and not get blocked by gaps in communication.
Have you tried a similar initiative? If so, how did it go for you? If not, has it inspired you to trial a no meeting period with your team? We’d love to hear about it!