The videoconferencing giant said the mandate created a ‘lack of clarity’ for employees working across time zones.
(Bloomberg) — Zoom Video Communications Inc. has nixed its policy forbidding internal meetings on Wednesdays, saying it hindered collaboration, a move that goes against the grain — and its own employees’ preferences — as more companies look to reduce unnecessary gatherings.
Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan disclosed the shift last week in a memo to employees, which also included a new policy on office attendance, requiring those living within 50 miles of a corporate location to come in twice a week. It reverses a policy Zoom implemented in the early stages of the pandemic after surveying employees, who said they wanted to spend less time in meetings to have “more time to think, plan, focus, and execute.” In March 2022, the company said that 84% of employees preferred to continue the policy.
“As we further ramp up on hybrid work, we’ve decided to make another change and end our No Internal Meeting Wednesdays,” Yuan said in the memo. “We move fast, and this effort has become more of a barrier to collaboration than it was intended. And as an increasingly global company, no Internal Meeting Wednesday creates a lack of clarity for Zoomies working across multiple time zones.”
From now on, Zoom employees should instead “set the personal boundaries you need to be successful,” he said. A Zoom representative declined to comment beyond the memo.
The CEO’s decision runs against what some other firms are doing to reduce unproductive meetings, which waste $100 million a year at large companies. Earlier this year, Shopify Inc. eliminated all recurring meetings with more than two people and started discouraging meetings on Wednesdays. Last month, the Canadian e-commerce firm rolled out a calculator embedded in employees’ calendar app that estimates the cost of any meeting with three or more people. Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., Clorox Co. and Twilio Inc. have also sought to impose no-meeting days. Typically, a no-meeting policy does not include meetings with customers or vendors.
“Our no-meeting initiative wasn’t designed to be a make-or-break policy but is instead more about respecting one another’s time and encouraging us to take the mental pause we often forget to schedule,” Zoom said in the March 2022 blog post. The same post also outlined a framework to improve meetings by creating an agenda with specific goals and by limiting the number of attendees. Employees report that 31% of meetings could have been skipped as long as they were kept in the loop, research from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and software firm Otter.ai found.
Yuan’s stance that eliminating a full day of meetings hurts collaboration also flies in the face of existing research on the matter. A 2022 study of 76 companies that had introduced meeting-free days found that “autonomy, communication, engagement and job satisfaction improved, resulting in a reduction in micromanagement and stress, and consequently an increase in productivity.” When meetings were reduced by 40%, for example, productivity rose by 71%.
“Having too many meetings detracts from effective collaboration, derails workers during their most productive hours, and interrupts people’s train of thought,” the authors, including Henley Business School professor Benjamin Laker, wrote in an accompanying article. Commenting Thursday via email, though, Laker noted that “potential downsides” to meeting-free days exist if managers don’t tailor the policy to specific departments, or if the reduction in meetings ruptures connections between employees, particularly remote workers.
“When meetings are excessively reduced, aspects like satisfaction, productivity, and cooperation may decline,” Laker said Thursday. “This is because meetings, although not the most natural form of human interaction, provide an avenue for socializing. Zoom’s recent policy adjustment likely reflects an understanding of these subtleties and the significance of nurturing relationships.”
Zoom itself has acknowledged the need for more informal interactions outside of scheduled meetings with its recent launch of Huddles, a virtual co-working space where employees can quickly drop-in for quick and informal discussions without needing to book meeting time with one another. Its move to end no-meeting Wednesdays could prompt others to follow suit, Laker said, as “one-size-fits-all policies might not adequately address the intricate nature of human collaboration.”
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