Shopify have cancelled all online meetings with more than two people

Shopify hit the headlines last week by taking an abrupt approach to attempting to improve productivity at the remote based e-commerce business. They automatically canceled all meetings with more than two people. No meetings at all are to take place on a Wednesday. Meetings with over 50 people are only allowed during 11.00 to 5.00pm ET on Thursdays. In their bid to make Slack more effective Shopify leaders removed employees from ALL existing channels and deleted the message history. 

Tia Silas, Shopify’s Chief HR Officer

Why this approach?

Their Chief HR Officer Tia Silas wrote on her LinkedIn: “We did what any sane company with an ambition of getting more done would do...we deleted THOUSANDS of meetings.This reset is more than just a new year hack, it's a commitment to work smarter and a rare opportunity to think about how we want to use our time.”

It’s proved disruptive for some. A colleague shared on Twitter how the Slack changes impacted the launch of a new product.

The changes have been described internally as ‘Chaos Monkey 2023’. Seems leaders have intended to cause discomfort by not communicating the changes in advance. COO Kaz Nejatian emailed employees on 3 January,   “All of this feels chaotic, which is kind of the point. For launches like this there's two ways to do it, a long, slow burn that causes distraction and discomfort to simmer for months on end. Or, we can turn up the heat, causing an intense degree of discomfort and distraction that we move through very quickly".

Responding to remote working

Shopify’s approach has been welcomed by some as bold and necessary. The business like others in tech moved to remote working and are exploring ways to cultivate community, build belonging and maintain productivity. We’ve all been there, a diary so jam packed with meetings that there’s no time to actually get work done or worse moved to evening or weekends. So is Shopify’s approach the answer? And what is the impact on inclusion? 

Making remote working work

Safi Obeidullah, Global Head of Value Advisory in their 2022 ‘Work Rebalanced’ report states “IT leaders need to drive strategies to simplify and streamline work technology in this hybrid world ensuring that employees have the space for ‘deep work’ and focus.”

However, 64% of business leaders and 69% of employees believe that work technology can drive inclusivity through equal access and asynchronous (any time, any place) team collaboration. 

Some best practice

CIPD have provided guidance on getting the most from remote working and developing effective virtual teams. Some of their tips include:

Having a daily virtual huddle and keeping the rhythm of regular one-to-ones and team meetings and tailoring feedback and communications. 

Humble leaders for psychologically safe virtual teams

One of the recommendations for effective leadership of virtual teams is self-awareness, willingness to learn, appreciation for others and focusing on them ahead of self. In fact this facilitation of psychological safety rather than discomfort can be particularly beneficial for environments with the impact of layoffs, where staff feel vulnerable. Similarly the above Citrix report found that: “Leaders need to focus on demonstrating empathy, building trust and providing employees with the flexibility they expect without worrying that this could jeopardize company perform.”

In a recent article Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, describes post pandemic workplaces as experiencing collective trauma, where employees are hyper vigilant to possible threats - this could account for the great resignation and quiet quitting we so often hear about.

Shopify should definitely be commended for exploring ways to make their remote working more effective rather than just calling folk back to the office as some firms have done recently. Perhaps this dramatic shift is the start of an evidence-based approach where they’ll explore the impact, engage with stakeholders, review research and land on a way of working that matches their values of consideration and empowerment. They may find that a hybrid approach may be a better bet. That Citrix report again: “69% of hybrid employees would recommend their employer as a place to work compared to 56% of office workers and 60% of remote workers. They’re more likely to feel empowered by their work tech and to have a strong emotional connection to their teams and organisation.” 

Tell us what you think? So what do you think of Shopify’s approach? Would the meetings for two and reduced Slack work for you? Has your workplace taken a similar or different approach for making remote work, work?