Team meetings. One-to-ones. Daily check-ins. Weekly catch-ups. Bi-weekly syncs. Even the revered ‘brainstorm’. So many meetings are squeezed into our calendars that it’s starting to feel like meeting about work is getting in the way of completing any work.
Over the past two years, Slack has been experimenting with new, digital-first ways of working, right here within our own company – from the tools we use to the habits that guide how we work together. Our aim is to design a better way of working that is flexible, inclusive and connected, and empowers our employees to do their best work for our customers.
When we’ve spoken with people about their work lives, one of the biggest concerns we’ve heard across roles and functions is the burden of meeting overload and how this restricts the freedom to focus or fit other obligations into the day. In fact, this is a global issue: Future Forum’s research shows that more than 9 in 10 people want flexibility in when they work – even greater than the number who want flexibility in where they work.
One of the problems with the 9-to-5, five-day workweek is that any of those hours (or worse, all of them) can get turned into a meeting. Our calendars increasingly look like Tetris, stacked full of meetings with perhaps a few 30-minute or maybe one-hour breaks – enough for just that, a break, but not long enough for any deep work. And so the ‘work’ spills into the hours when life is supposed to happen, before breakfast begins or once dinner is over.
At Slack, the past two years have accelerated our innovations to reinvent work, from developing new products like huddles and clips to piloting internal programmes that change how work works inside our company. Today we’re sharing more about a few new programmes at Slack, which we’ve formally adopted after a pilot period, that redesign the working week to reduce internal meetings across the company and give employees more control over their calendars: Focus Fridays and Maker Weeks.
‘Nearly every company struggles with how to get meetings under control. We heard that from our own employees and from our Future Forum research, so we experimented with ways to reduce meeting burnout by creating meeting-free spaces across teams. It’s helped us shift mindsets around the purpose of meetings and explore other ways we can achieve these same goals, like sharing updates on a project or asking for feedback on a campaign asynchronously.’
‘This is an important step toward giving our employees more autonomy over how they use their single most valuable asset – their time. As a company, we’re continually investing in programmes that make work more pleasant and productive. With Focus Fridays and Maker Weeks, we’re supporting more asynchronous ways of collaborating, more effective meeting management and more time to do great work.’
Fridays are for focus
On Focus Fridays, teams cancel all internal meetings and employees are encouraged to turn off their notifications so they can work without interruptions. (By the way, you can turn off notifications whenever you need more focus time!) Some teams may continue to have external meetings on Fridays – we have customers, and sometimes that’s the only day that’s available or needed – but even providing an internal break is a big deal. Based on our pilot programme, we found that, overall, 84% of Slack employees find Focus Fridays beneficial.
What’s more, almost half of all people managers at Slack say that Focus Fridays have been ‘significantly’ beneficial for them. This matters because when we first started conducting internal employee surveys in December 2021 about focus time and meetings, we found that managers were more than twice as likely as individual contributors (ICs) to say they didn’t have sufficient time in their schedule to focus on getting their work done. And self-assessments of meeting overload correlated nearly exactly with that data: 48% of managers told us they spent too much time in meetings, compared to 22% of ICs. Coincidence? We think not.
The goal of Focus Fridays is to give employees more flexibility in their schedules, but they won’t be successful if teams simply pack the first four days of the week with all the meetings they had scheduled for Friday. That’s why this programme is part of a more holistic rethink of meetings at Slack and the culture and practices we’re building around that. We’ve been coaching employees on how to do more work asynchronously, like hosting weekly stand-ups in a channel so everyone (no matter what time they’re working) can benefit from having the added context, or opening up an impromptu huddle with a few teammates to quickly resolve a question instead of putting yet another 30-minute meeting on the calendar. We’ve seen encouraging improvements in when and how we hold meetings since we first rolled out Focus Fridays, and we’re continuing to work directly with employees and teams to develop and share best practices.
‘Our teams tell us they get better with practice. Training managers and sharing smart strategies from colleagues across the company is helping us get the most out of our asynchronous time. That peer-to-peer feedback is helping our teams feel more productive and more energised.’
Two weeks each quarter for ‘making’ and uninterrupted focus on our customers
One day a week isn’t always enough to find your flow on a big project. During Maker Weeks, which happen twice each quarter at Slack, our teams cancel all internal recurring meetings. Some are done asynchronously, like status check-ins on active projects, while others simply skip a week.
Maker Weeks are an opportunity for more focus time and a deeper reset. It’s about giving employees more sizable chunks of time to ‘make’ things: a design project, a customer presentation, heads-down development work or even just working through an administrative backlog.
The concept behind Maker Week comes from the product world (thanks, Paul Graham), and in fact, this concept started at Slack within our product organisation several years ago. Now we’re adapting that idea across the entire company and tailoring it to best fit the needs of teams in every department. For example, our Sales team takes a department-wide break from internal meetings twice each quarter for a completely customer-focused week called, conveniently, Customer Week.
Besides giving people more time to focus, the other goal behind Maker Week is to encourage people to review the meetings on their calendars and decide if they’re still effectively serving their intended purpose. It’s too easy to become dependent on our calendars – we lunge from meeting to meeting, week to week, without stopping to evaluate if it all makes sense. Instead, Maker Week encourages us to step back and ask:
- What’s the purpose of the meeting? Are we there to debate, discuss or decide on something, or to develop ourselves or a teammate? If not, can the meeting be done asynchronously?
- What’s the right cadence for this meeting? Does it need to happen every week?
- Who should attend? Do all the people who currently have the meeting on their calendars actually need to be there?
We recognise that changing meeting culture won’t happen overnight and that getting this right will be an iterative process. That’s why instead of simply stating a new policy, we began pilot programmes for Focus Fridays and Maker Weeks early this year and started conducting monthly surveys to assess the impact of these programmes on employee well-being and productivity. Where we saw gaps in how these programmes were serving certain teams, based on the rhythms of their specific projects and responsibilities, we invested in function-level support and made adjustments to meet their needs.
Is it working?
Data from our internal surveys shows that employees across departments feel more productive with each passing Maker Week. Again, the vast majority of Slack employees, 84%, say they’ve benefited from Focus Fridays. And for some, Focus Fridays have been transformational – we’ve heard people say they would never again consider working for a company that doesn’t offer this perk.
And we’re not done. We’re continuing to measure how both of these programmes are working for employees and sharing best practices and success stories across departments. One of the principles we aligned around when we announced that we were going to be a digital-first team is that we aim for ‘progress, not perfection’ – and that remains our north star today.