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Meetings are an expensive communication channel

We’ve all heard (and probably used) the expression “This meeting could have been an email”. But for most of us, it’s just a rant and a way to express frustration. It doesn’t result in any action or change.

But Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce company, has taken action. They have implemented a meeting cost calculator to eliminate pointless meetings. They realise that synchronous meetings cost money and they’re encouraging their employees to reduce the number of meetings they attend.

Shopify’s Chief Finance Officer says “Time is money, and it should be spent on helping our merchants succeed and not on unnecessary meetings”. In Shopify, the average cost of a half hour meeting of 3 employees is between $700 to $1,600.

So what does this cost calculator look like?

Here’s a screenshot of a sample calendar invitation for a 60 minute meeting. There was 7 people invited to this meeting, including two C-suite executives. The estimated cost of this hour-long meeting is $2,115 and that figure comes up in bold red text in the meeting invite as you can see below.

It makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

It forces meeting organisers to pause and consider the return on investment of this meeting, particularly when expensive C-suite executives are invited. Is this really the best use of our time? Could we communicate in a different, more efficient way?

How does it work?

The cost calculator works by estimating a price based on the average compensation data of employees, the number of people attending, and the length of the meeting. If this looks familiar, then you’re probably thinking of Lindsay Kaplan’s meeting cost calculator which I’ve posted about a number of times before.

Meetings are an expensive way to communicate

The cost of unnecessary meetings is bonkers. A report in 2022 found that large companies can waste up to $100 million dollars on meetings. This isn’t just an issue for big companies – even small companies with 100 employees could potentially save $2.5 million a year by eliminating pointless meetings.

The number of meetings has increased significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite our increased access to asynchronous collaboration tools and new communication technologies such as instant messaging and cloud-based shared documents. Microsoft estimates the number of meetings has increased by 153% since the beginning of the pandemic.

So... we aren't allowed to meet AT ALL?

Does this mean that Shopify are cancelling all meetings? No, not at all. Not all meetings are unnecessary. As their Chief Operating Officer states, “People who create things require focus. If you’re thinking about a problem and you’re constantly interrupted, nothing good comes out of it.”

Shopify are really encouraging people to use their time intentionally and to consider the purpose of a meeting before inviting people. The cost calculator tool puts quite a bit of pressure on meeting organisers to call fewer meetings and work more efficiently.

The point is to stop and think: what’s the purpose of this meeting? Do I really need to call a meeting, or are there other ways I could communicate more efficiently? And the killer question: what is this meeting costing me and what is it costing the business?

What can we take away from this case study to our own organisation?

- Have a look at your calendar. Are you regularly invited to lots of meetings where your presence is unnecessary? Are there steps you can take to reduce that?

- Are you a prolific meeting organiser? Why not take some time to reflect on how you could achieve your objective without a meeting. What other channels and tactics could you leverage to reduce meetings and be more efficient?


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