Meeting Culture Run Amok with Christina Janzer | Crooked Media
Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW! Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW!
March 29, 2023
Work Appropriate
Meeting Culture Run Amok with Christina Janzer

In This Episode

The idea that every problem, every issue, every roadblock in your organization can and should be solved by a meeting — that’s meeting culture. But often, meetings feel like a huge waste of time, and they can take up so much of your day that you can’t actually get your work done. There has to be another way!  Christina Janzer, SVP of Research & Analytics at Slack, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about how to make meetings better.

Got a workplace quandary you need help figuring out? Head to www.workappropriate.com and tell us about it!

Follow @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content, host takeovers and other community events.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen. And this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] So there are a few screenshots of digital calendars that float around social media haunting me. I can’t remember if they’re from like Google calendar or Outlook. I have no idea if they’re real or whose calendars they are, but they are overflowing. Absolutely jam packed with meetings. We’re talking and no space to eat, let alone pee or think. Now, these screenshots have gone viral not because they’re some extreme, but because they’re just one small step away from so many desk workers experience of the workday, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic. There’s one meeting that rolls straight into the next. So many meetings that could have been an email or that have no agenda. Or that no one’s prepared for it, thus necessitating yet another meeting. The idea that every problem, every issue, every roadblock in your organization can and should be solved by a meeting, that’s meeting culture. And it’s a real problem for most organizations I know. When I asked for questions and quandaries related to meetings, there was a flood. You have lots and lots of meeting problems. So who could we have come on the show to actually address your meeting quandaries. I wanted someone with a lot of insight into how companies work today, but also some experience with how a company can actually try to change their own meeting culture run amok. [music plays]

 

Christina Janzer: My name is Christina Janzer and I’m the senior vice president of Research Analytics at Slack. And I’m also a co-founder of the Future Forum. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Can you tell me about the Future Forum, because I think that is where I personally draw on a lot of my information about the way that the future of work is changing and then also how meetings are changing. So what is the Future Forum and what is your interest in it? 

 

Christina Janzer: So the Future Forum is a research consortium that is backed by Slack and a few other founding partners BCG, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow. And we study the future of work. So my team conducts a ton of research, including a quarterly pulse that we send to 10,000 desk workers around the world. And we share that research and we bring executives together to help design a way of working that is flexible, inclusive and connected. And I’m a researcher. I love research, it’s so fun, but I also just feel very passionate about making work better. And I want to make it better for me. [laughs] I want to make it better for my kids. I want to make it better for everyone. So it’s a fun thing to research, that’s for sure. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Two things that I always talk about when I talk about the Future Forum findings is one, that it is not only surveying people who use Slack because I think sometimes people are like these findings are only tech workers who use Slack. This has nothing to do with the way that I work, and it’s global, which I think is really interesting. Like six different countries, right? 

 

Christina Janzer: Yep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And then also that the goal isn’t to be like [laughs] oh, you should use Slack more. It’s more how do we give leaders the tools with evidence to change the way that they’re working? Because I think sometimes in the workplace people get like an idea in their head of like, oh, well, this isn’t working and maybe we should try this. But they don’t really have an understanding of what precisely isn’t working. And, you know, for our conversation today, like, people will just have this vague feeling of like meetings are aren’t working right for us, but they don’t know exactly what it is about meetings. Does that make sense? 

 

Christina Janzer: Absolutely. Yeah, you make a really good point. So [laughs] my job is sort of split into a couple buckets. One is very focused on Slack, but this is not focused on Slack. This is just—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —focused on understanding desk workers and their challenges. And maybe Slack can be a, a solution, but maybe not. And the most important thing is that we really understand what is challenging people, what are the opportunities to make work better. And everyone can use that as inspiration, whether it’s designing new policies, whether it’s designing new products, or whether it’s creating new systems, whatever it is. I think just first, understanding the challenges is the most important thing. And that’s what this research really sets out to do. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And you’re here today, I think, in actually like two roles, because not only do you have all of this insight from all of the research you’ve done as part of Future Forum, but then also you are a worker at Slack, right? [laughs] Like, you are trying to think about, okay, at Slack, how are we trying to make our own workplace habits more effective, right, our own strategies. So I know that there’s been some changes recently about meeting and meeting cultures, stuff to do with like Fridays and that sort of thing. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, absolutely. So I think maybe [laughs] maybe just to set a little context. One of the most important findings from the Future Forum research is the importance of flexibility. And maybe that’s obvious, but people really want flexibility both for when they work. So 94% of people want schedule flexibility and 80% of people want location flexibility. And it’s not just what people want. It also is very good for the business. So people who have schedule flexibility have 39% greater productivity, 64% greater ability to focus. So this is this is good for people and it’s good for business. And what gets in the way of schedule flexibility, too many meetings. [laughter] And that’s something that we pay really close attention to at Slack is we send out surveys internally as well. So we want to understand do people have enough focused time on their calendar? Do they spend too much time in meetings? And that’s something that we pay really close attention to. And I think especially at the beginning of the pandemic, I think a lot of people experienced this. People were just spending too much time in meetings. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And so we’ve done a lot internally to sort of experiment with how do we make meetings better, what actually needs to be a meeting. But we’ve also done a couple more drastic things. So at the beginning of the pandemic, we declared calendar bankruptcy, so we just cleared off the calendar. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And slowly added things back that actually needed to happen. And you very quickly realize that a lot of meetings that we are used to spending time in are not great uses of time. They don’t need to happen. And we’re fine without them. Like, we’re still making progress. We’re still hitting our goals. And so you really quickly realize what actually matters. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And then sort of more in terms of like ongoing upkeep. We have something called Maker Week, which we do twice a quarter. And this is a week where we clear meetings, not 100%, but most meetings are cleared that week. And it gives you time and space to do that deep focus work and making is going to look very different for each person maybe you’re an engineer and you’re coding that week, maybe you’re a researcher and you’re doing deep analysis, whatever it is, everybody needs that time to focus. We do that twice a quarter and then every Friday we have Focus Fridays, which is basically the same thing. It’s meant to not have meetings, internal meetings, and you have time and space to finish up the week and prepare for the next week and not feel like you have to catch up over the weekend. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love that. And we can talk more as we address—

 

Christina Janzer: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —the various listener quandaries about why I think other organizations that have tried to implement similar strategies sometimes fail. 

 

Christina Janzer: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But the first thing I want to talk about is we got a reader question that was more of a comment, but I thought it was a great way for us to get into this conversation. And this person was commenting that in their workplace there really is like almost a competition over who has the most meetings. Right. Like someone’s like I have nine meetings on my schedule today, and the other person is like, I’ve got 11, you know, like. And it becomes a means of highlighting just how much work you’re doing. Even though getting work done and having a meeting are not necessarily the same thing. Right. 

 

Christina Janzer: Totally. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: How do you think about that idea? If you were faced with a company that was that had this sort of culture of like the person with the most meetings is the person who’s most important or the person who’s most productive or the person who others see as most productive? Like, how do you address that kind of fundamental misunderstanding? 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, it’s such a great question. People see meetings as like a form of status. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: So the more meetings that I’m in, the more senior I am or the higher status I am. What I would suggest is so, you know, what is the intention? So if, if, if managers are setting up lots of meetings, like maybe they think that meetings are actually a good thing if we’re going to assume best intentions, maybe they think that they’re doing everyone a service by calling these meetings where I would probably start. I really do think and this is the researcher in me talking, that data is a very effective way to have these conversations. So if you go to your manager and you share some of this data, which is like assuming that they’re coming from a place where they think meetings is helping the team meetings are helping the team be more productive, if you can show them counter data that shows that actually schedule flexibility is what leads to greater productivity. The importance of of schedule flexibility gives us time to do that deep work. I think if you can start by bringing the data to them, it can offer a different perspective, which is that actually meetings get in the way of the actual work and the more that we can carve time away from meetings, the more productive everyone is going to be. And so I don’t know that that’s going to solve the whole problem. But I think starting with data is a really, really great place to start. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Both you and I, I think everyone is on the same page that like there are some meetings that are very important, right? If you are doing collaborative work in this meeting, when the meeting has like a very clear agenda, no one is saying that we should get rid of every meeting [laughs] on the calendar. But I do think sometimes it’s worth thinking, too, about what is an elevation in meetings, a sign of? And I just remember there was this data that came out in the middle of the pandemic and it was showing, you know, how many meetings were called on average using data from I think some calendar service basically like how many meetings were called. And this graph showed, you know, a dip in the summer—

 

Christina Janzer: Mm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —a dip in Christmas in the number of meetings. And again, this is 2020 when school started again. And this was at a time again 2020 when a lot of kids were still at home and doing homeschooling, there was a marked increase in meetings. So what’s going on there? Why would you have more meetings when kids are at home? You’d think actually there would be a decrease in meetings that, oh, the parents have more things that they need to be attending to. And my thinking based on totally [laughs] this is my like qualitative, not quantitative analysis, is that when you feel more self-conscious about am I working enough that you call more meetings. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah. And I think I think it’s also you call more meetings when you want to create more visibility for yourself. But I think also managers call more meetings when they feel like they have a lack of information. So like the status meeting is like such a great example of that. Like how many like how much time do people waste in status meetings where you just go around the Zoom screen saying like 2 minutes of what you’re working on or what the status of your project is. And like, what is the purpose of that meeting it’s for visibility. But like, there are so many other ways to get that information across that doesn’t require everyone to be synchronously in a meeting for 30 minutes together, wasting their time. Like, that is a perfect example of something that could be done in whatever your productivity platform of choice is. Right. Obviously, we do that in Slack, right. But I think I think people use meetings as a crutch, as a tool. It’s absolutely a tool. But there are so many other ways to rethink the purpose. And what are other ways to accomplish that same task we just dug into. I mean, meetings are so interesting and we just dug into some some data. And the TLDR is that we’re all in way too many unproductive meetings. And executives and non executives agree with this. 43% of meetings could be eliminated with no consequences like that is crazy. Imagine if your calendar had 43% fewer meetings. Like that would be life changing. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I know. [laughter] I know. And I think about like, you know, as a freelancer, I’m not even accountable to like a single manager or to a single company. But I do have many different companies and and stakeholders, for lack of a better word, that I am responsible to. And like, just this morning, I was going on a radio show and I had two different short, brief meetings ahead of going on this radio show because they didn’t know me well enough to know. Even though I’ve been on the show before to know, she doesn’t need this meeting. Right. And so a lot of it seems to me like in various situations, like we don’t know enough about this person, we don’t know enough about this situation. We don’t know enough ahead of this other meeting. We need to have a pre-meeting. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? 

 

Christina Janzer: Totally. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like there’s this kind of backstopping that’s happening that which is not necessarily necessary. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, totally. And I think yeah, I think people use meetings as like a way to progress, right? Like, if I call a meeting, I’m going to make progress, I’m going to get a decision. And I think for some people, like maybe some people who are on that radio show do need that pre meeting because they don’t know that person or that person needs more information. But I think that there’s something really important about creating and enabling a culture where saying no and pushing back is okay. And so—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —I think this is something that we’ve done a lot internally at Slack, which is has nothing to do with the product just in terms of how we work together. Like people will will say, hey, does this meeting actually need to happen and really push each other to send out agendas and if the agenda doesn’t seem like something that you need to participate in, it’s totally fine for you to say no and to say, actually, it would be much better if I use this 30 minutes to do deep work or to do something else. And I think the more that we can create that culture of pushing back and saying, no, we can hold each other accountable to raising the bar for meetings, which is going to benefit everyone. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I love too that you frame this as like pushing back can actually be a way of being better at your job. It doesn’t mean that you’re not committed. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like your coworkers. It just means that you’re thinking about the purpose of the meeting. So I could talk with you just like philosophically about meetings for another hour. But I think we should answer some specific questions. [laughs]

 

Christina Janzer: Sounds good. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So our first question is all about the panicky feeling that you get when you look at your calendar and it’s just like blocked off forever, like dawn till dusk. This is from Becky, and our producer Melody is going to read it. 

 

Becky: My department went fully remote during the pandemic. And work in general has been pretty accommodating. But this has led to a new culture of just constant virtual meetings done at 1159. In a new meeting at noon in person, you physically had to walk to and fight for meeting space. Not anymore. Meetings with tight agendas are fine, but some people just meet to ramble. And there’s no accountability for this either. We all have so much to do. So the meetings feel necessary. The halfhearted management attempts at fixing this, suggesting no meeting blocks and ending 10 minutes early so everyone gets a break. None of it works, and even management has a hard time respecting their own suggestions. But how can staff lead from below to regain some breathing space back? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So this to me sounds like a bad leadership problem. What is your take when you when you hear this question? 

 

Christina Janzer: Well, okay, so the last thing the person said was something about like, how do we get back breathing space? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: When I hear that, I hear that, you know, there’s there’s no room to breathe. There’s no room to do deep work. There’s no room to focus. And so it feels like there needs to be like a complete restructuring of how work happens within either that team or that company, however big that that thing is. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Christina Janzer: And what I have found to be really effective in this situation is to create sort of like these core working hours. So with the assumption that focus time and deep work is important. And hopefully management agrees with that. What are the times of the day where you are actually going to be synchronous together with your team, where you’re going to be available to answer questions available to jump on a meeting? And different teams are very different. So this isn’t a one size fits all, but let’s just say that it’s like from 10 to 1 every day. Those are the times where you’re going to have you’re going to be available for meetings, you’re going to be available for feedback, you’re going to be available for synchronous work. But everything else is off limits because that’s when you’re actually breathing, doing deep work, doing that focus work. And I think what that does is, well, it sets clear expectations, but it also is a forcing function, like we talked about, to reset the bar for meetings because you don’t have 40 hours of options to set up a meeting. You have, what is it, 15 hours of core collaboration hours. And so you start to just be much more picky about like, hey, I only have 15 hours a week to meet—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —or to do synchronous work. Does this actually need to be a meeting? Maybe we can just handle this offline. Or maybe this could be a quick Slack channel or a Slack message. And so I think I think they need something more drastic to sort of reset expectations for how this team actually needs to get work done together. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. To me, it seems like, you know, you could do the meeting bankruptcy, which which you did and I know other places have done as well. But then maybe if you if you declare bankruptcy, it just like you just have to do it every year. Like, you’re not actually addressing the root of the problem. And what I see here is something that I think. A lot of places struggle with is that there’s not a willingness to essentially audit the work that you’re doing. 

 

Christina Janzer: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like, what do we actually need to get done? You know, the speaker says we have so much work, it feels like all of these meetings are necessary. But if it feels like all of these meetings are necessary, and that pushes any of your deep focus work into hours that you’re technically off the clock right or until like, really long, long hours of, you know, on the weekends after hours, that sort of thing, then there’s too much work. Right. Because that’s sometimes is a problem—

 

Christina Janzer: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —too, is that like we have taken on too much and we need to limit our scope. That’s a harder conclusion to come to as well. But like, sometimes I think someone needs to say, all right, pause, what are we doing here? What is necessary? 

 

Christina Janzer: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And but I think you’re right. 

 

Christina Janzer: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: As long as shorter term fix, limiting those numbers [laughter] the number of hours that are available even to to be colonized by meetings, that that’s a good first step. 

 

Christina Janzer: So they talked about like a lot of these meetings feel necessary. I would I would push back and say even necessary meetings can be redesigned. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: Even if, like you feel like that 30 minutes of of of live time together was productive. Like there’s still a chance that it could have been done in 5 minutes asynchronously. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Totally. 

 

Christina Janzer: And I also think like getting into sort of like the inclusion piece, like meetings are not always particularly inclusive to people, whether it’s, you know, time zone related, whether it’s because that, you know, you’re dropping your kids off at school and like that 9 a.m. status meeting is like really hard for you to make whether you’re the introvert who has a hard time speaking up in live meetings like there’s there’s also benefits to not doing it in in Zoom. The other one that I love is like if you if you put it in in Slack or Teams or whatever your your platform of choice is, then it lives there forever and people can actually like engage with it even if they weren’t able to make it live. And so I would say that even necessary meetings have room to improve and have room to be redesigned into something different. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I think the the difficult thing here is that the leaders seem to not be respecting their own boundaries that they’ve put around it, too. And I’ve heard this from a lot of people like, oh, we have Focus Fridays. And because of that, you know, our managers are like, let’s put the meeting on Friday because no one has a meeting then. Right. Like it becomes actually a place to put meetings. It’s just done secretly. And that [sighs] that seems very destructive to me. 

 

Christina Janzer: So this is this is 100% happened at Slack and what has worked is continuing to show the data. So continuing to show the importance of this. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And continuing to remind leaders like I’m happy to to reach out to leaders and say, hey, your team is still struggling because they’re not able to fully participate in Focus Fridays because they keep getting meetings. And sometimes people just like this is a new way of working. This is these are new behaviors. And I think we do have a responsibility to not give up if it doesn’t work right away, but to keep pushing at it and leaders can push at it. You know, individual contributors can push it. Everyone can do that. And I think it’s a collective responsibility that we all hold. But I do see people giving up a little bit too early. And I think this takes time and it takes a behavior change. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s such a good point that like we are in the middle of a really dramatic shift in the way that we think about work for people who do desk work like that, the flexibility in in vocation and also in time, a lot of the ways that people are working right now were unthinkable four or five years ago. 

 

Christina Janzer: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And some of them are difficult to make those long term changes and are going to take continuous maintenance. But as you pointed out, the accessibility point is really great, like inclusiveness, but also too having that transparency of having like the meeting happen in a place where other people can see it. It’s really powerful. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, absolutely. And I think also like it allows ongoing conversation and discussion throughout the week. So like why is from 9 to 9:30, the only time that you can actually like have the conversation about the topic. Like what if you learned something—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Christina Janzer: —new an hour later or a day later. And if it’s somewhere digital where people can participate throughout the week, it invites so much more engagement and so much more progress. So yeah, the point that you are making about how this is new, we’re still learning. Like I do think that people need to sort of invest in sort of a culture of experimentation and innovation because we don’t have all of the answers yet and we’re not going to have all the answers. And we’re we’re going to continue to sort of struggle with this new way of working. And we see so many so many benefits. And so we know that this is like the right direction, but we don’t have every single thing figured out yet. And so continuing to experiment and continuing to redesign, I think is is so important for people to invest in right now. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And in a lot of ways this is like the conversations that I have about flexible work. It’s exciting. We get to figure out how to work better. Sometimes it’s frustrating too, but it’s also really exciting like to be able to shape the way that we work to better fit people’s needs right and wants and all those sorts of things. Like that’s a worthwhile reframing, I think. 

 

Christina Janzer: I agree. I agree 100%. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So okay to summarize this person [laughs] can I mean, I think like there’s not a ton that they can do themselves to dramatically change meeting culture as a person who is not a leader. They can, though, especially if they’ve been there for any amount of time. I think that they can start like thinking about ways to push back and to think about like, does this need to be a meeting? Is there a way that we could do it this way? You know, there are all sorts of ways that you can start thinking about working. Also having conversations with your manager. If it’s someone that you trust or with other coworkers about the meetings that you were having on a more lateral level, like is this a meeting that we have to have? So there are things that can be done, I think, to to begin, as you know, to change the culture of meetings, even if it’s not happening from the top down. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah. And I think when you push back on, does this need to be a meeting? You’re not just saying no for the sake of say no, you’re saying no—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —to open up more time to do other types of work. And so I do think, like it depends on how comfortable this person is. But if I were this person, I would want to sit down with my manager and sort of understand, like, I’m spending all this time in meetings. This is the core part of my job. Maybe I’m an engineer and I need to write code all day. I can’t make both of these work. And so there something needs to happen about meetings being reduced so that we can create this time for for deep work. And I think if it is not just I’m trying to say no to meetings, it’s I’m trying to create more space. And if you sort of frame it that way, then it becomes something that we can work on together to get to a place where there’s a better balance. [music plays]

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is about a specific kind of meeting and maybe we can help this person come up with some alternatives. The question is from Rachel, and our colleague Ashley is going to read it. 

 

Rachel: I work in marketing and my team used to have an excessive amount of status update meetings at least twice a week with just our team or parts of our team, and then several additional biweekly status update meetings with folks not on our team, where we’d all go around and report on what projects we were working on and what their status was. The vast majority of the time there was nothing to discuss and no sticking points. Just a status update and then move on to the next item. It was so dreadful recently we’ve thankfully reduced the number of these kinds of meetings quite a lot, although not to zero. But some of my coworkers are grumbling about missing the status updates and trying to sneak them back in. And I worry we’re going to end up back in the same boat. Is there ever any use to a meeting where everyone reports on what they’re working on? And if so, how can I get some value out of this rather than just zoning out for most of every meeting? If not, how do I convince my coworkers that we should just keep going in the direction of fewer work updates and more just doing our work? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. [laughs] So we’re just talking about status meetings, so we have a lot to talk about here. But I think that this is someone who maybe, like read a piece in like Harvard Business Review about status meetings or something and was like, let’s do it, you know? And then the people who are like, I miss the status meeting, first of all, who are these people? But I think probably they are missing something. I don’t know if it’s the status meeting. So what’s your reaction to this question? 

 

Christina Janzer: So I think [laughs] I, status meetings? No. Like, no, not useful. Like, I’ll just say that outright. What is the purpose of a status meeting? A status meeting is to create visibility. I think there’s like an accountability piece, too, right? Like, if you’re required to, like, report your status every week, then you feel like you need to do work to be able [laughs] to report. So like so yeah. So that’s that stuff is useful. It’s something that the asker said was like they just zone out. So like if you’re just there to like, say your status and then zone out, like that is the definition of a [laughs] useless meeting because you’re not even listening. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. Yes. 

 

Christina Janzer: And so I would say that this is a perfect example where the content is probably useful, but the mechanism in a live meeting is not the solution. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And so I think this is like the classic this should be in writing in some sort of digital platform. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And so if you do, if you do like a weekly reminder in like a Slack channel, like, hey, what’s, you know, what’s the status of your project? Do you need help are you blocked? Whatever those questions are, then it becomes something that is much easier for you as the teammate to report your status on because it doesn’t have to be done on a specific time. It also makes it easier for people to engage with it. Again, it doesn’t have to be at a specific time. It can be whenever is convenient for you. And then if there is something that let’s say somebody posts, you know, I’m blocked, I don’t have enough resources or this approval hasn’t gone through yet, maybe that does actually warrant a discussion, but it probably doesn’t need to be with the entire team. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Christina Janzer: It can just be with those two people who are actually having the issue. So this is like, yes, we used to do this in a meeting before the pandemic, but like this is a perfect example of something that is ripe for a redesign. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, we used to have when I was at BuzzFeed, a bot that would come on Slack and it, you know, I think like 9 a.m. my time say, what are you working on today? And at least for me, it was really useful because it gave me an opportunity because I was remote to highlight here is what I’m doing today. And sometimes the thing that I would be doing would be looking for my next story, right? And so it was totally normal to say, poking around, looking for a new story or deep in reading today, whatever it is, it just kind of broadcasts that idea. Or sometimes my manager would be like, I have a ton of meetings today. If you are desperate for feedback on something, here’s the other person to get in contact with. Right. Again, I just found it so useful and so low lift to know what other people on my team were doing. I also loved knowing, like the other writers on my team, this is what they’re working on without having to, you know, feel weird or competitive or anything like that about asking, so what are you doing today? That sort of thing. So I think that it worked really well in that capacity. Why do you think that an organization might resist that? Is it just tradition? Like, what are these people who really love the the informational meeting? Like what? What do they actually want? 

 

Christina Janzer: I mean I think yeah, I think I think some of this is like it’s just it’s just how things have been done and change is hard. I do think that managers probably get a lot of use out of status meetings. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Christina Janzer: It’s a way for them to consume that information, really. Quickly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And you know I think individual contributors feel like they have to perform in or and so the manager is benefiting from that information. But when you look at sort of the amount of time and the number of people who are required for that and to the point of the question asker. Like they just zone out like that is such a waste of time. It’s not that there isn’t some value for the manager in this meeting, it’s just that there is a way for them to get that exact same value and not waste the time of everyone else. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: Right. Because if I if I read the statuses of all of my teammates, it would probably take you know 5 minutes and I would get all the information that I need. The manager, would get all the information that they need and think of all the time that you save. So I do think some of this is about like control and also just like tradition, like you said, this is just the way that it’s always been done. And change is hard. It really is. So I have a little bit of empathy for—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —for managers who don’t want to change. [laughter] Just a little bit.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question, it feels like one of those like logic puzzles that we had to do in middle school. Let’s hear from Katie. 

 

Katie: I manage a team of engineers located in both the U.S. and in Europe. We worked together to create one product and both sites are proud of their respective areas of expertise. However, we’re really struggling with the time zone differences. Efforts to make every project only located at one site results in experts feeling excluded and worse end results. But working together results in work creeping earlier or later than is healthy. While we’ve been successful in implementing flex time, the early mornings and late nights are not healthy or sustainable. It’s been hard to make decisions stick if they’re not made in a real time meeting. Have you encountered any tools or policies that make international work effective and sustainable? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So I feel like this question is one that more and more companies are going to grapple with if they’re not grappling with already basically being a globally distributed company in some capacity. Even if on the ground people are coming into the office, you know, you have this time zone difference. So what have you seen in terms of different organizations working to rectify these difficulties? I appreciate that the question asker is like we’ve tried making everyone just do it, you know, delegating the work to just one place and another place, and that hasn’t worked. So what do we do now? 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, this is a tough one. So we talk a lot about like team level agreements, which are like, you know, again, it’s not like a one size fits all depends on like the unique needs of your team and what you’re actually trying to accomplish. But, you know, having a conversation about like how are we actually going to work together more flexibly, What are the types of meetings that we need to have in order to make progress? How are we going to make decisions? Maybe we’re going to make a decision that all decisions need to be made synchronously in meetings, but sort of talking through how are we all going to work together and when are we going to come together and when are we going to have our focus time? And, you know, one of the sort of outcomes of a team level agreement is the core collaboration hours that we talked about before. But if we find that, you know, let’s say that there’s like 2 hours of overlap between these time zones—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: —I think you kind of have to draw it out and it depends on the situation. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: Then we’re going to use those 2 hours in these specific ways. We’re going to start by talking about all the decisions that we need to make, have our brainstorms, have our discussions, and then leave those 2 hours with like these decisions made, right? Like you need to sort of figure out how are we going to make it work with the constraints that we have and the constraints that we have, are that we don’t want people to work really early. We don’t want people to work really late. And so we have to make the most out of the overlapping time that we have. And if we make these types of decisions, if we make this type of progress when we’re synchronous together, then when we go away and have our sort of deep focus time, we can just execute on that. And I think people need to get, teams need to get really, really specific about how do we make it work with what we have. But I guess what I would also say is I also think we need to be realistic. And so as we’re thinking about starting projects and as we’re thinking about like, okay, we’re going to kick off this new product or we’re going to kick off this new initiative, what’s going to be required in order for that to happen? Maybe it’s like really clear. We have clear goals and it’s really just about execution and it really doesn’t matter where people are, but maybe it’s going to be like a highly iterative project where we’re always going to be getting feedback from these people. We’re always going to be needing that like time together to move forward. And maybe that’s actually not going to be particularly conducive to people in three different time zones spread out all over the world. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: So I do, I do think we need to be we can make the most of the situation that we’re in, but we also need to be realistic about what’s going to set a project up for success and make that decision at the beginning versus like three fourths of the way through when we realize that things are broken. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, we can’t bend time. So if there are only 2 to 3 overlapping hours, how do you treat those hours as incredibly precious and how do you also for the people, because there will be one of those teams that wakes up in the morning, and does a full day of work and then has those overlap hours. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And another team that wakes up in the morning is slammed with, oh my gosh, here’s like this other team that has been awake all day and suddenly has all of these questions. How do you create some buffer so that you don’t have one team like slamming their needs into the other at all times? So that’s something to be mindful of as well when you are arranging those precious times. And I think too, like if you have people in your team who are like, oh, I come up with an idea or a question, I just really I want to get it off my head. I want to make sure that I address that. I want to send a message now, learning delay send and like [laughs] that is like a good friend of yours. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, no.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I’m guessing this person probably, you know, they are trying to do that on their team. But then your final point, too, I think is excellent that, you know, maybe those those experts who feel like, oh, I’m not getting consulted, maybe they need to deal with that a little bit, like maybe some they’re not always going to be consulted in every single corner of a project when it’s not a project that’s happening in their time zone. 

 

Christina Janzer: Right. And then maybe there’s another project that they can be on that’s like more conducive to their their way of working or their time zone. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah. Like you said, like it’s you can’t bend time. So we have to do what we can and make hard decisions. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So our next question made me laugh because this person did not know that you were going to be our guest. This is Waquas.

 

Waquas: When are people going to realize that these massive Slack threads with hundreds of messages are the new meeting? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] So as a as an official Slack person, is this rumor true? Is there are there no more meetings? Are we only having slack threads from here on out? 

 

Christina Janzer: Well, when you put it like that [laughs] no, but when I heard the question, I was like, oh, this is music to my ears. [laughter] Like, yes, Slack threads can replace meetings. And it’s magical when that happens because you don’t have to wait for a meeting for work to happen. It can just happen in Slack. So I guess a couple of things that I would say is I do think that a lot of people are already realizing this and are like effectively replacing what used to have to be a meeting with some sort of asynchronous work in Slack, whether that’s channel messages or huddles or clips, like there’s lots of different ways to make progress that don’t require jumping on a Zoom together. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Christina Janzer: But one thing that I would say that I’ve that I’ve seen a lot of is and I don’t know that this is what the person was getting at when they said when will people realize? But my interpretation of that is like when, when is leadership going to realize—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm, mm hmm. 

 

Christina Janzer: —that is happening. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: Is that oftentimes executives and leaders are not using the tools that their teams are using. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: 100%. [laughs]

 

Christina Janzer: We hear this all the time where executives are like, oh, like I’m too busy to be on Slack, just like, email me or like, text me if you need me. And I think what we’re seeing is we’re seeing a shift like we’re in the middle of the shift. Some of the shift has already happened where a lot of synchronous work has been replaced by asynchronous work in Slack and teams, whatever it is that you’re using. But if executives aren’t there, then they’re not seeing that happen. And so it’s almost like they’re just not where the work is happening. And I think they’re really missing out on on sort of participating and in that work and participating in that shift. And so it’s happening. And if you’re not there, you’re not going to see it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So I have a question about how you can prevent slack threads that are functioning as larger meetings go off the rails. Because I have seen this happen again. I used to work at BuzzFeed [laughter] and sometimes there would be kind of like a back channel essentially of like an all hands or there would be a ask our CEO anything. Right. And one of the I think real utilities of that channel was that people who would feel uncomfortable raising their hand in an all hands and saying, here I have this difficult question about pay discrepancy, say, or what is happening with our stock. Why is it being weird? You know, those sorts of difficult—

 

Christina Janzer: Mm hmm, mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —questions that just make you feel uncomfortable. It’s easier to do that in some ways in a Slack channel. But then I also think like sometimes too, there’s the way that like people use reactions in passive aggressive ways. [laughter] Like, how do you create or how do you talk to an organization or a team about creating a culture that I really don’t want to say professional here because I think like professionalism is is, you know, a tenant of white supremacy most of the time. But—

 

Christina Janzer: Yep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —that just that it doesn’t become a passive aggressive shit show I would, do you have any suggestions on how companies can think about that? 

 

Christina Janzer: I think people need more guidelines for how to engage with Slack. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And it’s something that we spend a lot of time with internally and we advise companies that we work with as well. But the same way that you would have guidelines for how you treat your coworkers in an office setting, it’s the same thing like that should there should be a digital equivalent to that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And I think people sort of forget sometimes that that emoji on Slack that is associated with some sort of meaning and it creates, you know, perhaps negative feelings for the person who’s receiving that emoji. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And I think that there’s there’s a lack of sort of Slack etiquette and guidelines at many companies who use Slack. But it’s something that we have internally that I think is really helpful. So it helps create very clear expectations for how to engage. And and we also, because we have those expectations, people hold each other accountable in Slack. And so if they’re if a question is going off the rails or maybe it’s like going off topic, we have an emoji that we use, it’s the raccoon emoji which basically says like, this is not the place to have this discussion, take it somewhere else. And so like little, little things like that, if you have the clear guideline, then you can you can people feel more comfortable sort of politely and gently enforcing that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: So participating in conversation digitally is new for some companies and something that we’ll often say is like if you’re not going to say it to somebody face to face, like don’t say it in Slack, you know? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: And that sounds so obvious. But like, people don’t really realize that sometimes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The other small thing that I would note is that like if you do have emojis that mean certain things in the Slack parlance of your organization, that is part of onboarding is having someone explain to people what that is because it is an invisible curriculum of the organization. And if you just leave it to people to think that they’re going to figure out like what the trash panda emoji means [laughter] in your, you know, like that’s something that you need to make legible because sometimes people don’t—

 

Christina Janzer: Absolutely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —know how to. It will take months to figure out that they’re doing it. 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, it’s like the Slack code of conduct. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. So we have a last question that shows that there is no one size fits all to this question of making meetings work. This comes from Keisha. 

 

Keisha: In a world where meetings and office jobs have gotten out of control, I actually have a bit of the opposite problem in my role I do quite a bit of work on my own. However, getting feedback and coordinating on a daily and weekly basis between members of my team is rather important. We get by well enough on Teams and email, but in an effort from my colleagues in more senior positions to cut down on as many meetings in their schedules as possible, they keep trying to cut out one of the only two meetings that I have with them each week. It seems every couple of months or half year, they try to cut out this one half hour meeting only to quickly realize how important it actually was and bring it back. I feel like my senior colleagues have amnesia at this point, and it’s frustrating to have to keep reminding them what works and what doesn’t for our team, especially when we don’t have this one half hour meeting. It bleeds into several hours of random Teams chats throughout the week that are confusing and inefficient and instead, ironically, could have been a half hour meeting. I’m not the only person who suffers from this yo yoing situation, but no matter how many of us speak up, the pattern always seems to repeat. I’m so tired of having to quote unquote “up manage” my boss. What can be done? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So I feel like this person is like taking some of the advice that we talked about earlier and they’re getting rid of what they feel are unnecessary meetings and their team is like, no. [laughs] So what do you think is happening here? 

 

Christina Janzer: Yeah, I think you’re right. So I think what we’re hearing here is actually not all meetings are bad. [laughter] There are lots of examples of very productive meetings and we should keep those meetings. My assumption here is that, like you said, the manager somehow listened to this podcast. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: From the future. 

 

Christina Janzer: They, they probably have the best of intentions. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: They they themselves are probably spending too much time in meetings. And we see that executives have I think on average, it’s like 25 hours of meetings per week versus 10 hours for non-executives. So they’re they’re feeling overwhelmed. They’re probably trying to do their team a favor by reducing the number of meetings. So they think that they’re doing a good thing. But I think maybe they’ve just swung too far right in the other direction. And, you know, executives like they don’t it’s hard for them to have a pulse on everything. Like I have a lot of empathy. It’s you can’t keep you can’t have eyes everywhere. So there’s a really important role for this person to play to help them understand, like, hey, there are actually we’re missing something by not having these meetings. And what I would suggest is if if that person starts by sending an agenda to, so let’s say that they have a meeting in a week with an executive, send a meet start to send that meeting agenda like five days in advance and say, hey, like, here’s here’s some things that are on my mind that I would really like to discuss next week. That exec is going to be very unlikely to cancel that meeting If it’s clear to them that you have a need for and a need and a purpose for that meeting. But they probably don’t know that because they’re thinking that they’re doing you a favor. So I think there’s a role for that person to play to like make it clear, like there is a purpose and there is I really need this meeting and here’s what I want to talk about. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, this is just me speculating, but I imagine that the meetings that this manager probably should be getting rid of are ones with their superiors or other people at the level like, but they feel like they can’t get rid of those ones because they’re too important. And so instead, the place where they’re doing these cutbacks are on one on ones or on meetings where the rest of their team and like you said, they think that they’re doing them a favor, but they’re actually creating more work for everyone. So I love the very straightforward of advice of sending the agenda to underline like this is an important meeting and sometimes too I think it’s very like people in both ends of a meeting should feel empowered to say, we don’t have anything to talk about this week and we don’t need to have this meeting. 

 

Christina Janzer: Absolutely. But to your point, like, I’m not sure if this person is specifically referring to one on ones. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: One on ones are very high on my list of like meetings not to cut. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: There’s so much value in connecting with your direct reports every week or every other week. I think it depends on your relationship. But you know, if there’s nothing to talk about, absolutely cancel it. But that connection and you know that that care that you can show somebody by meeting with them and checking in on them and understanding how they’re doing, I think that’s so important. And like that to me is one of those one of those meetings not to cancel. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: So if that’s what’s happening here, then—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Christina Janzer: I’m sorry. And send your agenda. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Well and also too I think it’s kind of like therapy where you’re like, I have nothing to talk about this week. Right? It might seem like you have nothing to talk about this week. And then as soon as you show up for the one on one, actually, you have a lot to talk about. 

 

Christina Janzer: Lots to talk about. [laughter] Absolutely.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So so protect those ones and then think about the other ones that don’t have as high of a priority. But okay, so we’ve got the advice, send the agenda, communicate how important it is and that it’s like a very valuable meeting for everyone on the team. And hopefully this person won’t continue to try to get rid of it every [laughs] every month the way that they have been. So can we wrap up our meeting philosophies in like one sentence? My meeting philosophy is that I don’t hate meetings. I dislike status meetings. A lot of times people just have meetings when they haven’t read their email. The end. What is your [laughter] meeting philosophy? 

 

Christina Janzer: I was going to say that flexibility is really important. Meetings get in the way of flexibility. Meetings that enable work are the best ones to keep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That is so much more coherent than my philosophy. [laughter] I love it. It’s a really good. This is the title of the episode. [laughter] Thank you so much for joining me today to talk about meetings—

 

Christina Janzer: Thank you this was fun. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —if people want to find out more about you and about Future Forum and about your role at Slack, where can where can they look on the internet? 

 

Christina Janzer: So futureforum.com is a great place to check out our work. We post all of our research there. I am a little bit more hidden online, but you can always find me on LinkedIn. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah, that’s thank you again. This has been great. [music plays] Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you need help figuring out. Get in touch. Some episodes we’re working on include issues around parental leave, how to care less about your job. And then we’re doing two more in my industry is broken episodes, one on veterinary medicine and one on writing for a living. So if you have questions around how to survive in those industries, even though they’re broken. You can find submission guidelines at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. And you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you’re as opinionated as we are, consider dropping us a review. [music plays] Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. Find us back here next Wednesday for everything you ever wanted to know about meetings. Next week we’re talking about setting boundaries between yourself and your workload, your boss, the parents of your students, etc., etc.. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it. 

 

[AD BREAK]