It is hard to imagine office work without meetings. They have even become a part of popular culture through series such as The Office, in which the character Michael Scott often gathers all employees to hold spontaneous, long and usually purposeless meetings. Every joke has some truth to it, as organisations, including businesses, spend up to 15% of the collective work time in meetings. They can be spread across the week and different times of the workday.

Why is the placement of meetings in a weekly calendar so important?

It’s simple – a multitask agenda prevents an employee from performing deep work. This term has a variety of definitions, but arguably the most complete one was authored by the writer of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport:

professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In a nutshell, this is uninterrupted, intense work that is focused on a single task that cannot be done via multitasking. Newport names shallow work as an opposite term – anything that is not cognitively demanding. This type of work won’t lead to the person connecting the dots and birthing big ideas. The story of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is often used in this context – every year he’d go to a remote place for a few weeks in order to contemplate and create world-changing innovations.

Deep work requires eliminating all distractions

The Mapon team concluded that, even if the overall time spent in meetings doesn’t prevent employees from doing an optimal amount of deep work (2-4h per day), the planning of meetings might impact how often it can be done. So, an experiment called no-meeting Thursdays was initiated last year. The title says it all – everyone, including the board, tries to avoid planning and taking part in any meetings on Thursdays in order to focus on deep, uninterrupted work. Six months later we’re ready to analyse the results of this initiative via an internal survey and discussions with co-workers in different teams and positions.

Survey data is promising

Approximately half a year after starting the initiative we ran a survey encompassing all our Latvia-based teams with the goal of finding out the overall interest and usefulness of no-meeting Thursdays. Results are encouraging – 84.6% of employees rated the initiative with four or five points on a scale from one to five. An equal percentage answered that the tradition should be continued.

The main goal of no-meeting Thursdays was achieved

The positive reception is mainly due to the opportunity to work without interruptions, noted by 69.2% of respondents, while 15.4% argue that equally important is the opportunity for anyone, including managers, to work on practical, complicated tasks instead of organising, conducting and attending meetings.

Some potential challenges also emerged. A number of open answers described the rare inability to avoid meetings on Thursdays, either because other days are not an option or due to the fact that people from outside the company are not bound by this initiative. It’s not easy to decline such a meeting only based on principle. Likewise, sometimes crossing out Thursdays leads to more meetings on other days; employees tend to call these occasions, for example, meeting Wednesdays.

There are some days when a manager can only be found in a meeting room

Another interesting tendency was revealed by a question on the usage of no-meeting Thursdays. 53.8% said they take advantage of them every week, which is connected to the aforementioned challenges, as well as other factors which we tried to find out by talking to multiple co-workers in different roles and teams.

Good idea – if there’s a need

Many have few meetings

Answering the question of why not everyone makes use of no-meeting Thursdays wasn’t difficult – many Mapon employees simply have no need for them. There aren’t many meetings for co-workers who are not project managers or C-level executives, which allows them to dive into deep work at almost any day and time. For example, video content marketing specialist Diāna says that the marketing team shortly talks about the daily agenda every morning, which is the only regular meeting for her. Same goes for the testing team’s Sjuzanna – after the daily stand-up, she can spend the rest of the day testing.

The Mapon team appreciates that they don’t have to take part in redundant meetings. This is also beneficial for the company, as it leads to increased employee productivity.

Executives enjoy the silence

It’s clear that the initiative is most useful to managers and executive-level co-workers. Krišjānis, who oversees the mobile app development and design team, agrees. He notes that he takes part in 8 to 12 meetings per week, excluding the so-called dailies.

No-meeting Thursdays provided the opportunity to spend a whole day on a single big task, which previously wasn’t possible often. In order to further reduce distractions on that day, Krišjānis works from home and turns off app notifications – the result is truly effective deep work. When asked about whether crossing out Thursdays led to more meetings on other days, he agrees, but also that it’s fine due to the opportunity to discuss plans, get approvals, etc., in one sitting.

The freed up calendar day is great for complex tasks

Meeting congestion is seen differently by Mapon branch manager Armands, whose responsibilities often include communication with people outside of the company, from different countries and time zones. He notes that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are so-called sales days, when clients, partners and third parties are most keen on holding meetings, as opposed to Fridays, which are used to wrap up the week, and Mondays, when everyone is getting back on track after the weekend. So, no-meeting Thursdays sometimes have a limited effect.

However, like Krišjānis, Armands has noticed that communication apps have gotten quieter on Thursdays, and there’s less meeting pressure from Latvian colleagues. This allows him to dive into intense work, such as calculations, data and report analysis for longer uninterrupted periods.

Company’s viewpoint

After analysing the results of the survey and talking to colleagues, it’s safe to say that, overall, the experiment is successful. The main goal, which was to free up time for deep work, was achieved by the vast majority of employees. Although sometimes no-meeting Thursdays cause an increase in meetings on other days, this is outweighed by the newfound opportunity to work on complex tasks for longer periods. Moreover, the team respects and takes the initiative into account when planning the work week, so all that’s left to do is to keep it up!

If you also appreciate the opportunity to do deep work and take part only in meetings where your presence is really needed, apply for one of our open vacancies!