Study Hacks Blog

November 21st, 2022 · 2 comments

Several readers pointed me toward a recent NPR Marketplace segement about a fully-remote tech company called Zapier that tried an interesting experiment last summer: they cancelled all meetings for a week.

“When I heard from leadership that we were going to experiment with a week with no Zoom meetings, all I felt was excited anticipation,” explained Ellie Huizenga, a content strategiest at Zapier.

“Did that mean that you could just go into your Outlook or your Google Calendar or whatever you use and just zap all your meetings?,” asked Kai Ryssdal, the host of Marketplace, with thinly-veiled jealously.

“Kind of, Yeah,” replied Huizenga, before elaborating:

“Our leadership team sent a Slack message giving details about how the week was going to look for the entire company. Once that announcement came from leadership, Caitlin, my manager, reached out and let me know that she was canceling our one-on-one, canceling our team meeting for that week, and then she also encouraged me to look at the other meetings that were on my Google Calendar and confirm if we could do them [asynchronously] instead of on Zoom.”

Zapier was concerned about the rising volume of appointments filling their employees’ schedules. Huizenga, in her content strategy role, spent up to ten hours a week on Zoom. Managers at the company had it much worse, with many reporting that they spent more than half of their work week participating in video conferences. Zapier wanted to find out how critical these real-time, pre-scheduled collaboration sessions really were. It was in this context that what became known as Getting Stuff Done (GSD) week was conceived.

Here’s Huizenga, in a blog post about the experiment published on the Zapier website, summarizing some of the ways she compensated for a lack of meetings during GSD week:

“Instead of my weekly 1:1, I consolidated questions for my manager and sent them to her in a direct message on Slack.

Instead of a project check-in, all team members shared their updates in the relevant Asana tasks.

Instead of a one-off strategy call, stakeholders shared their thoughts (and comments) in a Coda doc.

Instead of a project kickoff call, our project manager sent a Slack message that shared the project charter, timeline, and next steps.”

According to a post-experiment survey conducted by Zapier’s “People Ops” team, these types of alternatives ended up working well. As they reported:

  • 80% of respondents would want to do another GSD week in the future.

  • 80% of respondents achieved their goal(s) for the week.

  • 89% of respondents found communication to be about as effective during GSD week as during a typical week.

This last data point is the most important. One of the most consistent things I’ve learned studying the impact of digital communication technology on the workplace is that it’s easy for convenient habits — “I’ll shoot you a meeting invite” — to become ubiquitous. Just because certain behaviors are common, however, doesn’t mean that they are, to borrow a phrase from the Zapier experiment, the best way to get stuff done.

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A Humble Request: a reporter from the Financial Times is interested in hearing stories from people who have attempted the types of techniques I discuss in Deep Work and A World Without Email in their own teams or companies. If you have a case study to share about your experiences combatting the hyperactive hive mind, you can send her an email directly at  courtney.weaver@ft.com (If you do send her a message, however, please consider cc’ing me at author@calnewport.com as well: I love to hear these tales! I always learn a lot.)