If you’ve ever left a meeting and thought “well, this could’ve been an e-mail,” you’re not alone.
Meetings are a staple of the American workplace. Each week, millions of employees gather with half-empty coffee cups and scrawled-on notepads to discuss, workshop, and brainstorm ideas. But some gatherings are more productive than others, and with Google calendars filling up, some businesses are pushing to reduce the amount of time spent in superfluous meetings.
Enter Curriculum Associates, the education-tech company based in North Billerica. The company, founded in 1969, creates and provides classroom tools and resources for K-12 schools, and after many years of steady growth, the company has grown to 2,000 employees strong. More people meant more wasteful meetings — so Curriculum Associates opted to make a change to its workplace culture. David DuBois, the company’s senior director of business transformation, was tasked with finding ways to reduce inefficient meetings, and encourage employees to be more intentional with their schedules.
“We wanted to empower people,” DuBois said. “We want folks to have the autonomy to ask questions. Like, ‘Is there an agenda for this meeting?’ ‘Am I needed for this meeting?’ We don’t want anyone just blindly saying yes, and filling up their calendar.”
So DuBois hatched a plan. To encourage employees to slim down their schedules, Curriculum Associates issued a time management challenge — reduce time spent in meetings by 15 percent, and you’ll win an Apple watch.
Anyone who participated, regardless of their results, received a customized clock with the company’s mascot, Snargg, emblazoned on its face.
Sari Laberis, associate director for the educator community at Curriculum Associates, took part in the challenge. Laberis said she freed up about an hour nearly every day by cutting down on inefficient meetings. Laberis snagged an Apple watch, but said the gratification of trimming the unnecessary parts of her schedule was a reward itself.
“If you take a step back and think about it, there’s a lot of meetings, that can be a five-minute conversation,” Laberis said. “Not all meetings need to be the same half-hour block. So I liked being a little bit more flexible and zooming out, rather than just being so in the weeds with my calendar.”
To track the success of the challenge, Curriculum Associates surveyed participants about their time savings. In total, about 300 employees took part, and half received an Apple Watch. Overall, employees saved more than 8,000 hours collectively over three months.
The goal of the challenge wasn’t just to reduce the amount of time spent in meetings, but to encourage employees to change habits. The company asked employees to include agendas with meeting invitations, to only invite those who needed to attend, and to openly communicate about what they hoped to achieve during gatherings. According to DuBois, the challenge was a hit.
“This is time that the employees are getting back,” DuBois said. “People were able to put that toward having more time to get work done, or more personal time, or self care — stuff that they otherwise wouldn’t get to during the day.”
Steven Rogelberg, author of the book “The Surprising Science of Meetings” and professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was impressed with the initiative and said it could be emblematic of a wider shift in workplace culture.
“This puts meetings on the minds of the people, and it tries to sensitize people to break bad habits,” Rogelberg said. “It’s sending a message to employees that they care about this topic. They don’t want to waste the worker’s time, they want to honor that time, and try new things, and create a new culture.”