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A CEO’s key to success: Ban as many meetings as possible

February 18, 2022, 7:43 PM UTC

Forget about four-day workweeks. It’s all about “zero meeting days.”

At least according to Phil Libin, the former CEO of Evernote, current chief of mmhmm, a software and video communications company, and the cofounder and CEO of AllTurtles, a company that builds A.I. products. 

“The real win for productivity and health isn’t the four-day workweek, it’s the zero-meeting workday,” Libin recently wrote on Twitter

So what exactly is “zero meetings”?

This isn’t the first time that Libin has come out swinging against meetings. At Evernote, which Libin founded in 2004, video meetings were banned. And he has taken his overall distaste with him to mmhmm, which he founded in May 2020, by canceling most large meetings in the summer of 2021. Libin defines meetings as synchronous discussions with more than three people.

“If you have a meeting of 20 people, it’s usually one person talking and 19 people pretending to pay attention,” Libin tells Fortune. “But if you get rid of as many meetings as possible, you say, ‘Well, the 20 of us don’t have to be online at the exact same time talking. Why would we need to? Why don’t we use technology to communicate as much as possible asynchronously?’ That way you free yourself from the tyranny of having a synchronous culture.” 

By “asynchronously,” Libin is referring to his habit of sharing prerecorded videos with his staff that everyone can listen to at their own time and at their own speed. For example, Libin says, he used to have four-hour “boring” board meetings, but now executives send five- to 10-minute prerecorded videos to board members in advance that the board can watch when they’re ready. Group meetings are discouraged at mmhmm, and Libin says own meetings have dropped by over 80% since 2021, when he instituted the new policy.

But a key component of Libin’s “no meetings” philosophy is that he differentiates large group meetings from one-on-one conversations, which he fully endorses. 

“If we need to have a brief conversation after everyone has already watched the recording, we can do that,” Libin told Fortune. 

And group meetings at mmhmm aren’t banned outright. 

“We obviously trust our employees, so if someone decides that a meeting is the best way to solve a problem, they’re free to schedule it,” Libin tells Fortune.

Since making the change to minimal meetings companywide, Libin reports that overall productivity has improved and that his employees are working faster.

“We’re still new to this but, so far we’ve accomplished a lot more than we would have with the previous meeting-centric culture, and it feels healthier,” Libin told Fortune.

All-in on remote work 

Libin says that his workforce at mmhmm went fully remote in May 2020, and the company does not have a physical office. However, he prefers to use the term “fully distributed,” because it is more intentional.

“We don’t like the word ‘remote’ because it implies that we’re remote from something central. Since we have no center, we’re ‘fully distributed’ and have staff in over 20 states and a dozen countries,” Libin told Fortune.

Everyone works from home, or a place of their choosing, and no employee ever has to commute into the office. Libin says his decision not to have a physical headquarters was not the result of a desire to save money, and he gives his employees an $800 monthly stipend to create their own ideal work space instead of paying for a company office. 

He believes that the ability to work remotely is key to employee retention with the current labor realities. 

“This is not a Great Resignation,” Libin told Fortune, referring to the record number of people who have left their jobs over the past six months. “It’s just that people are leaving shitty places. And why are people leaving? Because they don’t have autonomy. They’re being forced to go back to the office. It’s disrupting their lives.”

The pandemic has seen workers experience widespread burnout and the desire to have more personal autonomy in job roles, according to a recent study from Current Psychology. 

Pro “bleisure” 

Apart from remote work, Libin is also a fan of bleisure, a rising trend in which professionals work remotely from scenic destinations, like the beach. 

Libin says that his VP of sales at mmhmm decided to work from Hawaii for a few weeks because he has family there, and that he fully supported that decision. 

“Go be in Hawaii,” Libin said. “Are you on vacation? Are you working? I don’t care. Ultimately, the only thing that you should evaluate employees on is whether or not they have the impact that they’re supposed to have.” 

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