TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Introduction


Like many organizations, B Lab struggles with a meeting-heavy culture that detracts from focused work time and contributes to overwork. In service of helping us untangle that culture, the P&C team is working on the following:

  • Ensuring that all staff have a shared understanding of what is required to design effective meetings (including when a meeting may not be necessary to begin with) so that we may hold ourselves and each other accountable
  • Creating evaluation processes that help us measure outcomes, create manageable workloads, and have important conversations about topics such as development and wellness
  • Training all staff on giving/receiving feedback, healthy habits for productivity and prioritization, and ownership culture principles
  • Training managers on core competencies such as managing through change, managing remotely, and giving/receiving feedback
  • Experimenting with different ways to apply light pressure to our meeting-heavy culture and unhealthy work habits


Meeting-free days and calendar holds are not the end goal in themselves; they are a means to an end - and that end is less meetings, more spaciousness to allow for flex time, and working smarter, not harder. Our hope is that the initiatives below will encourage us to reconsider our learned behavior, break unhealthy or inefficient work habits, and ultimately drive us toward organizational culture change.



Blocking Time and Calendar Autonomy


You may have heard this concept referred to as "do time," "blackout days," work blocks, or something similar. Whatever your preferred term, the purpose is to protect time on your calendar for focused time, uninterrupted flow, or other activities in service of your work/life blend. 


This does not necessarily mean that all calendar holds or blocks of time need to be used for what we typically think of as "productive time" - sometimes we need to protect time on our calendars for rest, reflection or retrospectives, stepping away for lunch or a walk, etc.


See here for an example of multiple types of blocks: 1) a standing block for recurring work, 2) a personal block, 3) a standard work block, and 4) a daily block for recapping the day and preparing for the next day.


In addition to org-wide initiatives (see below), B Lab encourages all staff to take full autonomy over their calendars by protecting the time they need for productive and focused work time as well as time for rest, reflection, and screen breaks. This means that you are welcome to schedule blocks on your calendar and to ask your colleagues to respect that time. 


Please work with your manager to make sure you're able to protect the time you need. All staff, including managers, are encouraged to reach out to P&C if they need support with this.



Meeting-Free Days (Focus Fridays)


Overview


B Lab will be continuing its meeting-free day initiative in 2022, called Focus Fridays. These are intended to be full-day calendar blocks (i.e. 9-5 in your local timezone) for focused time. On these days, which will be scheduled by P&C in Google Calendar, all B Lab Global staff are encouraged to move/cancel existing meetings where possible and decline any new meetings in order to preserve this day for concentrated work time, reflection, or incorporating more rest and screen breaks into your otherwise busy schedule.


Purpose


We know that meeting-free days do not solve everyone's challenges. They can't resolve overwhelming workloads or the temptation to overwork, not every team/role experiences meeting overwhelm equally, and it's impossible to pick a day that works best for everyone's preferences. 


Fortunately, the goal isn’t to find an “ideal” day or solution for every person/team, but rather to:

  • Minimize external pressure so you can schedule your time however you work best
  • Strengthen comfortability blocking time on your own calendar for focused time according to your preferences
  • Apply light pressure to our meeting-heavy schedules to encourage us to rethink rather than simply reschedule meetings


We will also be scheduling optional Build & Bond sessions for all-staff socialization and connection around these dates.


Social Contract


We ask all B Lab Global staff to commit to the following:

  • Avoid scheduling meetings on other BLG staff calendars on these days. 
  • If you urgently need to schedule on this day and you feel it's worth an exception, please Slack the individual(s) you'd like to schedule with for permission beforehand.
  • If someone asks for an exception from you, it is okay to say no! This time is yours to protect however you wish.
  • This social contract should be applied both to org-wide no meeting days and, to the best of your ability, anytime someone has scheduled a work block on their calendar.



Tips for Focus Fridays


We know it's tempting to simply reschedule your Friday meetings, which tends to make the earlier days in the week extra busy and sometimes even makes us feel like we need to work overtime to make up the difference. Do not give into the temptation! Instead, please consider the tips below:


  • Use your 4P’s training as a tool for being honest with yourselves and each other:
    1. Is the meeting truly necessary to move this project or task forward? Could another method work just as well or potentially be even more effective?
    2. Are the 4P's for this meeting clear? If not, please honor our shared contract by preparing the 4P's for the meeting or asking the convener to do so.
    3. If you are not the convener: Is attending this meeting respectful of my time? Do I really need to be involved in this meeting, decision, etc? If yes, please double check question #1 and #2 before scheduling.
    4. If you are the convener: Am I respecting my colleagues' time? Do they really need to be involved in this meeting, decision, etc? If yes, please double check question #1 and #2 before scheduling.
  • If you are on vacation, taking a personal day, or otherwise OOO on a meeting-free day, no problem! Hopefully that means you won’t miss anything work-related covered in meetings while you’re out.
  • We recognize it is often easier to move/decline internal meetings than external ones. Here's sample language you can use to make that request:
    • "The B Lab team is testing out "meeting-free" days one day a month in order to help us protect work time away from meetings, which is more important than ever now that we're working virtually. This meeting falls on one of those days. Would you be open to rescheduling?"
  • It's up to you how you schedule this time! These days are meant to be utilized at your discretion, which may in some cases warrant a meeting or call. For example:
    • Hopping on a call may be easier than discussing over Slack - but we encourage you to a. ask for consent from the other person(s) first (e.g. "It seems like it might be easier to talk this through together. Are you up for a quick call?") and b. test out using video/audio recordings instead!
    • Catching up with a colleague you haven’t had a chance to talk with in awhile
    • Attending an optional Team Connection session organized by P&C (see below)



Meeting-Free Extravaganzas


In 2022, B Lab will be testing out biannual "meeting-free extravaganzas" in May (during Wellness Week) and October (tentative). During those weeks (exact dates soon TBA) we will add on an additional 2 days to our monthly meeting-free day, for a total of 3 consecutive meeting-free days.



Purpose

In 2021 B Lab partnered with Life Labs Learning to deliver several trainings for managers and all staff, including a Productivity & Prioritization training (see key points here). In that training we learned about "Quadrant 2" tasks or projects, which are considered Investments because they are important but not urgent. 


We recognize that B lab is a fast-paced organization and our staff are typically focused on "Quadrant 1" or highly important and urgent tasks. However, we also know that everyone - at both the individual and team/circle levels - has projects or tasks on the back-burner that could make their jobs easier... but they can never seem to find the time to prioritize them. In order to create more opportunities for "Quadrant 2" work, we will be testing out extended meeting-free time, called Meeting-free Extravaganzas, in 2022.


Expanding on the purpose and hypothesis behind Focused Fridays, we hope these extended periods of flexibility will give individuals/teams/circles the spaciousness they need to dig into those "Quadrant 2" projects or tasks. We will be scheduling these periods far in advance in the hopes that Team Leads, managers, and individual contributors can prepare accordingly and derive the as much value out of this time as possible.


Tips for Individual Contributors

  • Make note of the back-burner or "Quadrant 2" tasks/projects that come up over time! We recommend using a project management tool like Asana to keep track of them for later. That way when the next meeting-free extravaganza comes up, you'll have a list of potential projects already prepared for you.
  • Schedule a work block in the weeks before the meeting-free extravaganza to reflect and prepare for that time. What do you need most right now? Are there any projects you've de-prioritized that would make your work easier or more fulfilling?
  • Some examples of how you might use this time (not an exhaustive list!):
    • Maintenance tasks such as cleaning out your inbox, reviewing and closing your unread tabs, reading the articles you've bookmarked, catching up on Slack messages or B Lab newsletters, etc. 
    • Creating a plan for improving a team/circle meeting, process, workflow, etc. If you are not the owner of that process/meeting/etc, you could take this time to create a proposal for the owner to consider.
    • Create documentation or process for something that creates chronic issues or frustrations for you. 
    • Researching or learning more about a topic of interest to you that you haven't had time to prioritize in your day-to-day work.
    • Perhaps what you need most is some down time! You are always welcome to use these meeting-free days as an opportunity to incorporate extra time for rest and reflection in your workday.


Tips for People Managers


All the tips for individual contributors apply to you! In addition, please consider:

  • Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what's a priority and what's not. Managers can help their direct reports identify their "Quadrant 3" tasks throughout the year, and encourage them to keep track of them to tackle during a meeting-free extravaganza or another time when they have the opportunity.
  • Encourage your direct reports to take some time to reflect beforehand and determine what they need most and/or which "Quadrant 2" projects or tasks feel most resonant for them.
  • You're always welcome to give advice, but we encourage you to support your direct reports in using this time as they see fit. What they may need most is to use this meeting-free time for extra rest or reflection, or perhaps they'd rather use the uninterrupted time to keep chipping away at a high priority "Quadrant 1" project instead.


If you need assistance supporting your direct reports, please reach out to the P&C team via Freshdesk.



Tips for Team or Circle Leads


Even if you lead a team or circle, the tips for individual contributors apply to you too! And if you are a people manager, please be sure to follow that guidance in supporting your direct reports as well.


In addition, you may want to consider if your team/circle has "Quadrant 2" tasks that you could tackle together during this time. Some examples:

  • The team/circle lacks documentation of key processes or the documentation you do have is ineffective, so it is difficult or time consuming for people to find the information they need when they need it
  • Your team/circle has been super busy and "in the weeds" on some tough projects lately, so you haven't had the time to pick your heads up and reground yourself in your vision/objectives, celebrate your progress, or reconnect with each other as a team
  • The way your team/circle communicates and shares "work out loud" updates doesn't seem to be working well, but there never seems to be time to discuss and decide how to improve it


When you think about team/circle-wide tasks or projects that are important (as in, they could alleviate chronic challenges) but not urgent, what comes up for you? You might consider proposing to the team that you use this time to address those challenges together! 


Keep in mind that people on your team may have "Quadrant 2" tasks of their own that they'd like to complete during this time, so we suggest only using part of the 3 days for team-wide projects and/or letting people opt-in only if they are interested.


If you need assistance or thought partnership in planning something for your team/circle, please reach out to the P&C team via Freshdesk. 

NOTE: We are considering offering Team Leads the ability to submit proposals for support (e.g. external facilitation, agenda design, or similar support) on team projects during Meeting-Free Extravaganza weeks. Confirmation and/or more details will come in early 2022.