Why this CEO Decided to Implement Zoom-Free Fridays (and You Should Do the Same)

Fab Giovanetti

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Zoom-free Fridays are an idea originating from Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser’s plan to provide the bank’s staff with a weekly respite from video calls. Her decision spawned a debate about the mental toll of the pandemic workday on office workers.

Would a ‘meeting free’ day be good for us and our mental wellbeing?

I decided to try it for myself. Making space for creativity and real rest means creating the right environment around us, one that is not constantly interrupted by external stimuli.

We’d expect calls and meetings to become a part of our existing working hours. Instead, online appointments (combined with remote working) have contributed to making our days longer. Research showed that the U.K., Austria, Canada, and the U.S. have seen a sustained 2.5 hour increase to the average day in the past year.

I talk about meetings a lot, especially in my book Reclaim your Time Off, as I believe the whole meeting culture could see a big re-haul. The anxiety of switching off is natural.

There’s a lot of power in looking into having a whole day without major disruptions, especially calls and meetings. Still, this can be hard for some people. I would always recommend slowly, gradually building into your practice and see what space you can carve out.

Identify your golden time

You would want one full day in an ideal world, where you can focus on your work with minimal distractions. It might be impossible for you to completely switch off your Slack channel for a day, which is why I recommend looking at Zoom calls and meetings at first.

Start with just a couple of hours on a specific day, whether Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.

Look at your existing calendar and start spotting patterns.

  • Are there any days where you tend to have naturally more free time?
  • Are there set appointments that happen on a specific day of the week?
  • How is your workload distributed?

Going through this process should help you identify the best day and time to take some time for yourself to focus on uninterrupted flow. I run a no meeting and no email day simultaneously, as it helps me keep my creative juices flowing without any distraction.

Why we are suffering from Zoom fatigue

Did you know that one of the biggest problems with Zoom meetings is that looking at our faces can be incredibly stressful?

Indeed, because we have so much focus that we need to put on and are not allowed to take breaks throughout the meeting, we need to constantly be putting our attention directly on the screen, affecting our high sights and overall brains.

Encourage some people you would have a meeting with to join a Clubhouse room instead or even hop on a phone call.

I know, groundbreaking. There is a lot to be said about the power of just having a phone call. You can keep it brief, to the point and efficient — with the added benefit of optimising time to get “ready” and adapt your setup.

Implement buffer time and agendas

If you’re still thinking, Fab, “I will never get to a whole day without meetings”, then listen up. I’m going to give you the next best thing. Allow “travel time” in-between your online meetings. Hear me out.

What that means is that after a Zoom meeting, you’re going to have a buffer time of at least half an hour before you start your next one. During that time, I wanted to stretch. Get up. Maybe collate and recap the notes from your meeting, and write down the action steps from what you just talked about.

You can also use the buffer time to work through the running order of your next meeting. Why do I need an agenda? You may ask.

A meeting without an agenda will always run over. You can reduce the meeting time by up to 50% by simply having a running order (I personally tested that). You cover what you need to talk about and nothing more. It will keep you more focused, more concentrated, and finally, it will make sure that your meeting doesn’t run over.

You have that opportunity to tell other people involved, “this is why we’re meeting, and it lets the team know that, if we get these things done, maybe we don’t need an hour, or 30 minutes, maybe it can be a 15-minute meeting”. It gives you the ability actually to cut back on meetings.

The result of my experiment

Friday has naturally become my no-meeting day, and I make sure my calendar reflects that — and yes, that is the only way you can book some time with me.

My plan went slightly out of the window as I promoted my book in May, but I am glad to say I am fully back on track now.

When the remote working revolution started, I underestimated the mental and physical tools that even a Zoom meeting can take.

Creating a plan of action for myself helped me find the balance I needed. If you’d like to follow in my footsteps, I’d recommend bearing this in mind:

  • Identify the best days for you to have a no-meeting policy, or if that still seems unattainable, opt for a half-day at a time
  • Switch video meetings for calls when possible
  • Implement buffer time in between meetings and agendas

It’s essential to make an allow space for commitments to happen at times that work for you. Yes, it means finding compromises — and setting boundaries in the process.

Yet, I am much happier for it, and I can focus on my zone of genius as a result of it.

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