When Mehdi En-Naizi participated in his first Design Sprint, he was so impressed by the efficiency of the process that he became obsessed with workshops. He has read every workshopping article and book there is and has vowed to replace meetings with workshops whenever he can.
Mehdi is the Head of Design Studio in Belgium for Capgemini—a world leader in consulting, digital transformation, technology, and engineering services. Mehdi manages a team of over 25 designers who help their clients solve big challenges, make decisions, and create meaningful experiences for their users.
Mehdi has a suggestion for everyone who’s burned out from meeting fatigue: replace your inefficient meetings with workshops.
It feels like the pandemic is behind us and things are starting to go back to normal. Many of us are back in our office chairs, learning how to interact like real humans again, and rediscovering the joy of traffic jams.
That said, it seems like working remotely is at least partially here to stay—which is good, since I got used to wearing comfy clothes.
Even though working from home is working, it comes with a certain cost: our work-life balance. Since this new way of working is here for good, we need to do something about all these meetings and find a healthier way to collaborate.
In the old days, meetings were already a productivity killer. Remote working only made things worse.
When we shifted to working remotely, we replicated our old habit of organizing meetings for anything and everything. Need to solve a problem? Easy, just hold a meeting!
Companies simply shifted from inefficient in-person meetings to inefficient virtual calls—for which you probably spend more time choosing your “half outfit” and your virtual background than preparing for the meeting.
Back-to-back meetings leave us with less time to get work done, which leads to the stress of worrying about all the work we haven’t done and when we’ll actually find the time to do it.
To compensate, we work longer hours. As a result, burnout is hitting an all-time high. More than two-thirds of employees report burnout symptoms while working from home.
Therefore, it has never been more important to find a better way to be more productive with our meeting time in order to maintain work-life balance.
After running lots of workshops over the past two years, I’ve come to a realization: workshopping is a healthier way of working—especially when they’re run virtually.
By replacing more meetings with fewer workshops, you can work more efficiently and create stronger bonds as a group, helping you not to do more but to do it better.
This newfound efficiency will leave you with more free time to hang out with your kids, read a book, or do any of the other things you’ve been putting off because you had the perfect excuse of attending another meeting. 😉
Remote work isn’t going anywhere
According to Capgemini’s “The Future of Work” survey of 500 organizations, remote work is working.
- Since going remote, companies have seen an average increase in productivity between 13-24%.
- Three-quarters of organizations expect 30% or more of their employees to work remotely post-pandemic.
- Over a quarter expect at least 70% of staff to work remotely.
- Companies have achieved budget savings by cutting real estate and facilities costs, travel, and moving jobs to lower-cost countries.
However, working from home has had a cost to employees. Let’s quickly review why before exploring the solution.
What are we sweeping under the teleworking rug? 👀
Although working from home gave us a break from the commute, noisy colleagues, and bad coffee, it has had a negative impact on our work-life balance.
We spend more time in meetings and we work more, which prevents us from enjoying mental breaks and getting away from technology.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, since the start of the first lockdown:
- The average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes.
- The average number of meetings has increased by 12.9%.
- The average number of emails sent and received has increased by 5%.
But here’s what’s key to note here: meetings increased 2.6 times as much as emails.
These longer workdays and more frequent meetings are having an impact on employees.
1. The struggle to disconnect from work 😫
When we work on-premise, it’s easy to separate work life from home life the second you walk out of the office. But when we work from home, the boundaries between personal and work life are blurred.
The inability to disconnect causes burnout.
As you can see below, 55% of employees feel burned out due to longer working hours in a remote environment.
When we spend all our time in meetings, our minds are constantly trying to remember all the tasks we still need to do, thinking about the emails we forgot to send, and worrying about the presentation we still need to finalize.
All those things are leading to anxiety, stress, and burnout.
2. Lack of human interaction and team cohesion 😣
Social connection is a basic human need, like food, water, or shelter. Building connections in the workplace is one way we fulfill this need.
But it’s hard to build connections with colleagues when working from home:
- “70 percent of employees said friendship at their job is the most important element of a happy work life”— Office Vibe Study
- “What respondents missed most about being in an office is the people, specifically meeting and socializing with colleagues” — Gensler Research Institute survey
With the new way of working, people don’t feel connected to an organization and thus lack a sense of purpose.
This causes most people to react in one of two ways:
- We work more individually than as a team. By doing this, we pass on all the advantages of teamwork, like empowering creativity or having different opinions and skills.
- We have more meetings. Because we crave connections, we “put something in the calendar.” But if we always jump straight to work talk, we don’t leave space for creating connections.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
It’s time for a change. 💪
The need of finding a healthier way of working has never been greater.
Rather than saying “let’s just go back to the office”, we should find a healthier remote setup that gives us the benefits of remote work without the drawbacks.
Workshopping: the antidote to remote
Workshops are the key to making our remote lives healthier. They solve the two major issues of working from home:
- Workshops make more efficient use of our meeting time
- Workshops create emotional bonds and drive team cohesion
1. Not more, but B̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶ Butter.
Productivity is not just about doing more. It’s about creating more impact with less work.
That’s exactly what we’re accomplishing with workshops.
In a well-designed workshop, each participant works towards the same task in silence, putting their thoughts and ideas on paper with words or sketches instead of openly discussing ideas.
Each activity is time-boxed to make sure you spend the right amount of time by exercise. This puts some healthy pressure on participants to move forward toward their common goal—rather than endlessly talking in circles
So forget all those meetings where you spend your time talking and not doing. By replacing open, circular discussions with workshops, your team will become more productive.
🧈 Butter tip: In Butter, you can prepare your agenda beforehand to help you keep track of time during the workshop itself.
Workshops also allow us to visualize the information we have regarding the topic at hand. Visual supports free up our minds from remembering all the previously discussed data points and ideas.
Instead, we can focus our mental energy on understanding the situation or problem we’re trying to solve.
At the end of a workshop, you’ll end up with a concrete plan and next steps. This reduces stress because now you’ll know exactly what needs to be done, by when, and how.
One of my favorite workshop recipes is the design sprint. When you run design sprints, you will often hear people say, “it would have taken us months to do that”. We can call that a productive process.
2. Work stronger together
Workshops also fulfill our need for human interaction in the virtual workplace by creating team cohesion and allowing more space for personal interaction.
The best teams know what their purpose is and what their roles are to make it happen. You can only get this through trust-building interactions and activities. When you have purpose and trust, people will perform better.
It’s similar to sports: if you want your team to win, you need team cohesion. And team cohesion is not created in meetings. You also need moments of fun, coffee breaks, and moments where you are struggling together as a team but ultimately find a solution together.
Workshops are powerful because people leave these sessions feeling like they have created something together. By working together towards a common goal, understanding how we found those solutions, and knowing why we made certain decisions, the team feels more cohesive. As a result, team members are motivated to move forward and take the next steps.
Workshops also make room for the social interactions that took a big hit when we shifted to remote working.
That’s why icebreakers are especially important in remote workshops. They may feel awkward at first, but they help enhance our human relationships.
When you run workshops in person, there’s time before to socialize or to take breaks together. This gives you the time and the opportunity to create meaningful connections. You don’t have this by default when running virtual workshops, but you can carve out space for it by running icebreaker activities.
By using icebreakers, you create unique bonding experiences for your team, and you will capitalize on this through the workshops.
🧈 Butter got the memo, hence why they have this crazy flashcards feature 😍.
Conclusion: Remote workshops = work-life balance 👌
The pandemic made working from home the new standard. Although there are a lot of advantages to remote working, we often pay the price in terms of work-life balance.
Workshops are a good antidote to those unhealthy remote habits.
- They allow us to be more productive as individuals and as a group.
- They free up mental energy and reduce our level of stress by letting us focus on the work that matters.
- They bring necessary social interactions back.
- They create and strengthen personal connections, enhancing group collaboration and team purpose.
So please start thinking about yourself!
Stop scheduling back-to-back meetings and spending your time on busy work. Instead, focus on the work that matters.
“Meetings should be like salt—a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.”
And too much salt isn’t healthy! For a healthier work-life balance, hold fewer meetings and more workshops.
To take those workshops to the next level, run them in Butter! This kind of Butter is totally healthy 😉.