Cartoon of a business meeting with humans and a monkey. The monkey has a speech bubble over its head.
Image: © leremy/

Chaos Monkey: We look at Shopify’s new ‘culture of focus’

24 Mar 2023

Deann Evans, of the EMEA exec team at Shopify, gave an update on how the new meetings policy is going down among staff.

Less time in meetings means more “maker time” – that’s how Shopify sold its new meetings policy to employees at the beginning of this year.

The policy was given the memorable name of Chaos Monkey, and its introduction was accompanied by fairly emphatic statements from some of Shopify’s top execs.

The commerce giant’s CEO, Tobi Lutke, referred to meetings as a “bug”, as did COO Kaz Nejatian.

Meetings were not banned outright, but staff were told to cancel all recurring meetings involving more than three people. Wednesdays were to be made entirely free of meetings, while large meetings with more than 50 staff must now be held in a six-hour window on Thursdays.

Both Lutke and Nejatian strongly hinted that these changes were being implemented to give employees more time to work on their own projects and get more work done.

With Chaos Monkey in effect since early January, spoke to Deann Evans, Shopify director of EMEA partnerships and expansion, to find out how it is going so far.

Positive employee feedback

“The feedback from our teams has been incredible,” she said. “They really appreciate having this uninterrupted time so that they can focus on doing their work and on building and crafting.”

Evans said that as many as 12,000 calendar series and events were deleted. A lot of these discarded events were reoccurring meetings with more than two attendees.

As for the meeting-free Wednesdays move, Evans said that they give staff “time to do deep work” and to have a day of uninterrupted focus.

Deann Evans headshot.

Deann Evans. Image: Shopify

“It’s something that the entire company is really taking seriously and doing,” she added.

“We actually even have a bot that we’ve deployed – a Slack bot – and when you have a meeting on Wednesday it reminds you that Wednesdays are supposed to be meeting free.”

The company is also experimenting with an internal meeting cost calculator tool so it can find out exactly how meetings are affecting its bottom line.

Evans believes having a full day to focus “has been transformational for the company.” According to an internal review of the new policy, employees are spending around a third less time in meetings. This rises to 44pc less time on Wednesdays.

Productivity and cultural benefits

As well as giving staff more time to focus, the policy is also benefitting Shopify’s productivity.

“We’re expecting to complete 25pc more projects this year. That’s a pretty incredible stat when you think about it … we’re actually going to get that much more done this year.”

Chaos Monkey caused the company to rethink its overall culture, Evans said.

A more sparing approach to meetings is now part of Shopify’s culture and it is something she said all employees are being reminded about.

As she put it, “You’re allowed to not accept meetings. So, if you get a meeting calendar invite sent to you, you don’t have to accept it. If you need to leave a meeting early because you need to get work done, you can leave a meeting early.”

This, of course, is a company-wide policy, meaning it applies to everyone from new hires to execs.

What about people who actually like meetings, we asked Evans. She said clarified that the policy definitely still allows for meetings, but only when they are needed.

“It’s about being careful and considered around what meetings you have. Nobody joined Shopify to sit in meetings.”

For her own team, Evans said she had been using the new ‘free’ time to consciously improve how its members work together in an asynchronous way.

Shopify is a remote-first international company, so it stands to reason that lots of Evans’s colleagues may not necessarily be in the same location or even time-zone as her.

Intentional meetings

“We are really focused on how do we make sure that the meetings we have are intentional and that they’re the right meetings, and we have the right people in the meetings.”

She explained that while the company is “digital by design” it recognises that different people like to work in different ways.

Sometimes this means in-person meet-ups to solve problems. Shopify calls these types of meetings ‘bursts.’

Like virtual meetings, these are carefully considered, Evans said. “We’re very intentional about when we get people together and how we get people together.”

Shopify’s approach to meetings and productivity is sure to be of interest to many tech companies operating in an asynchronous manner. It has switched its async communication channel from email to Workplace by Meta.

Like many other Big Tech firms Shopify announced jobs cuts last year. Perhaps the new meetings policy is a way to streamline its productivity with fewer employees ­– it said it was cutting around 10pc of its total global headcount in 2022.

The economic downturn was the reason for many companies reducing their headcounts, but inefficient working practices could also have something to do with how these tech giants are adjusting to the new world of async and remote work.

Evans said that Chaos Monkey and the change in culture at Shopify is part of its plan to recover some of its growth and be more “driven and more singular” in its operation.

Before she signed off from the meeting with – which took place on a Thursday – Evans brought up the word “intentional” one more time as a way of summing up Shopify’s new attitude to meetings.

“We’re being really intentional about creating a culture that’s really great where people can come to do great work, and we’re able to hire the best people wherever they are. We’re trying to make sure that we create an environment where they can do their best work.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading