Tips for driving meeting productivity

Shifting all meetings into the virtual world risks participant fatigue. Drive meeting productivity by first considering the anatomy of the meeting.

Tips for driving meeting productivity

Shifting all meetings into the virtual world risks participant fatigue. Drive meeting productivity by first considering the anatomy of the meeting.

Dr Nicola MillardPrincipal Innovation Partner, BT

The recent key breakthrough for Metaverse architects has been giving avatars legs – previously, heads and torsos just floated around in the virtual environment.

There’s probably a collective sigh of complete indifference, from those in the corporate world who have been used to only seeing colleaues’ top halves on screens for a while.

In organisations where the Metaverse is likely to be used for meetings, conferences and training, the lack of legs isn’t generally a source of frustration. The video Metaverse that we increasingly work in has proved to be a valuable way of meeting and collaborating without the need to dress smartly below the waistline.

However, reports of ‘video fatigue’ might be translated into Metaverse fatigue if we just ‘lift and shift’ all our meetings into a virtual world. It’s time to tackle the source of this video fatigue – meetings.

How do we avoid the ‘horrible hybrid’?

Many of us wake up every morning with an impending sense of Zoom meetings (or whichever collaboration platform our organisations use). Diaries are often filled with blocks of 30-to-60-minute conversations. Many working in a hybrid model often sit on video calls in the office all day while not talking to (and often disturbing) people around them. It’s not surprising that many employees start to feel that investing in the commute time, just to be sociable in the office isn’t worth it.

Much of the conversations on hybrid working have been about the location of work. However, the most important discussion is about how, not where, the work is done.

Is collaboration best done in the office? Potentially, yes, but it only takes one remote attendee to force the collaboration into the digital space. That’s when you have the ‘horrible hybrid’ situation where the meeting splits into the ‘people in the room’ and the ‘people on the digital platform’.

It’s critical to think through the anatomy of a meeting

Just as the ways we work are evolving, our approach to using and holding meetings must also develop. I’ve researched this area deeply, and I believe successful collaboration involves considering the six parts of the meeting ‘anatomy’:

1. Use your head

Ask whether the meeting should be a meeting in the first place. Meetings have been cynically labelled as the ‘practical alternative to work’, so we need to use our time wisely.

Asynchronous ways of collaboration, where communication happens over some time, is a good way to share information and decide on the issues to be debated – before we come together synchronously to discuss things and make decisions.

2. Be digital at heart

The office or the home is not the common ground for the digital workplace – digital platforms are. Make sure these work effectively wherever your employees are – in the office, at home, or on the move.

3. Enable eyes and ears

Being able to hear and see everyone in a meeting is essential. Yet, too often, people in a hybrid meeting joining remotely are stuck with a view that’s the size of a postage stamp for each participant.

The room tends to ignore those who aren’t there because remote participants have no tangible presence other than a square video, an animated raised hand, or a comment in the chat window (which in-room people may not see if they aren’t on the digital platform).

Increased camera and microphone coverage in the room (including facial recognition) can help identify who’s speaking for remote participants.

Future technologies (such as mixed reality and ‘volumetric’ video) may allow remote attendees to appear in a physical or virtual meeting as a 3D hologram or avatar – generated in real time.

4. Hands up for good facilitation skills

Facilitating an entirely in-person meeting can be challenging enough, but hybrid ones add increased complexity.

If the facilitator is in the room, proximity biases can cause them to unconsciously ignore the people attending remotely. A good facilitator makes sure that all participants are fully engaged and involved – ensuring remote people are heard and aren’t interrupted or talked over by people in the room.

5. Engage brains

It’s too easy for people in the digital world to disengage – especially if they’re muted and have their cameras off. The temptation is to multi-task, or just to pay attention partially. Both of these can distract from the task at hand. Good facilitators will encourage participation and help everyone see the value of their input.

6. Keep an open mind

We’re in a period of hybrid working experiments. The Metaverse may still not be enough, unless we can make meeting cultures work productively with whatever technology we choose to use.

Is there video fatigue at your workplace? Could it be holding back productivity and motivation?

To find out more about the anatomy of a good meeting (hybrid or not), and how they can help engage employees in today’s workplace, download my recent whitepaper.