Evidence of the new normal for remote meetings

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Joseph A Allen
University of Utah, PhD

In this webinar, Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D., Professor of Industrial & Organizational Psychology at the University of Utah, examines the new normal for meetings. Discover qualitative insights from research on remote working to know what successful teams are doing.

Seeking Meaningful Interactions

Since the pandemic began, there’s been an enormous amount of chatter about ‘the new normal’ – the ways in which our lives have had to change, for better or indeed for worse.  Arguably one of the most significant of those changes has been the way we work, with entire workforces shifting to a remote work model. 

Now, even though it looks as though a return to the office could be imminent, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests remote meetings and remote work more generally could be here to stay.

Is remote work good or bad? The jury’s still out, but Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D., Professor of Industrial & Organizational Psychology at the University of Utah, has been examining in detail what the new normal for remote meetings means for us all.

By chance, Allen was in the midst of launching a study on virtual working when the pandemic hit, so he has been able to compare both data from before and after.

The challenge, he says, has always been how to collaborate in a meaningful way: “We have to change the culture of meetings and our organizations to allow for best practices to emerge.”

So how have meetings changed post-Covid? Well, there is a clear shift in format from facetime to video conference. This is an almost complete turnaround from the situation pre-Covid and furthermore, it’s completely changed the way that we meet.   

What impact does this have on how we collaborate? Is video conference really just as good as face-to-face? Is it as satisfying? Does the location of your meetings (currently all in one place) make a difference? And why are so many of us feeling so-called Zoom fatigue?

Meeting Remote Work Goals With Team

According to Allen, there are a couple of things that have really changed – the length of meetings and the content of meetings.

Without a gathering component, the same meetings that were held pre-Covid are considerably shorter post-Covid. Why? Because there is no conversation at the start and end of the meeting – the whole social component is drastically reduced. And because these meetings get straight to the point, they tend to be far more goal-driven. Productivity is still high.

Allen notes that meeting satisfaction and meeting effectiveness are linked, and that although we’ve all moved to an almost exclusively virtual format, we’re not losing the perception of effectiveness that many people would expect.

During the course of his research Allen admits that he thought face-to-face meetings would come out top in terms of user satisfaction, and it is certainly good, but the surprising thing was that video conference seems to be just as good.

While we can’t say for sure whether or not the great return to the office will happen, if you work in commercial real estate right now, this news may be making you a little hot under the collar.

Tools like Klaxoon certainly make it easy to come together virtually as a team, but can you or should you ever try and replicate office life in the virtual world?

Allen’s research has shown that it takes someone about 17 minutes to recover from a bad meeting, and even a good one has a recovery time of a couple of minutes. And with back-to-back meetings often the norm, it can be hard not to let one bad meeting impact on the next.

His suggestions for avoiding a video conference-initiated burnout in a remote work context are simple:

  1. Reduce your meeting links by a few minutes so that you can build in transition and recovery time.
  2. Accept that there are some things you simply can’t control.
  3. Keep your video camera on (evidence shows this really does improve the effectiveness of virtual meetings).
  4. Introduce some collaborative tools (like Klaxoon) which make those moments where you collaborate as a team simple, efficient and intuitive.

Is there a sweet spot when it comes to the number of virtual meetings per day? Allen thinks not, but he did say that since they are more effortful and taxing generally, it is worth trying to reduce your meeting load. 

The Right Tools For the Job

Allen maintains that having the right tools can make a really big difference – which is why so many people are turning to Klaxoon. It’s designed to help teams come together and collaborate, whether that’s meetings, design sprints, workshops, all hands etc. With every one of those events challenged in this new remote work environment, it’s no wonder that people are looking to make life easier when it comes to their tech solutions.

a woman working from home

And with the right tools, the likelihood is that your meetings and workshops will be more efficient, so you can have fewer better quality team time, rather than endless calls that could hamper productivity.

Hybrid working (a mixture of in person and remote) requires a different kind of skillset in order to avoid siloed ways of working – since it’s so easy to get involved in side conversations and get off track when you have teams both in room and on a call remotely.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that team members need to feel psychologically safe in order to reduce the amount of surface acting they maintain during remote working activities. 

Good leaders automatically create a safer environment, free from the traditional hierarchies that can cause issues. But there are other points of best practice that can help:

  • Appoint a moderator to call out side conversations or less than ideal behaviors.
  • Send an agenda or other prep in advance of the meeting so people know what is expected of them or what they can do to prepare.
  • Be clear about what you want to accomplish.
  • Allow space between meetings.

All of these best practices are interconnected, which is where the challenge lies. And we shouldn’t forget that we’re all still learning: behavioral change takes time and we are all human after all!

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