“I wish we had more meetings” – Nobody, ever.
It’s still March. As a society we have come full circle, back to the month that ended up defining an entire year. In terms of the workplace, we’re now at the one-year anniversary of the start of the massive natural experiment where most workers rapidly and unexpectedly shifted to remote work. This is the perfect time to reflect and take stock of how we’ve adjusted our workplace strategies and, more specifically, how virtual meetings in particular have impacted our experience.
The shift to remote work has wreaked havoc on schedules. Whether it’s people in different timezones or childcare responsibilities during the day, the new way of working has both made it harder to schedule meetings and stretched the workday to accommodate those variant schedules. While necessary, it has inevitable also created additional stress across the workforce. The lack of informal face-to-face interactions has similarly necessitated an increase in scheduled meetings. Without these, collaboration within and across teams would most likely be heavily impacted, but some particularly overzealous managers have packed schedules to the breaking point.
It’s here that nuance, and data, is necessary to understand these pain points. “Zoom fatigue” is real, but it is not the same across all companies and some have been affected more than others. Even within the same company there is variance, as even specific teams have been negatively impacted more than their peers within the organization. Data from calendars and video conferencing systems can help demonstrate these disparities and provide focus areas as the organization tries to move forward in this next year with more effective virtual meeting strategies.
It’s essential for companies to realize that these future strategies must be developed now. The pandemic will continue well in 2021, and it will not be here one day and suddenly gone the next. As vaccination rates increase and infections drop, a gradual return to the office becomes possible and inches closer. This change will require constant development. Should everyone call into meetings on their individual laptops even when some people are in the office? What about instituting “meeting budgets” to reduce overwork in particularly affected teams?
The data that is already coming out of these systems helps us identify internal benchmarks, as well as adjust over time. Some teams that have been managing meeting culture well through the beginning of the pandemic will undoubtedly slip later on this year. Beyond that, new strategies around “hybrid” working will further upend existing practices. Rather than waiting for a spike in employee stress and the resulting poor performance and attrition that comes with it, companies can use their internal data to proactively identify pain points and quickly identify successful mitigation strategies.
Virtual meetings are one of the few forums we have today for direct communication with coworkers. It’s a precious resource, and one that can be squandered or turned into a negative if overused. Giving guidance based on facts to managers and constantly fine-tuning a playbook is useful now, but will be even more useful as ways of working proliferate in the increasingly hybrid workplace model of the future. Getting this model right now is the only way to head off a landslide of problems in the future and ensure success. How is your company planning to address virtual meetings in the future?