How too many virtual meetings can cause employee productivity to plummet

New research reveals 42% of remote workers surveyed say they're "more productive" when working for an extended period of uninterrupted time.

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Remember the days in the office when you sat around a conference table with colleagues for a dreaded and always-too-long meeting? With most businesses shifting to working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those in-person meetings have now been replaced with virtual conferencing, and platforms like Zoom are soaring in popularity. 

But a report from Wundamail research reveals video conferencing is so "excessive," that those meetings cost more than $1,250 per employee, per month in wasted time. 

The findings were the result of surveying 20,000 remote workers across the US and UK from April 6-7, and represent a wide swath of ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, gender and region, and worked for teams of three or more in a range of small to SME companies.

Apparently, we are "overindulging in pointless chit-chat," reports Wundamail, which stated—rather dramatically—in a press release: "Leaders must rethink their remote strategy fast, or we are heading for a global productivity dive and total economic ruin."
 
The report further revealed that teams benefit from limited virtual meetings and "time away from their colleagues" in a remote setup to maintain work productivity. 

 SEE: Coronavirus and its impact on the enterprise (TechRepublic Premium)

When virtual conferencing becomes a distraction

Of those surveyed, 42% of remote workers found the continuous stream of virtual distractions on various apps "deeply distracting" and felt most productive when working for a long period of uninterrupted time. 
 
Another 42% participating in video calls say they dial in and contribute nothing. Video conference fosters a false sense of completion, as 27% of employees found the virtual meetings to be "the biggest communication barrier" in their work.

Employees were three times more likely to deliver on actions agreed in writing, rather than video, because many could not remember key information, meaning 30% do not complete actions agreed over video calls.

"Verbal communication evaporates the moment the call is over," said Caroline Welsh, creative lead, Diskette, "Back-to-back virtual meetings rarely accomplish or produce anything solid."
 
More than half of staffers working from home (56%) wish they spent less time on video calls, according to the report.
 
More alarming, noted the report, is that 73% of respondents considered video calls as "work done," and Wundamail said it "suggests that video calls give a dangerous illusion of productivity, when in reality, very little work is completed or produced."

Video meetings often plagued with technical troubles

The popular platform Zoom may exemplifies a business growing too quickly; numerous cybersecurity issues have been sighted (no password is required and the 10-digit entrance code has proven easy to hack). TechRepublic reported on how 12% of Zoom users stopped using it because of the well-publicized security issues. 

Welsh pointed out that Zoom is also experiencing perception problems—while it seems to want to promote itself as a professional business tool, schools have quickly rushed into using it for online schools. Other platforms are ready to pick up what may be perceived as slack from Zoom. 

Microsoft Teams now has customized backgrounds for video calls. Wundamail's daily check-in software's video conferencing feature had a 600% increase in sign-ups this week, said Welsh. "It's good for reinforcing that accountability that is missing in Zoom."

The most prevalent problem with video meetings, said 73% of respondents, are technical issues. Frequent interruptions and colleagues talking over each other is another significant (59%) problem. Additionally, one in three people suffer a lack of focus in video meetings.

Amplifying the worst of in-person meetings

The most inefficient elements of a traditional office are transferred, and often amplified, when applied to virtual meetings. Wundamail's report said if a remote setup fails to adapt to a company's needs, there could potentially be "a dip in global productivity."

Following up on those virtual meetings

But there are "fixes," especially when the only options are virtual meetings (at least until the coronavirus pandemic slows/curve flattens), and the report suggested, "Teams now need to introduce daily updates via written communication means, and automatic check-ins are the proven methodology to kickstart productivity."

Communication is ineffectual, the report stressed, especially verbal communications. The multitude of technical issues, including every video buffer that adds static chips away at productivity. Listening to each team member on a video-conference call deliver a report is time-consuming. 

Making meetings more productive

The solution: Written communication (i.e. email) encourages team members to think independently by:

  • Asking questions on a regular schedule

  • Practice writing

  • Communicate essential updates

Sharing written notes before a virtual meeting, and follow ups afterwards "is more direct and efficient."
 
Wundamail's report concludes: "Businesses need to reduce video-chatting and introduce automatic, written updates and daily check-ins into their remote setups to keep productivity levels consistent."

Also see 

Virtual meeting frustration

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