Surprise: People aren't paying attention to you on Zoom, but there are ways to boost engagement

The age of remote work and round-the-clock video meetings has spurred new types of employee burnout altogether and it looks like many people are zoning out in the Zoom room.

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Image: GettyImages/Westend61

With the switch to remote work, video calls have replaced traditional in-person meetings for many professionals, leading to new types of burnout altogether a la Zoom fatigue. On Wednesday, Polly released a report highlighting employee multitasking habits during video calls, social drawbacks of the format and more. As hybrid work models become the new normal for many employees, there are strategies teams can implement to boost engagement during these calls.

"Virtual meetings aren't going anywhere, and making them more efficient starts with asking some hard questions: If most of my employees aren't fully engaged during virtual meetings, what's the real impact on productivity? And more importantly, how do we address it?" said Samir Diwan, CEO and co-founder of Polly in a press release.

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Virtual meetings, multitasking and drawbacks

Before the coronavirus pandemic and switch to remote work at scale, respondents said they spent two hours in video meetings weekly and now this number has surged to 10 hours, according to a Polly press release, and nearly a quarter of respondents (22%) allocate "half or more of a standard workweek" to video meetings.

Regardless of this surge in usage, Diwan pointed out that the vast majority of respondents (92%) felt as though video meetings were a "good use of time" and 75% thought these events were becoming more productive.

"This points to the fact that while virtual meetings may have many inherent challenges for us to work out, they're still a really effective – and probably irreplaceable – way for us to get real work done together," Diwan said via email.

While employees are spending a comparatively large part of their workweek in meetings, they may not be giving their full undivided attention. For instance, 85% reported multitasking in video meetings and 44% said they do so "very frequently or always." Overall, checking email (77%), other work-related tasks (74%) and perusing news and social media outlets topped the list of activities for multitaskers.

Are companies overusing video calls?

Without the richness of face-to-face communication and the propensity for technical glitches, video conferences, at times, leave much to be desired comparatively. A portion of the Polly report focuses on the various challenges associated with the format. 

During video calls, one-quarter of respondents listed "personal connection" as "their greatest challenge" and more than half of respondents reported these sentiments about one-on-one video meetings. Meeting fatigue was another top challenge for 37% of respondents.

Considering the exponential increase in video meetings alongside the various challenges, are employers overly utilizing video platforms for information sharing in the age of remote work at scale?

While Diwan doesn't believe companies are overusing video conferencing to share information, he said employers could "benefit from changing how they use video to share information," adding that his company likes to encourage those organizing meetings to "be creative and approach each meeting as an opportunity to engage your colleagues, not just inform."

"Every call doesn't need to be talking heads or a screen share of a slide presentation. Apps are a great way to extend the experience of a video call and add more lively elements to the call to engage meeting attendees differently," he said.

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The surge in remote work also means that teams can source talent from around the globe, although these proximal considerations add logistical constraints to live virtual collaboration. To this point, Diwan said all video conferencing does not need to be synchronous.

"Creating a self-recorded snippet is becoming increasingly popular. It's an easy way to turn a 30-minute meeting into a 5-minute on-demand video, and then move the discussion to Slack or Teams. Not only does it save everyone time, but it is also more inclusive for employees that are more geo-distributed."

Although employees believe these meetings are productive, the format appears to present myriad challenges for team members. There are some tips managers could bear in mind before deciding to use a video call to share information with the team.

"A key tip for managers to keep in mind is avoiding the trap of mindlessly accepting invites, or maybe worse, mindlessly sending them. Make sure everyone on the attendee list has a stake in the outcome and knows the intended outcome of the meeting," Diwan said.

Like many other teams, Diwan said, the Polly team has developed a "good habit" that involves sending anonymized "effectiveness check-ins" after meetings.

"Something like this can go a long way toward getting an objective take on the value everyone's getting and help focus future calls," he continued.

It could also be a good idea to see the full time set aside for meetings as time taken away from a person's day and not a set amount of time that needs to be spent.

"End meetings early," Diwan said. "Having a few extra minutes to step away from your screen can help employees stay refreshed and engaged throughout the day." 

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