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How do remote meetings change our behavior?

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8 min

In 2020, videoconferencing experienced a whopping 535% rise in daily traffic. During the pandemic, we went remote and most of our tasks, including work calls, were moved online.

This work format is clear, but what about the behavioral changes that happened to each of us, as individual users, when we suddenly left the face-to-face meetings behind. 

This week, at Interactio, we set out on a journey to discover how remote meetings have changed our behavior, and here’s what we found.

Multitasking - the major trait of remote meetings

Will we be called a generation of multitaskers in the future? It wouldn’t be a surprise. Despite the first look being negative, back in 2011, Microsoft viewed multitasking as relatively neutral during their presentations. When studying the behavior of the speakers and audience on-site, scientists recommended that speakers adjust to their listeners’ tendency to use smartphones and laptops during speeches. Trying to persuade the audience that multitasking is bad would only result in disappointment and aggravation from the attendees’ side. After all, change doesn’t happen quickly. 

But what about remote meetings?

Until 2020, we did not know much about our behavior during remote meetings. A very recent study by Stanford scientists is a breakthrough in the field and can give us a lot of insights as it also highlights multitasking. But what are the major conclusions of this study, and what can we learn from them?

Here’s a summary of the findings.  

Multitasking is “infectious”

Many argue that multitasking during calls negatively affects individual performance and appears disrespectful to other participants. What the majority might not know is that people unconsciously tend to use their mobile devices or do other unrelated things if they see their colleagues multitask. 

Here’s a bonus tip for you if you’re a manager, meeting host, or an event moderator: start the meeting by saying that multitasking is “infectious” just like yawning. Some of the attendees might refrain from multitasking simply because of a higher awareness level.

Multitasking may help boost productivity 

You shouldn’t worry if someone is not looking at the camera when the speaker is talking. Even better, you can encourage the participants to take notes and browse the internet to check facts or look for additional questions regarding the topic. 

This kind of multitasking, when additional activities are related to the topic, is entirely positive and increases attention span as well as interest in the topic.

By the way, positive multitasking is not the only thing that increases a team's productivity. Research shows that interpretation used in international meetings can also boost a team’s productivity.

Multitasking leads to mental fatigue 

The study shows that people feel more tired if they keep multitasking. From a neuroscientific perspective, multitasking increases our cognitive load and abilities because our brain learns to jump from one task to another quickly. 

Knowing that people might perform multiple non-work-related tasks during meetings, event organizers like you can ease the cognitive load by following these simple tips. 

Introduce breaks to the meetings. 

The average break time between separate sessions should be 10-15 minutes. Such a break should be enough for your participants to make a cup of coffee or have a snack. However, if someone chooses to stay in the meeting during the break, you can play some music to entertain them.

Shorten meetings. 

Event organizers explain that people tend to retain their focus for 25-55 minutes, so an average time of 45 minutes should be the perfect length for your next meeting.

Make meetings more interactive. 

Research shows that participants are more active during Q&A sessions, live polls, and surveys if the meeting starts with some ice-breakers.

Other behavioral changes due to remote meetings

We would be lying if we said that multitasking is the only major change associated with online meetings.

Here are three more aspects of remote meetings you should be aware of, as well as tips and solutions to better adapt to virtual reality. 

We tend to forget the importance of non-verbal communication, so emphasize it

We only see facial expressions during remote meetings, or sometimes, we only stare at a blank screen and hear the voice.

Non-verbal communication is crucial for a better understanding of other people: it increases empathy, helps us better understand human emotions and connect to the speaker. Did you know that we can often tell if a person is lying simply by examining their body language?

That’s why you should always remind your audience to turn the camera on during remote meetings. 

We can feel isolated, so choose your remote location wisely

Working remotely often means eating, sleeping, working, and having international meetings in the same room. It feels convenient at first but carries negative long-term consequences. 

A study published on Building and Environment shows that people associate specific places with feelings and emotions. Imagine it like that - you watched a bad movie in your room, and it made you feel exhausted. The next day, you have to work from the same room while still being attached to the emotions from yesterday.

Simple as that, watching a lousy movie yesterday can make you feel bad while working today! That is why having a separate space to work, even if it is your favorite coffee shop, is beneficial.

Next time you’re booking an internal corporate meeting, encourage your employees to change their meeting location to a dedicated meeting space.

We tend to lose creativity, but there are ways to overcome that 

Real-life situations teach us to behave differently from virtual meetings simply because we have to interact with other people around us. Very often, remote meetings are simply short 1-on-1 conversations that are very flat.

It is now an industry standard to have a blank white background, where all you can see is a person’s face. In time, this setting gets so boring that we risk losing our natural ability to express emotions. Without seeing other people’s gestures, styles, and looks, we are prone to forget about things that make us unique. 

The first step to express our creativity is to celebrate the differences that start within. 

Disclaimer: choosing virtual solutions DOES NOT mean that you will be less creative. The meetings industry is currently focusing on improving remote work creativity, starting with custom backgrounds for your virtual meetings. Use an opportunity to get creative here - design your own space of work and keep it behind yourself or paint your own background image. 

Remote meetings are by far one of the biggest changes to every individual user’s behavior, and, it’s the duty of the meetings industry to help our mind adapt to the new work environment. 

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Published on

October 6, 2021

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