Thanks to lockdowns and the ensuing (and unprecedented) shift to remote work, the workplace meeting doesn’t look like it used to.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to rethink meetings: how they’re scheduled, how participants conduct presentations and engage in discussion, how long meetings last, and whether or not certain meetings should be cut. Even though companies enacted many of these changes on a temporary basis, workplaces have transformed their approaches to meetings in ways that will likely outlast the pandemic. Let’s consider the changes expected to stick.
How the pandemic is changing the landscape of work meetings
Here’s a closer look at the many ways in which companies have altered meetings over the last year, plus how these modifications may continue to transform in a post-COVID world.
In the beginning of the pandemic, the uncertainty of the times and the novelty of video-based meetings (think Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and so on) meant that many workplaces hosted digital meetings all over the place. But as these types of online gatherings became the norm for our work and personal lives, burnout — aka Zoom fatigue — started to kick in.
As people grow weary of video-based meetings, many companies have scaled back on the number and duration of these gatherings. Virtual meetings are certainly not going by the wayside, but it’s possible workplaces will host fewer of them as time goes on.
Partly for the same reason that some workplaces schedule fewer meetings, many meetings take less time. When people tire of connecting virtually, they’re less likely to participate in interactions, such as small talk, that can extend the length of a meeting.
In some cases, teams now conduct pre-meeting work (such as preliminary brainstorms in a shared Google doc) before the scheduled call, which can cut down on meeting time even more. And since more than a year has passed since the stay-at-home orders, many organizations have a better handle on virtual meeting efficiency — a change that could very well impact in-person meetings. In fact, a July 2020 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the average meeting length has already declined from 60 to 48 minutes.
Improved documentation and sharing capabilities
Because of the widespread use of online meeting platforms, the brands behind these platforms have ramped up their service offerings, which now include effective recording and transcribing tools.
These tools open up new avenues for easy documentation of meetings, which creates valuable reference documents for team members who did and did not attend. Rather than only share slide decks or presentation notes after a gathering, colleagues can now send the entire recording and/or transcript of a meeting. This makes it easier for everyone to collaborate and get on the same page.
Changing meeting schedules
In the case of companies where some or all employees switched to remote work, team members no longer devote large chunks of their day to commuting. This means it’s easier for many people to attend earlier or later meetings because doing so doesn’t require them to get up before the sun rises or return home to their families late at night. Additionally, many workplaces are learning to accommodate people’s blended work and home responsibilities by hosting meetings at times that might have seemed unusual when everyone was working in an office. While it’s especially important to strike a healthy work-life balance when your home and job exist in the same space, this trend will likely stick around as long as teams work remotely.
Shifts in participation
In-person meetings often highlight a few archetypical personas, such as the team member who loudly weighs in on every issue and the participant who’s more likely to observe. Meeting online tends to emphasize these differences, because participants typically focus more on efficiency and it can be harder to speak up when you’re on full display. Sometimes these archetypes flip on their head; for instance, in one small poll, 90 percent of respondents said video makes it easier to get their point across.
One thing that won’t go anywhere so long as online meetings exist? Tech issues. Many remote workers have invested in better networking and WiFi services as well as other tech solutions, including top-notch headsets and microphones. If you’re in search of the best wireless headset or best Bluetooth headset to improve your work-from-home capabilities, first check to see if your company will cover the cost. A headset microphone equipped for clear speaking and effective noise-canceling abilities can mean the difference between feeling shut out of a meeting or being able to participate fully.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the nature of meetings in workplaces across the U.S. and around the world. While meetings will continue to evolve alongside the pandemic, many of these changes are probably here to stay. Being attuned to these trends can help leaders and teams identify challenges and solutions in the quest for healthier and more effective meetings.