Conference calls, video or audio certainly used to get a lot of criticism. People thought that face-to-face meetings would naturally be best. But, as Stuart Constable is discovering, online meetings for remote workers can actually be better than the real thing. So as long as you have the right technology in place, virtual meetings can save time and contribute to higher productivity.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Can you hear me OK? Yes, yes I can hear you. OK, good! So, how are you coping with all this?”
You’ll recognise this little speech. Many of us have been using variations of it for a while now that conference and video calling have been the only way to meet.
When we were in the office, this kind of meeting was often inconvenient. Perhaps holding effective digital meetings is a skill that people needed time to practice, not just in offices but right across society. Already we’ve learnt how to improve our audio, tune up Wifi connections at home and overcome the awkwardness of people talking across each other.
So, here’s the thing. Are meetings actually better when you’re working remotely? By which I mean, are they more effective? Have we taken a leap forward in our ability as humans to engage with each other through screens and headsets?
Here’s an entirely personal list of what I think has happened while meeting in person has been ruled out:
- Meetings are shorter because people are more focused; screens do not encourage small talk.
- People pay more attention; screens and headsets seem to bring you more fully into the virtual space and you need to concentrate because other people’s audio isn’t always great.
- Equally, though, if you’re not one of the key participants you can listen in and multitask by muting and switching off your video.
- You can have more quick and productive meetings because you don’t need to book a meeting room.
- Action points from meetings don’t get lost in the day-to-day because Chat feeds keep the conversation going.
- You have fewer random, pointless meetings – you either need a meeting or you don’t.
- It’s easier to leave a meeting; somehow the etiquette allows people to hang up when they’re no longer required, instead of having to get up and walk out.
As I said, this is an entirely personal view, but I’ve spoken to colleagues and friends who have experienced the same things.
Until now, one of the biggest objections to the idea of remote working had been about productivity. But actually, improving our options for information-on-demand might have made us even more productive.
Compared to working in the office, now people have more time to get things done, because they’re not getting held up in meetings. Also, plans and decisions can be made even faster now that meetings are easier to organise and more effective.
There are plenty of stats to back me up. Here’s just one, from 2020 research by Airtasker: remote employees worked an average of 1.4 more days every month (16.8 more days a year) than people in offices.
One thing that has been clearly highlighted for me is your tech must be up to the job. According to a May 2020 Valoir report, on average, workers are spending 3% of their day dealing with work-related tech issues.
Now, I use a ThinkPad X380 Yoga and this is a Lenovo blog, so naturally I’m going to say it’s been brilliant. But honestly, it has been, and when it’s combined with other supporting tech you start to reach that level of convenience and functionality that can make online meetings so effective.
For example, one device that is truly optimised for online meetings is the ThinkSmart View. This is a handy little extension to your PC that is dedicated to communication and basic admin tasks.
You can conduct video and audio calls while keeping your main screen free for productivity tasks. It includes smart functions like a one-touch start for Microsoft Teams, and the built-in mic and speakers give great audio clarity for you and the people you’re speaking to.
I’m not one of those who is in the business of predicting how the world will change when offices are open again. But I won’t be surprised if remote working becomes much more widespread in the years ahead.
For a lot of businesses and their employees, the economic benefits are significant, even if you only consider travel costs. If, as I strongly suspect, they discover that productivity is significantly improved, then the business case will be unarguable.
Now, where did I put the biscuits?