Daily Briefing

5 'major ways' remote meetings have changed since the pandemic


Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on June 12, 2023.

One of executives' primary concerns about remote work is decreased employee engagement — but data suggest that remote and hybrid employees are increasingly collaborating through impromptu meetings. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Brodsky and Mike Tolliver explain five "major ways" remote meetings have changed over time, and provide three "actionable insights" from their data.

Andre Brodsky is an assistant professor of management at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Mike Tolliver is the director of product management at Vyopta, a software company that performs analytics on remote meetings and collaboration for large corporations.

5 ways meetings have changed

To gauge how remote collaboration has evolved over time, Brodsky and Tolliver collected metadata from all Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex meetings from 10 large global organizations across multiple industries.

They compared the number of remote meetings during six-week periods from April 2020 to mid-May 2020, after the Covid-19 lockdowns, and the same time periods in 2021 and 2022.

According to their analysis, there are five "major ways" remote meetings have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a widespread shift to remote work, including:

1. Frequency of meetings

When compared to 2020, Brodsky and Tolliver found a 60% increase in remote meetings per employee in 2022, shifting from an average of five weekly meetings per employee to eight.

2. Meeting length

Since the pandemic began, remote meetings have become 25% shorter—decreasing from an average of 43 minutes in 2020 to 33 minutes per meeting in 2022.

3. Number of attendees 

According to Brodsky and Tolliver, the average number of participants in each meeting has decreased by half, with an average of 20 participants per meeting in 2020 and 10 participants in 2022.

"This change was driven predominately by the increase in the proportion of one-on-one meetings rather than a decrease in the size of group meetings," Brodsky and Tolliver noted.

4. Spontaneity 

While just 17% of one-on-one meetings were unscheduled in 2020, 66% of one-on-one meetings were unscheduled in 2022.

"Furthermore, the growth in one-on-one meetings between 2020 and 2022 was almost solely due to the increase in unscheduled meetings (whereas scheduled meetings remained relatively constant)," Brodsky and Tolliver write.

5.  Attendance among 'leavers'

Brodsky and Tolliver discovered lower meeting attendance among employees who left their organization at some point following the six-week period.

"We saw that 'leavers' attended substantially fewer meetings," they wrote. "We observed this trend most clearly in that "leavers" had 67% fewer one-on-one spontaneous meetings, though they also had 22% fewer scheduled one-on-one meetings and 20% fewer group meetings."

Interpretation

Overall, Brodsky and Tolliver say their findings do not suggest "that remote workers seem to be becoming less engaged, but rather—at least with respect to meetings—they are becoming more engaged with their colleagues."

In addition, these data also suggest "that remote interactions are shifting to more closely mirror in-person interactions," they write.

However, while the data present "a clear picture of remote collaboration trends, it is important to note that because we don't have data beyond meetings themselves, it is possible that there may be deficits in other areas," Brodsky and Tolliver note.

3 'actionable insights' to keep remote workers engaged

According to Brodsky and Tolliver, "three key actionable insights" that can help keep employees engaged in a remote environment include:

1. Keeping workers' schedules in sync

To foster collaboration among employees, employers should ensure that their team members have some degree of overlap in their schedule. 

"Although employees may no longer be in the same 'space' as they work outside the office, at least being in the same 'time' can enable many of the same interactions," Brodsky and Tolliver write. "To this point, research shows that being synchronous with one's teammates can increase work quality through means such as improved information-sharing."

2. Finding ways to reduce meeting fatigue

Employers must find "ways to decrease the effort and strain required for meetings," Brodsky and Tolliver write.

Research suggests that frequent video meetings can often lead to "Zoom fatigue," they write. According to Brodsky and Tolliver, "a key piece of advice that has emerged is that allowing employees to turn off their cameras can reduce video conferencing fatigue."

3. Trying to reengage disengaged workers

Typically, disengaged employees participate in fewer meetings. "Given the difficulties in recruiting and training new talent, there is a substantial benefit to trying to re-engage these workers," Brodsky and Tolliver write.

Rather than forcing disengaged employees to attend more meetings, Brodsky and Tolliver suggest finding out if, and why, an employee is disengaged—"whether it be because of factors such as they are bored by their work or feel they are underpaid."

Employers should also encourage managers to openly discuss engagement with employees. Ultimately, "this kind of manager openness has been tied to a host of benefits including increasing employee motivation and innovation," Brodsky and Tolliver write. (Brodsky/Tolliver, Harvard Business Review, 12/6)


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