How virtual meetings can be improved

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C: Pexels / Anna Shvets
C: Pexels / Anna Shvets
Almost one in three is more passive in virtual meetings than in physical meetings

There is still room for improvement in virtual meetings - this is the conclusion of the interdisciplinary research project COME - Cooperative Meetings at the University of Vienna. A successful meeting requires more than just the right technical equipment. The study developed a wealth of tips on how virtual meetings can be improved. The results and advice will be presented at an online brown bag meeting on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at 12.00 noon.

For many people in office jobs, working from home has become an integral part of everyday working life. This also includes virtual meetings, which is not always an easy undertaking, as the new study clearly shows. Almost one in three people behave more passively in virtual meetings than in face-to-face meetings. "Employees are faced with a dilemma: they value their time working from home and at the same time feel that they have less of a say virtually and that their opportunities to shape their work are diminishing," explains Irene Kernthaler-Moser, one of the authors: "Organizations that do not rise to this challenge run the risk of losing the professional and emotional input of a good third of their employees."

The research results show that many employees work on other tasks at the same time in virtual meetings, which affects the quality of the meetings. "65% of participants state that they work on something else at the same time in virtual meetings," says Michaela Schaffhauser-Linzatti, another of the study authors. "However, this supposed multitasking often does not go unnoticed, with 55% feeling disturbed by distracted colleagues in online meetings."

However, most people are not distracted by private matters in virtual meetings, but by other tasks at work. The two most common "culprits" are working on emails (74% of respondents) and working on other projects (57%). Men, people in management positions and people with long working hours are particularly likely to work on their emails on the side. Strong hierarchies in companies also tempt people to do something else on the side.

At the end of the day, it’s little tricks that help people to actively participate in meetings. Just under half (43%) of all participants often or sometimes take part in meetings where their task is unclear to them. Only 16% of all participants always know exactly what their role in the meeting is. "So if you’re not sure why you’ve been invited to a meeting, you should simply ask politely why you want to be there. A clear agenda also helps," says Kernthaler-Moser. Working in small groups (virtual break-out rooms) and regular breaks are also important factors in making virtual meetings meaningful and keeping everyone on the ball.

It is also important to keep the goal of a meeting in mind when planning. Another finding of the study is that the work results in some virtual meetings are worse than in physical meetings. Participants stated that the quality of content in virtual meetings is significantly poorer, particularly when it comes to discussions and brainstorming. "It can therefore be worth planning meetings for brainstorming in such a way that everyone can be present on site if possible. Home office time, on the other hand, can be put to good use for information meetings," advises Schaffhauser-Linzatti. You can find an overview of all the results and tips from the study here.