The research is in: More than 75% have attended multiple virtual meetings since last March 2020, and another 18% had attended at least one, according to a poll in Nature.
“Samantha Lawler, an astronomer at the University of Regina in Canada, tells Nature that virtual platforms allowed her to attend meetings without compromising her teaching workload or responsibilities as the parent of small children.” Accessibility is a great asset of many virtual meetings. Next to that, “Poll respondents said that the lower carbon footprint offered by virtual meetings is their greatest benefit.”
Virtual meetings, online conferences, digital daily stand ups with your team… all of these have skyrocketed in the past two years for understandable reasons.
But virtual meetings aren’t perfect, and could easily be improved. A recent survey found that 67% of employees complain that spending too much time in meetings hinders them from being productive at work. More than 35% of employees found that they waste 2 to 5 hours per day on meetings and calls — with little to show for it.
Research also suggests that only around 50% of meeting time is “effective, well used, and engaging — and these effectiveness numbers drop even lower when it comes to remote meetings.” Yikes. “In fact, experiencing a poor meeting can even result in meeting recovery syndrome, where employees lose additional time and productivity mentally recovering from a bad meeting.”
It simply doesn’t have to be this way, though.
Fortunately, there is an evidence-based path forward based on years of research on how to run effective team meetings. In this article, we’ll teach you how to improve virtual meetings. Follow the steps outlined below to take your virtual meetings to the next level.
How to Improve Virtual Meetings: 3 Helpful Tips
1. Be deliberate with time
Steven G. Rogelberg writes about “adopting a stewardship mindset” when managing remote meetings. What does this mean? Be intentional with others’ time. “Leaders often adopt a stewardship mindset when meeting with important customers or stakeholders because they would never want these key individuals to feel the meeting was a waste of time,” Rogelberg writes.
Your choice to be deliberate sets up the meeting from the very beginning for a better chance of being sincerely productive. “Don’t hesitate to schedule just 15, 20, or 25 minutes for a meeting. Reducing the meeting length creates positive pressure; research shows that groups operating under some level of time pressure actually perform more optimally given increased focus and stimulation.”
Sharpen your agenda: Prepare any questions to ask key stakeholders ahead of time, and make sure they are answered clearly. Creating focus with your team will help contribute to effective meetings.
2. Invite only who is necessary (and not more)
Think about it: It makes sense that quality in meetings will deteriorate as size increases. “Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, looked at the research on group size and concluded that the most productive meetings contain only five to eight people.” Why? Paul Axtell writes, “There is a tipping point beyond which the quality of the conversation begins to erode.”
The beauty of remote meetings is that they can be recorded, which means you don’t need to interrupt every employee from their workflow. You can share recordings later when they can listen at their convenience (and can always extend optional invites… but commonly, team members are looking to politely decline).
Remember: “Hundreds of executives, in fields ranging from high tech and retail to pharmaceuticals and consulting, many said they felt overwhelmed by their meetings. Such complaints are supported by research showing that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. And that doesn’t even include all the impromptu gatherings that don’t make it onto the schedule.”
Be mindful, and only invite your key stakeholders.
3. Communicate clearly, and with your goals in mind
Once you have approached your meeting with intentionality and invited only the key stakeholders, now it is time to communicate effectively, and run a productive meeting with your team.
“Getting everyone to participate without talking over each other is one of the more challenging aspects of running a virtual meeting,” Bob Frisch and Cary Green write for HBR. “To forestall this, we recommend periodically calling on individuals to speak.”
Be explicit and prepared. For instance: Ask a specific person a specific question. Asking open-ended questions to a large remote audience will often result in ‘dead air’, and then multiple people talking at once… and then it’s difficult to understand.
But — it doesn’t have to be.
This is where high quality, low latency spatial audio comes in.
Philip Rosedale writes, “When people talk at the same time, you need spatial audio to be able to understand them. This is the ‘cocktail party’ effect, where the separation of people’s voices in space is what the brain uses to understand multiple voices at once. So if you need to have an online meeting where everyone can talk at the same time and chit-chat as we would normally, you need spatial audio to make it work. This is one of the reasons why Zoom (and other videoconferencing solutions) are frustrating and tiring — only one person can talk at once.”
Spatial audio helps replicate conversations you’d have in real life with your team, creating a more natural feeling environment.
How to Improve Virtual Meetings With Spatial Audio
Unproductive meetings have a cost. “They can easily be termed as one of the most expensive communication forms among employees in the workplace.” Break down the math: Suppose an average employee is making $60,000 per year and a company has 100 employees. In that case, the cost of meetings rises to $2,250,000, while the cost of unproductive meetings per year is $751,500 (scroll down here for the full infographic and cited research to break that down further).
There are a number of virtual office and digital meeting solutions already incorporating spatial audio to help employees better communicate with each other, such as Breakroom, SpatialWeb, Hubbub, and more (check out more about those technologies here — the 5th point in the blog post). Spatial audio is set to be a game changer for videoconferencing and other apps, such as social audio platforms, virtual events, in-game voice chats (like Minecraft!), and more...
If you’re building one of these apps, check out High Fidelity’s Spatial Audio API. (We have a number of resources and simple guides to get started, too.) You can start for free by creating a developer account below.