What are the lessons learned with virtual collaboration during this pandemic? How to deal with 55 million virtual meetings per day just in the US and increasing cases of “Zoom fatigue” globally? Find out the strategies to create more enjoyable virtual experiences. The key: diversity!

Due to the pandemic, many of us are now working at home. It’s been estimated that an astonishing 55 million virtual meetings per day, are currently happening just in the US. What do we know on a global scale? On March 31st, Microsoft Teams experienced a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in just one day!

Consequently, we’re seeing our coworkers more frequently than before — but as tiny faces on our laptops in video meetings. Instead of bringing us closer together, all this online togetherness can sometimes make us feel miles apart, literally and emotionally.

Some of us are spending the day in front of the screen from morning till evening, from meeting to meeting, barely getting to do “real” work — which has lead to a new, viral expression of “Zoom fatigue”. Now, replace the word “fatigue” with “exhaustion” and what will you have?

A “Zoom Burnout”!

Recently I attended a fantastic webinar organised by Quartz at Work named, “The art of remote working”. Here, professionals attended from all over the world: I noticed participants from France, Singapore, the UK, Kenya, the US, Brazil, Russia, India — it truly had global reach.

The organisers involved us in an interactive way, whereby we were able to exchange on our own experiences as well as take part in various polls regarding our lessons learned with virtual meetings. Here’s what was found out:

  • 35% of the attendees rated their remote meetings to be worse than in-person meetings
  • 23% of them are experiencing “conferencing fatigue” nearly every day, compared to 45% only some days
  • in terms of previous remote working experiences, about 33% had never worked remotely before, compared to the majority (44%) with only part-time experiences.

What are we learning about this phenomenon? What could we do to improve the effectiveness of remote meetings? And how could we reduce meeting fatigue?

Take a 5-min Team Coaching Quiz now

Before we get to answering these questions, I would like to offer some reflection.

There’s a trend and an emphasis in organisations to encourage the 4 C’s of productivity: connectivity, communication, collaboration, and collectivity — a focus that has risen exponentially now during this unprecedented global health crisis.

The pandemic challenges we are facing today are giving organisations a really hard time to ensure business continuity and resilience. Gladly, modern conferencing technology is allowing us to keep up with work activities and stay “close” with colleagues and teams. The consequence?

Communication has boomed! But are we being more productive? Not always.
I’m stunned by the FOMO effect of virtual collaboration nowadays — indeed what I observed during the webinar is that for the majority, the quantity of meetings has increased by 51% since working from home. Combine this figure with the statistics above and you’ll realise that we need a transformational shift in the way we collaborate with each other. Most of the time we ought to accept meeting invitations, but do we always really have to? Think in terms of effort vs impact, how essential is it really?

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not all negative and many of us (including me) are actually really enjoying working remotely — I’m gonna get back to that shortly.

So what makes us think that all our coworkers are keen to interact with each other as much as possible? Are we sure that we all feel the need to collaborate in the same way? What’s the real meeting science?

Collaboration is more complex than we may think it is. Particularly, when you imagine global and multi-cultural organisations! Personally, I have always loved working in a multi-cultural environment and my experience allowed me to observe an even increased complexity when working with multi-functional team members, too.

Let’s take this even further! How about behavioural diversity? Behavioural preferences and motivational needs have a significant impact on:

  • how we would like to be managed
  • how we interact and communicate with each other in a team
  • what cultural environment we need to be most creative and productive
  • what rhythm we need to perform at our best abilities
  • how we will experience collectivity (yes, even remotely)
  • etc.

The greater the diversity in a team, the greater will be the collective talent, the creativity, the resilience and the potential for success in their mission.

Let’s face it, today’s leaders’ number 1 strategy to achieve success is to build diverse and high-performing teams — that will always be their greatest assets! So as leaders and managers, shouldn’t we listen more carefully to the collaborative needs of our team members? How can we accommodate such diversity for more effective virtual collaboration?

The bright side of remote meetings

As mentioned above, not everybody is experiencing remote working and virtual collaboration from the dark side. There are some very positive and encouraging signs:

  • most of the webinar attendees, a whopping 89% of them, said that they experienced the transition to working from home either as “good” or “very well”
  • 68% of them would like to work remotely more often after the lockdown
  • the quality of virtual meetings is getting better for 51% of them
  • and 64% of the global participants confirm that remote meetings did not affect their emotional states.

Obviously, some of us have already been used to either working from home or collaborating with virtual team members around the globe thanks to video-conferencing technology. Having that experience helped significantly to adapt to the change more quickly.

The pandemic literally crushed any previous Digital Transformation agenda! It’s impressive to see how suddenly individuals, teams, and their leaders went beyond themselves, by discovering more creative and less resource-intense ways of working together. Thus finding more efficient ways of collaborating with each other, even virtually. For example, instead of requiring everyone to attend (sometimes) awfully dull “weekly”, “regular”, “status update” meetings, now organisers adapted:

  • the real meeting length for what needs to be accomplished
  • the ideal number of participants for best productivity
  • the workshop style by mixing up the form
  • the experience by “humanising” the meeting
  • the logic for why the meeting is necessary
  • etc.

People’s meeting buy-in & engagement is higher when you explain the logic for why it’s being done.

My understanding is that by listening to your colleagues and finding new as well as diverse possibilities for them to collaborate together, you’ll ultimately be going to achieve greater engagement and greater satisfaction for everyone in working remotely.

Take a 5-min Team Coaching Quiz now

How to achieve more engaging virtual collaboration

Here are a couple of ideas for transforming team collaboration and improving a remote meeting experience:

  • Agenda: ditch the boring topics, instead prepare a set of questions that you’d like the meeting participants to be engaged with
  • Participants: 6–8 people will statistically be the most productive — for “nice-to-have” people give them the option to attend or provide a recording of the session
  • Duration: given amount of participants above, 1 hour max. Make it dependent on what really needs to be accomplished. What’s the purpose that needs to be fulfilled? Can it be done in less than an hour?
  • Collaboration mediums: mix it up! Try it with digital whiteboards like Miro or MURAL, silent brainstormings, asynchronous communication, “walk ‘n talk” meetings, simple calls or texting, etc.
  • Style: “humanise” the meeting experiences! For example: “these are my dirty dishes in the kitchen” or try a short-timed creative exercise!

Last but not least, I believe that knowing your audience is paramount to be able to collaborate most effectively, no matter whether in-person or remotely.

Therefore, my advice is: discover the whole diversity of your team members, culturally, functionally, and from a behavioural perspective, to truly understand what their preferred virtual collaboration style really is and how you can keep them engaged and motivated in a remote environment.

Bonus: How to present like a Pro with the 10–20–30 rule

In one of the best speeches I’ve ever watched, I learned about the 10–20–30 rule from Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist of Canva.

  • 10 = slides to present
  • 20 = minutes of presentation time
  • 30 = content font size

Accept the challenge? Try it out and tell me about your experience!