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Blog · 28 Feb 2023

Giving meetings legs: how a full-bodied experience makes meetings productive

Shifting all meetings into the virtual world risks participant fatigue. Drive meeting productivity by first considering the anatomy of the meeting.

Nicola Milard
Principal Innovation Partner, Business

The key breakthrough for Metaverse architects in recent months has been giving avatars legs – previously, heads and torsos just floated around in the virtual environment.

For those in the corporate world who have been used to only seeing colleagues’ top halves on screens for a while, you could hear the collective sigh of complete indifference.

In organisations where the Metaverse is likely to be used for meetings, conferences and training, the lack of legs isn’t generally a source of frustration. The video Metaverse that we increasingly work in has proved to be a valuable way of meeting and collaborating without the need to dress smartly below the waistline.

However, reports of ‘video fatigue’ might be translated into Metaverse fatigue if all we do is lift and shift all our meetings into a virtual world. It’s time to tackle the source of this video fatigue – meetings.

How do we avoid the ‘horrible hybrid’?

Many of us find ourselves waking with an impending sense of Zoom* every morning (*other collaboration platforms are available). Diaries are often filled with endless blocks of 30-to-60-minute conversations. Many working in a hybrid model often end up sitting on video calls in the office all day while not talking to (and often disturbing) people around them. It’s unsurprising that many employees start to feel that investing in commute time to be sociable in the office isn’t worth it.

Much of the discussion on hybrid working has been about the location of work. However, the most important discussion is about how, not where, the work is done. Is collaboration best done in the office? Potentially, yes, but it only takes one remote attendee to force the collaboration into the digital space, often resulting in the ‘horrible hybrid’ meeting where the meeting fragments into the ‘people in the room’ and the ‘people on the digital platform’.

It's critical to think through the anatomy of a meeting

Just as the ways we work are evolving, our approach to using and holding meetings needs to develop, too. I’ve researched this area in depth, and believe that successful collaboration involves considering the six parts of the meeting ‘anatomy’:

1. Use your head

Ask whether the meeting should be a meeting in the first place. Meetings have been badged cynically as the “practical alternative to work”, so we need to make sure that we use our time wisely. Asynchronous ways of collaboration, where communication happens over a period of time, is a good way to share information and decide on the issues that need to be debated - before we come together synchronously to discuss things and make decisions.

2. Be digital at heart

The office or the home are not the common ground for the digital workplace - digital platforms are. Make sure these work effectively wherever your employees are – in the office, at home, or on the move.

3. Enable eyes and ears

Being able to hear and see everyone in a meeting is a basic hygiene factor. Yet, too often, people in a hybrid meeting joining remotely are stuck with a postage-stamp-sized view of a meeting room filled with tiny people who they can’t really see and possibly can’t hear.

The room tends to ignore those who aren’t there because remote participants have no tangible presence other than a video square, an animated raised hand, or a comment in the chat window (which in-room people may not see if they aren’t on the digital platform).

Increased camera and microphone coverage in the room (including facial recognition) can help identify who’s speaking for remote participants. Future technologies such as mixed reality and ‘volumetric’ video may help those coming in remotely by giving them the ability to appear as a real-time generated 3-D hologram or avatar in a physical or virtual meeting space, like Princess Leia.

4. Hands up for good facilitation skills

Facilitating a completely in-person meeting can be difficult enough, but hybrid ones add an increased level of complexity. If the facilitator is in the room, proximity biases can cause them to inadvertently ignore the people who are attending remotely. A good facilitator needs to make sure that all participants are fully engaged and involved – making sure that remote people are heard and aren’t interrupted, or talked over, by people in the room.

5. Engage brains

It’s all too easy for people in the digital world to disengage – especially if they’re muted and have their cameras off. The temptation is to multi-task, or just to give continuous partial attention, both of which can distract from the task at hand. Good facilitators will encourage participation and help everyone see the value of their input.

6. Keep an open mind

We’re in a period of hybrid working experimentation. The Metaverse may still leave us without a leg to stand on (even if our avatars have lower limbs) unless we can make meeting cultures work productively with whatever technology we choose to use.

Is there video fatigue in your workplace? Could it be holding back levels of productivity and motivation?

To find out more about the anatomy of a good meeting (hybrid, or otherwise) and how they can help engage employees in today’s workplace, download my recent whitepaper.