For most of us, the past two years have been unprecedented times. 2020 saw workers across the globe making offices out of bedrooms and desks out of dining tables. It’s funny looking back on those early days; at the time, working from home to many was quaint, exciting, and—above all—only temporary. We had no idea that two weeks would turn into two years.
Any massive shift in behavior, if repeated, will eventually become normality – second nature, even. It seems the same applies to working from home (WFH). It’s now clear that WFH has become popular, and many workers favor the concept of hybrid working over returning to the workplace full time.
The effects of the shift to remote working were most noticeable in how we communicated and collaborated, particularly how we met. Suddenly, we moved from assembling in board rooms to meeting each other via webcam. In this sense, meetings lost a lot of their traditional structure. In some places, however, we gained one that never existed. When you remove the physical workplace from the equation, a passing word by the water cooler becomes an invite to a Microsoft Teams meeting, automatically positioning it as a far more formal affair. For some workers, this evokes feelings of pressure and anxiety—not to mention the potential disruption to their flow of productivity. Factors such as these birth a new concept. Enter ‘meeting fatigue.’
Define Meeting Fatigue
The absence of a physical meeting space means you’re eliminating physical and other boundaries. Many workers have essentially welcomed their employer—and colleagues—into their homes through virtual meetings, a concept that may have seemed foreign to many a few years ago.
Remote working has also led to the idea that an employee must always be available—not just within work hours but sometimes outside of these hours. For example, when five o’clock rolls around, a worker can no longer leave work and go home—they’re already there.
Some leaders have also relied, perhaps too heavily, on frequent meetings to keep their eyes on employees, which is much more challenging when your team is dispersed and hidden away at home.
Factors such as these equal one thing—many workers feel fatigued by constant meetings and endless team interactions. Who would’ve thought that, in a world where we were kept separate, we’d be meeting more than ever?
In a climate where employee wellbeing is already of hefty concern, we must battle meeting fatigue before it gets out of hand and leads to an unhappy, burnt-out, and largely unproductive workforce.
How are UC Vendors Combating Meeting Fatigue?
For many years, the unified communications and collaboration (UCC) space has been developing rapidly, with more and more ways and means of reaching out. For some, they feel as if there’s no escape from bombardment.
You’d be forgiven for deeming it counterintuitive that UC vendors now observe ways to harness these measures. However, the task isn’t to restrict how we meet but merely to ensure that we meet on our own terms. For this reason, UC vendors are beginning to weave new tools into their applications designed to prevent users from becoming overwhelmed and encourage them to set and communicate boundaries. For example, users can assign themselves periods of ‘focus time’ throughout the day to communicate their desire not to be disturbed. Conversely, they can notify fellow users of periods where they are ‘meeting ready’ and happy to collaborate.
UC vendors are also producing tools that will make it less essential for a user to ‘sit in’ a meeting when their time could be better spent on other things, making it easier to record meetings to be stored and shared at a later date. This could take the form of a simple audio file, or of automatic transcription which essentially minutes the meeting for you as you go—much easier to skim through.
What Other Changes to the UC Landscape Can We Expect?
As it becomes clear that many workforces will never return to working in the office full time, vendors are developing applications to better replicate the traditional workplace in a digital form. Applications like Gather and Walkabout Workplace possess the feeling of a video game—allowing users to navigate a virtual workplace via their unique avatar—visiting meeting rooms, stopping for chats and, launching secure video chats to chat more ‘face-to-face’. These virtual offices also support customization, including a custom floor plan, room function, in addition to design and company branding to better replicate the traditional workplace of yonder year.
Applications such as these may resolve some of the issues mentioned above. These applications could allow for a more casual, social element to the virtual workspace and facilitate some of the quick, ‘in-passing’ chats that, as discussed, have fallen by the wayside since the pandemic.
Is the Onus Just on UC Vendors to End Meeting Fatigue?
No, of course not. Organizations and their leaders need to join the fight against meeting fatigue to maintain a happy and productive workforce. This fight could begin with implementing policies and best practices that lay the groundwork for fostering a culture of balance and boundaries. In some cases, it might start with the acceptance that they need to loosen their grip on the reins. Hybrid working is here to stay, and you can’t keep a constant watchful eye over your workers anymore. You have to trust them.
As organizations evaluate their UC strategy and infrastructure, they should consider the battle against meeting fatigue. For many, the initial move to working from home was an urgent response to the pandemic and had to be rolled out quickly and under pressure. As the dust settles, it becomes clear that remote working is here to stay. Organizations should review their UC strategy and infrastructure more thoroughly to ensure they will survive well into the future—even if another global disaster were to occur.
Dave is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.