microsoft
Neil C. Hughes , Contributor Updated on: 06 August 2022
microsoft

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Do you ever feel overwhelmed when your calendar fills up with back-to-back meetings? Or do you find it draining as you put on your game face in a virtual room with everyone looking at you? If any of these scenarios resonate with you, you might be suffering from meeting fatigue.

Although technology promised to make our lives easier, businesses are often accused of using it to complicate matters further. For example, a conversation is one of the most natural things in our lives. But we are using technology to add excessive intense close-up eye contact while performing exaggerated head nods to provide attendees with non-verbal cues and this is just scratching the surface.

Meeting fatigue, the struggle is real

According to a global survey by Webex, 93% of busy professionals spend more than 2 hours of their working day in video meetings, and 95% of those workers also experience meeting fatigue. Microsoft’s Human Factors Labs went further by conducting experiments using EEG devices that monitored workers’ brain waves. The scientific results confirmed that remote collaboration is considerably more mentally taxing than collaborating with a colleague in person and can even make you act like a jerk.

Predictably, adjustments to meeting cultures such as reducing back-to-back meetings, increasing a buffer between appointments, and even implementing meeting-free days are high on employee’s wishlists. However, for the most part, the technology provided by their employers is the cause of the biggest frustrations, with the usual suspects being poor sound, video quality, and slow network or device issues.

These problems are collectively responsible for 4 out of 10 employees expressing their exasperation by advising they plan to leave their employer within two years if things don’t improve. But more interestingly, the report revealed that this trend is dramatically reduced by providing users with the right technology and improved ability to collaborate.

Big tech races to fix meeting fatigue

Last year, Cisco unveiled Vidcast, which allowed teams to reduce meetings by sharing short video messages that remove the barrier of time zones for distributed teams. But for the most part, big tech continues its obsession with building a new future where everyone works in the metaverse.

However, the metaverse arguably feels like a solution that neither businesses nor their employees have asked for. For example, can you imagine a large law firm using Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms or Microsoft’s Mesh to communicate and collaborate via the medium of digital avatars of their clients?

Some of the biggest challenges around virtual meetings are naturally maintaining eye contact, reading body language, and other non-verbal cues we take for granted when meeting in person. Adding animated digital versions of ourselves into the mix only seems to add even more complications. Rather than embracing technology solutions looking for a problem, maybe vendors should be addressing the issues around background noise, poor sound, and video quality.

At the recent Cisco Live Event in Las Vegas, Edel Joyce, Product Manager Lead for Webex Hologram, shared with me how the tech giant is working on ‘holo-meetings’ which tricks the brain into thinking that your colleague is in sharing the same physical space sitting across from you and redefining the meaning of face-to-face interaction in the process.

Rather than locking businesses into an ecosystem Webex Hologram is device-agnostic and currently enables users to choose their headset brand, such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap, with plans to add more in the future.

The real challenge for enterprises is that 98% of meetings currently have at least one person joining remotely. Although this project is still in its early phase, it at least tackles the fundamental problem of ensuring that all dispersed team members feel like they are in the room with their colleagues rather than a digital avatar in a distant virtual world.

Although holograms offer many more options than avatars, it’s still a long way from competing with how we currently make video calls from whichever device is closest to hand. There is no avoiding the fact we currently have the freedom to walk from home offices to the kitchen or even our car. This freedom is not something that can be replicated by strapping a headset to your face as you sit in the corner of the room.

If we are honest with each other, the metaverse is not as fun as many will have us believe. We crave the human elements we have become accustomed to in meetings, whether that be having a sneak peek inside a colleague’s life and seeing how they interact with their family and pets. It makes even the most hard-faced boss appear more endearing, and seeing them in real life makes them more human.

Hybrid working is already here, and the bigger question is how do we improve the future of work. As many already suspected, meeting fatigue and the so-called great resignation have something in common. Retaining employees will require businesses to improve the technology their employees use while also changing company culture to make it more collaborative.

Reducing meeting fatigue and learning how to read the virtual meeting room can be as straightforward or as complicated as a business makes it. But the fact that 77% of employees with the proper technology are happy with their employer while those who are unhappy with the tech they are provided are planning to leave to join another company should serve as a timely reminder to not risk getting left behind.

The challenge for every business is to not only embrace hybrid working but leverage technology to decrease meeting fatigue and enhance the employee experience.

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