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Three Cures For Virtual Meeting Fatigue, According to New Microsoft Research

By Carmine Gallo

Date Published: Jul 16, 2020

The pandemic lockdowns put in place to fight the spread of the coronavirus have accelerated the already growing trend of holding virtual meetings.

 

Millions of remote meetings and online interactions have provided Microsoft plenty of data to uncover the good and the bad aspects of remote work.

More important, the company’s new research report offers three ways to make virtual meetings less tiring and more engaging. 

This week I spoke to Marissa Salazar, Marketing manager for Microsoft Teams, the company’s online collaboration tool. Salazar summarized the findings from 30 separate research projects and a survey of 2,000 remote workers in six countries.

The big takeaway: virtual meeting fatigue is a real thing.

 

According to Microsoft’s research, “Brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in-person.”

 

Virtual conversations, presentations, and meetings tax our brains much more than in-person interactions because they require higher levels of sustained concentration. You’re concentrating on the other speakers, their surroundings, and yourself—how you appear on the webcam. And all of that intense focus is on a digital screen, an unnatural environment.

 

Simply put, we didn’t evolve to spend eight hours a day speaking to people on a screen. Your brain is using an enormous amount of energy to stay focused online.

 

Salazar says fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a virtual meeting. The good news is that there is a cure for virtual meeting fatigue. Microsoft recommends:

 

  1. Take regular breaks every two hours to let your brain recharge. 

  2. Limit meetings to 30 minutes. 

  3. Punctuate longer meetings with small breaks. 

 

Regular readers of my column know that for years I’ve written about limiting the length of meetings and presentations. For example,  there’s a reason why TED Talks are only 18 minutes. The TED conference discovered long ago that 18 minutes is the ideal length to deliver substantive information without putting your audience to sleep.

 

I’ve also given advice on keeping audiences engaged in longer presentations. One rule of thumb—provide frequent breaks in the action by introducing another speaker, telling stories, incorporating videos, images and photographs. This strategy works well in-person, but it’s even more critical for virtual presentations.

 

During our conversation, Salazar introduced new features in Microsoft teams designed to help create a more human connection and to reduce meeting fatigue.

 

One feature that’s sure to take virtual presentations to a new level is called ‘Together Mode.’

 

Together Mode is a new experience that uses artificial intelligence technology to digitally place meeting participants in a shared room. No, it’s not a background. It’s a feature that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the same room as everyone else in the meeting—a class, a coffee shop, etc.

If I’m giving a virtual presentation, for example, I can look out at a group of people in an auditorium. I can see their facial expressions and body language, and they can engage with other.

The new Teams features make me wonder: If Microsoft is rolling out technology to mimic in-person conversations, then how likely is it that virtual meetings will completely replace face-to-face interactions in a post-Covid economy?

 

Microsoft has thought about it, too. 

“While we don’t think everyone will be remote forever, this has been a very big inflection point in remote work. People have proven that it can work and we have the tools to facilitate it,” says Salazar.

According to Salazar, the most likely future workplace offers a hybrid of in-person and virtual interactions. It’s all the more reason for technology to evolve, allowing us to have remote conversations in a more natural way.

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Click here to connect with Carmine on LinkedIn

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