By now, we all have our own feelings about online or virtual meetings — we may love, hate or merely tolerate them, but what’s not in question is that they have dramatically changed how we work
Prior to the pandemic, 79% of meetings within a business were in-person, a percentage that was largely reversed in the seeming blink of an eye. Despite the many perceived benefits of in-person meetings, they rarely provide any data on the dynamics of the meetings, such as attendees, meeting length, level of engagement or other factors that can provide meaningful insights.
The emerging field of collaboration intelligence is now tapping into the flood of data from online meetings to better understand not only how employees have adapted, but how online meetings have changed how people collaborate and where collaboration through remote meetings is now trending.
Collaboration intelligence can be an important new business intelligence tool to help organizations improve efficiency and employee retention. In an analysis of 48 million online meetings held over the last three years involving more than half a million employees, some unexpected findings were discovered. Not surprisingly, for example, when the pandemic struck and offices emptied, remote meetings skyrocketed. Workdays became longer by an average of 48 minutes as people adjusted not only to remote meetings, but also to working from home and the always-on mentality that often took hold as a result.
Leveraging collaboration intelligence data can allow an organization insight into its employees’ collaborative patterns and improve efficiency and productivity across the organization.
As the pandemic wore on throughout 2021 and into 2022, we expected to see the number of online meetings begin to tail off. But instead, they increased. However, the dynamics of the meetings noticeably changed: There were more meetings, of course, but they were shorter on average and held with fewer participants. And there also were more ad hoc or unscheduled meetings.
Employees seem to figure out what works for them in terms of how they prefer to conduct remote meetings. We can’t say for certain, but employees may increasingly be using ad hoc and one-on-one remote meetings to recreate the informal meetings by the watercooler that used to regularly take place in the office.
Remote meetings & employee engagement
Collaboration intelligence tools provide tremendous opportunities for organizations to learn how people are interacting — at the employee, team and organizational levels.
Despite concerns about productivity and engagement in remote and hybrid work environments, our data indicates that remote workers have become increasingly engaged over the last two years. The increase in remote meetings in 2021 and 2022, even as some workers returned to the office or moved to more hybrid schedules with some in-office days, may support the notion that as people became more comfortable with remote meetings they made increased use of them to interact with colleagues.
Collaboration intelligence allows organizations to gain deeper understanding of how employees are interacting. For example, it can address such questions as:
- Are employees relatively siloed or collaborating across the organization?
- Do they tend to have more frequent interactions but with fewer people, or broader but somewhat weaker connections?
- Do they tend to interact with similarly situated colleagues or up the chain with managers?
For law firms, this could produce insights on how interactions take place within and across matter teams and practice groups, as well as among other groups such as mentors, affinity groups and other diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Employee satisfaction & retention
Our collaboration intelligence analysis also revealed patterns between engagement and employee retention. In particular, we zeroed in on employees who had left their company. We thought these people were probably in more meetings, leading to Zoom fatigue and meeting burnout. What we found, however, was actually the opposite.
Departed employees averaged 29% fewer meetings — in particular, they had barely half the number of one-on-one meetings, and they were also less likely to host meetings. It’s possible that such employees may have felt they somehow had fewer opportunities to have their voice be heard than others did, or that their views were less valued.
In this way, lack of collaborative engagement potentially can be a signal that particular employees may be having a less than positive work experience, which could then lead to flight risk.
When it comes to employee engagement, it’s important to remember that it isn’t just employees interacting with each other. It also encompasses intangible factors such as how employees feel about their work and their company. While collaboration intelligence doesn’t measure those things directly, it can track some data that may be proxies or indicators of some of those broader employee sentiments around engagement.
Best practices for encouraging engagement
Regardless of the state of remote engagement, there are several steps law firms and other organizations can take to encourage greater engagement.
Encourage synchronous work schedules for remote workers
Having work schedules with time blocks where employees are able to meet remotely during their workday regardless of their location can help facilitate collaborative meetings.
For global firms, this can sometimes be difficult. However, there should at least be an understanding about how to best facilitate meeting schedules in order to avoid having all communications be solely asynchronous through emails. Our research shows being synchronous with one’s teammates can increase work quality through means such as improved information sharing.
Be intentional about meeting culture, but avoid dogmatic policy
When participants enable their camera, for example, it tends to result in higher quality meetings, but it can also result in increased fatigue. Be mindful of the trade-offs and empower team members to make the most effective choices for themselves and the situation. There are scenarios where audio-only communication can increase perceptions of authenticity and build stronger bonds.
Along those lines, training is critical. Commonly in organizations, around 50% of meetings are hosted by only 10% of employees, so offering effective training to that 10% can go a long way in improving meeting culture.
Try to re-engage employees who are disengaging
While collaboration intelligence can identify employees who are less engaged than others, the remedy is not necessarily simply forcing them to attend more meetings. Private but open conversations can determine the main reasons the employee may be disengaged, such as their feeling they are underpaid or that their work is not challenging enough.
At the same time, if an employee’s meeting or engagement patterns shift, it could be due to factors such as a new role that does not require as much collaboration.
Ultimately, collaboration intelligence is an important emerging tool that provides opportunities to better understand how employees are engaging and how their work experience is progressing. Leveraging collaboration intelligence data can allow an organization insight into its employees’ collaborative patterns and improve efficiency and productivity across the organization.