The Great Meeting Migration

The pandemic forced us to move in-office meetings online. Instead of post-meeting benefits, there’s now Zoom fatigue, burnout and The Great Resignation. So, what are the effects of this new online landscape? 

Two years in, it’s now second nature to meet each other online. But, as we know, virtual meetings are a double-edged sword; as much of a blessing as they are a curse. Video conferencing has been the boon that kept us connected, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a prolonged disconnection that binds us to our computers. Let’s explore The Great Meeting Migration, and see what it means for the future of meetings.  

What is The Great Meeting Migration?

Between December 2019 and March 2020, the number of daily meeting participants on Zoom skyrocketed from 10m to 300m. This surge in virtual meetings has been called “The Great Meeting Migration”. It was thrust upon us, instantly creating a new digital domain of work, where colleagues were pixels and meeting rooms were screens. 

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, before the pandemic, executives were spending nearly 23 hours a week in meetings. During the pandemic, Harvard Business School found that people were having shorter but more frequent meetings. Technology proved itself to be instrumental and indispensable, but it also showed itself to be a poor replacement for in-person interactions. 

During the pandemic, Harvard Business School found that people were having shorter but more frequent meetings
Employees started meeting more often for less time.
During the pandemic, Harvard Business School found that people were having shorter but more frequent meetings.
Shorter meetings, much more often.

While technology performed well at facilitating our meetings, it really reduced them to their essential functions, removing the social padding around meetings that makes our work lives more bearable. As Noreen Malone, author of an article in the New York Times entitled “The Age of Anti-Ambition” says, “The act of working has been stripped bare. You don’t have little outfits to put on, and lunches to go to, and coffee breaks to linger over and clients to schmooze. The office is where it shouldn’t be — at home, in our intimate spaces — and all that’s left now is the job itself, naked and alone. And a lot of people don’t like what they see.

The Great Resignation

The number of workers throwing in the towel is staggering. The Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that almost 4m people in the US quit their jobs every month in 2021. In Ireland, a survey conducted by the University of Limerick’s Kemmy Business School showed that 40% of employees were considering leaving their current job. Malone summed it up in her piece when she said, “Essential or nonessential, remote or in person, almost no one I know likes work very much at the moment. “ 

This “Quitter’s Market” has been spurred on by ongoing pandemic and related matters like vaccine mandates, but there are more nebulous reasons. Some have to do with burnout due to heavier workloads, while others relate to our own personal relationship with work, and weighing up if that’s really how we want to be spending our time. LinkedIn’s chief economist, Karin Kimbrough, says, “People have been living to work for a very long time. And I think the pandemic brought that moment of reflection for everyone. "What do I wanna do? What makes my heart sing?" And people are thinking, "If not now, then when?"” 

Quitters market
Chart on the Quitter's Market in the last years.

However, with The Great Resignation comes a renewed case for working remotely. A new report by the IDA found that one in five jobs advertised in Ireland are now being listed as remote, which is up from one in seven in the last quarter This represents a 118% increase in the availability of flexible working, and ranks Ireland second in the eight markets monitored by LinkedIn for offering remote working. The employment landscape across the world is a candidate’s market, with job growth and remote positions continuing at a steady pace globally.  

Meeting Fatigue

Part of the burnout can be attributed to Zoom fatigue. Meeting fatigue is a new phenomenon that has come about as a result of spending too much time on virtual meetings. We dived into the ins and outs of Meeting Fatigue in a recent post, and found that this fatigue spans five dimensions: general, social, emotional, visual, and motivational. The causes of it are numerous and diverse, but can be attributed to interruption, communication, concentration and interaction. 

Combined, these factors can result in a new kind of burnout owing to this ongoing meeting migration and its pitfalls. A McKinsey study from 2021 showed that burnout among women was up to 42% in 2021 from 32% in 2020. For men, it jumped from 28% to 35%. According to research by MIT, only 50% of meeting time is actually used effectively, so remedying virtual meetings seems to be at the heart of  tackling burnout and putting ourselves in a better position to work remotely. 

As outlined in the Meeting Fatigue post, using platforms like Clearword is one way to reign in the virtual meeting beast. We have plenty of content on how to run effective meetings, and Atlassian’s handy chart below illustrates if and when we should be having meetings at all. If you need more help on what meetings to have, then make sure to read about Meeting Cadence, and what we call the Goldilocks Meeting Cadence.

Why do you want to call a meeting?
Why do you want to call a meeting?

What’s ahead for virtual meetings?

Well, it doesn’t look like virtual meetings are going anywhere any time soon. And this is a good thing, as long as we are able to manage them effectively and efficiently. As workers return to offices and the hybrid experiment gets fully underway, we will begin to see how the new landscape of work and its associated meetings pans out. 

Slack’s 2022 Future Forum Pulse Survey puts forward a number of key findings, one being that hybrid is now the dominant model, with 68% of knowledge workers saying they prefer hybrid work. It also tells us that flexibility is now the expectation of work, rather than the desire, with approximately 80% of workers saying they will be seeking jobs that offer flexibility around when and where they work, giving the leverage to employees rather than companies. “It’s past time to move beyond the ‘remote versus office’ debate. The future of work isn’t either/or, it’s both,” said Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum. 

Maybe the hybrid model is the antidote to the disconnection we’ve experienced as a result of The Great Meeting Migration - giving us the best of both worlds. A post on paints a vivid picture of what we’re missing in our online work lives - “In a virtual workspace, we don’t have the same opportunities to observe norms which influence workplace culture.  For example, the moments of collective celebration and connection; the coffee breaks, the birthday cakes and team lunches. These interactions build relationships and create the space for colleagues to connect outside of their working relationships. These ritualistic daily office interactions play a role in reinforcing a sense of well-being and belonging in a community.” 

Diplo outlines the various factors that will influence the future of meetings, and the form we can expect them to take going forward. They say:

“Certainly, online meetings and hybrid (blended) meetings are here to stay. Some of the reasons include the ease of attending a meeting from anywhere in the world, lower costs, and environmental benefits. This is why adequate digital skills, effective moderation, and understanding technology, security-related risks, and social contexts will remain the key aspects of meetings and conferences.“