Meetings and Work, Post-pandemic

Image: John Shcnobrich
Image: John Shcnobrich

Meetings can be trivial and yes, could sometimes have ‘been an email instead’. We’d use to see it in the office, as glazed-over eyes, absent nodding, and phones out on the table.

Why do in-person meetings matter at all? Is it different from listening to someone speak through a camera versus having them there, living, breathing, and gesticulating in person?

The same goes for working at an office, where time spent commuting could be better invested as we try to achieve company goals while making the most of the available ways to communicate thoughts, ideas and opinions.

Forced Remote Working

When Coronavirus first came knocking, we were all forcibly shut in, fully working from home for a few months. In the world’s first mass-forced remote working phenomena, mixed reports have been heard throughout. 

Being around people for work and meetings have their merits, but a balance of WFH and office days is here to stay for many. A Gartner survey reveals 82% of company leaders plan to allow remote work some of the time.

To say the least, those that voted for a mix of environments are hoping for a better way, as working at an office every day does carry a few downsides. Firstly, even the act of getting to work through a lengthy commute means less time of day left and more money spent on transportation, losses that can compound over time. Ultimately though, people feel their tasks are perfectly doable from home.

Thanks to COVID-19, we get to see how it all pans out.

Why we used to meet

Once considered mundane, now cherished – meetings go back to their intended purposes: of getting everyone engaged in discussion. In person, they do so much more than over Zoom or Whatsapp calls.

In a study, media richness theory makes some sense of why important matters are always done in person, or failing that a video or voice call. We accept that in comparison, text leaves much unsaid or worse, said unclearly. 

The theory is described as “the density of learning that can be conveyed through a specified communications medium. Face-to-face communication is the richest medium, owing to cues from linguistic content, tone of voice, facial expressions, direction of gaze, gestures and postures.”

Meetings also have agendas, where goals, tasks, objectives are discussed, sometimes in great detail. It serves the purpose of getting messages across clearly and without misunderstanding. Without these subtle cues to read, people risk getting the wrong idea or missing out on details when emailing, texting or talking through the phone.

Another thing to not forget is that relationships are built better in person, where the same nonverbal signs can convey trust, interest and receptivity towards working together. Ideas also pop up more often, are more original, and more flexible when people get facetime.

The hybrid work week

Since lockdowns have been easing, in-person workdays and meetings become scarcer and more appreciated opportunities for collaboration on tough topics and the human need for social interaction.

In a survey of 1500 employees across the APAC region, two thirds reported missing the office. But it isn’t for reasons of productivity. Like all primates, humans maintain social connection by being good communicators. And so what they missed most was the social aspect of the office – the interactions, the engagement and the buzz that comes with being in a shared workspace.

Now the dust has settled somewhat, studies are surfacing on the lives of an adapting labour force. Mckinsey, on reimagining the post-pandemic work life, asks to not rely fully on virtual interactions. This is seeing as much of communication isn’t merely verbal, about 93% of it reportedly isn’t.

When it came to productivity, the same study proposes 6 models of hybrid work that balance the ability to access talent against productivity. It scales the degree of remote working, from entirely remote to always being at the workplace. 

In an example, employees would work remotely but do so only one day per week. In the four days they are on premises, they are likely getting all the social interaction and connection needed for collaboration, idea generation, innovation, and social cohesiveness.

Practically, there are fewer misconstrued meanings, expectations or jeopardised work as a result. And be reminded that you’re still part of an office, a wider organization of real people.

A solely remote work setup isn’t perfect, but with balance we can enjoy the collaboration and our need for social interaction offered by an equipped office while also cozying up at home throughout our work weeks.

By Hongrui Chin, Public Relations Executive, Mustard Tree Communications

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