Cisco has found that nearly half of remote participants do not speak during video conferences in collaboration products.
The company released the findings as part of its Hybrid work index, which details the habits of employees after the switch to remote work caused by the pandemic. The report, released this week, is based on anonymized customer data from Cisco platforms and a survey of approximately 39,000 CIOs, IT decision-makers and workers in 34 countries.
According to Cisco data, 48% of participants do not speak during video sessions. The company attributed the silence to exhaustion from an excessive number of meetings.
Cisco is not the only vendor having problems with remote working. Recent research from Microsoft has raised questions about the quality of telecommuting collaboration. Company data, published in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior, found that communication networks within Microsoft became more static and less connected after remote working took hold.
Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Sorenson Communications in Salt Lake City, said working remotely made interacting with employees more difficult. For example, during Microsoft Teams or Zoom video sessions, managers cannot read body language as effectively as they do in in-person meetings. As a result, they might miss any signs that someone wants to talk but is holding back.
“It’s really hard to watch body language if I’m scanning a bunch of video windows,” he said. “Keeping track is [also] more difficult if some of the meeting participants turned off their cameras. “
Companies will assess the negative aspects of remote working to determine how many working days employees can stay at home. Require more work in the office could put them in conflict with their workforce. In October, a Study sponsored by Slack of 10,569 knowledge workers, only 34% want to work in the office three or more days a week.
Chris McMasters, CIO of Corona, Calif., Wondered if the meeting engagement issue was unique to remote working. In his experience, only about half of attendees speak in a large meeting, whether in person or virtual.
Of course, not all meetings need input from every participant. Metrigy analyst Irwin Lazar cited an example of a meeting he attended where one person demonstrated a new device while colleagues took notes.
“I don’t think their lack of speech indicated a meeting failure or a preference for face-to-face meetings,” he said.
However, managers tend to prefer that more than half of their teams take part in videoconferences. Therefore, Zoom, Microsoft, and Cisco have introduced various features to drive greater engagement in meetings.
Microsoft Teams and Zoom make participants feel like they are sharing the same virtual space to foster a sense of unity. Cisco bought audience engagement company Slido to add polls, trivia, and Q&A sessions to WebEx. The tools help introverted employees give their opinion without speaking, the company said.
Lazar was skeptical that a collaboration tool feature could improve meeting attendance. In cases where team feedback is needed, he said it’s a leader’s responsibility to make sure their employees are involved.
Nickolaisen agreed, saying culture is more important than technology in soliciting participation. For example, employees are less likely to share their views if they think others will judge their opinions negatively.
Plus, a little nudge from managers could help increase attendance at meetings, Nickolaisen said. He once held a sheet of who spoke during meetings to remember to invite the quieter employees to share their thoughts. He said a digital version of that or a quick pre-meeting notification with tips for getting feedback could be very helpful for managers.
Mike Gleason is a journalist specializing in unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole time, Lawyer Sharon and Medfield Press. He also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and was a local editor of Room. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.