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Increasing productivity in hybrid work environments

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay
(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay)

Remote and hybrid work have provided many new opportunities for businesses, allowing them to hire outside of geographically-constrained talent pools and offer new benefits and flexibility to their workforce. It has also led to more virtual meetings during the pandemic than ever before to compensate for the lack of interpersonal communication. Microsoft’s Work Index indicated that time spent in meetings has risen 148 percent since February 2020. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous videoconference is having the opposite effect, creating employee frustration because the frequent interruptions are hampering productivity. Korn Ferry’s recent survey shows that 67 percent of employees have reported that they are unable to engage with their work because of too many meetings.

Needless to say, companies have been exploring how they can fix this issue. A majority have started keeping strict agendas, others have made meetings no more than 7 minutes to ensure no time is wasted. These hotfixes are limiting scope and time but not achieving what’s needed: better meeting collaboration. Business leaders have a duty to adapt and be agile in this landscape to bolster productivity amongst their workers. Converging trends including the normalization of recorded meetings and the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) are giving rise to meeting innovation never thought possible before. 

Too much of a good thing: Are meetings killing your productivity?

Research from The Harvard Business Review shows most executives are in meetings for almost an entire day, a staggering 23 hours of the workweek, instead of tackling their own deliverables. In the same research, 65 percent of workers reported that meetings stunted their productivity instead of enhancing it. Micromanagement can create unnecessary workplace turbulence, whereas employees that are given autonomy are more likely to produce their best work. In essence: the meeting needs to be rebuilt. Remote and hybrid workforces come with a variety of new difficulties - but also new opportunities. Managers must look to new technologies to reframe their day-to-day operations and optimize business practices to benefit from these changes.

Atlassian’s infographic about wasted time at work depicts the meeting as an egregious culprit. Most professionals report that half of their time spent in meetings is fruitless and leaves them feeling stressed out. Accounts of struggling to pay attention, often losing the battle and falling asleep, are rampant. The wasted time adds up. Atlassian puts the cost of wasted time in meetings at $37 billion dollars in the United States. While we have all heard and dealt with Covid-19 fallout, there has been a silent pandemic sweeping our workplaces: productivity we are losing by relentless interruptions to a worker's concentration. 

A silver lining to the pandemic is that social norms have shifted in the workplace and recorded meetings are now commonplace. This stigma erasure has allowed for much-needed change with how we view and use meetings after they have taken place. The ability to look back on meetings and treat them as valuable data source is fundamental to increasing their value. Combined with technology, it allows for better note-taking and increased awareness of what key takeaways different teams find most important. This alone unlocks new opportunities to reinvent the meeting and help drive productivity where real-time is optional. Video is one of the most central - and underutilized - forms of communication in the workplace.

Utilizing AI to enhance meetings

The pressing need to extract valuable information from meetings quickly and efficiently has allowed innovation to prosper within the AI community for video. According to the inaugural Cisco Global Hybrid Work Index, there has been 200 percent growth in usage of AI capabilities from July through September 2021 that points toward people’s desire for improved meeting engagement. This includes meeting features like noise reduction, automatic translation and transcriptions, polling, and gesture recognition.

Companies such as Otter have achieved this through audio transcription but it is also happening with video, where visual cues (i.e. presentation slides), along with natural language processing and emotion detection, are used to index content and surface the most important moments. Users can access what they need quickly, without sifting through content irrelevant to their task rituals. Indexing content and video analytics also creates an opportunity to allow for “real-time optional” meetings with only necessary participants required at the “live” meetings while others can view important segments of a particular meeting at a later date.

Accenture recently issued a study that concluded AI can increase productivity in the workplace by 40 percent or more and boost profitability on average by 38 percent. Employees leveraging AI can make better decisions, discover new patterns, and focus more time on what they are passionate about and produce work that is of higher value to the company. The potential advantages of AI are also widely accepted by business leaders. Accenture research found that 3 out of 4 C-suite executives believe that if they don’t scale artificial intelligence in the next five years, they risk going out of business entirely. They are not the only ones that see the value of AI in the workplace either. 

SnapLogic’s research found employees value AI in the workplace too. Software that categorizes data is one of the most sought-after systems and many have been created to combat zoom fatigue and increase productivity through a variety of different approaches. 81 percent of employees believe AI improves overall performance at work, and 89 percent believe AI could support them in up to half their workload. Despite some skeptics taking the stance that they don’t want to work with AI, the research showed 61 percent of employees gain a more efficient and productive workday from the AI that they utilize. Supplying workforces with the tools they need to thrive will soon be commonplace.

AI will be crucial for unlocking the full potential of remote and hybrid workforces, but it will take a top-down approach to changing office culture and revamping antiquated business expectations to execute it effectively. Business leaders should empower their employees to watch meetings at a later date when they are able, with the ability to bypass immaterial information, because it will allow for more flexibility and substantial time savings for all.

Humphrey Chen, co-founder and CEO, CLIPr

Humphrey Chen, co-founder and CEO, CLIPr.