Since the start of 2020, a proportion of the global workforce has transitioned from an office-based working model to a work-from-home strategy due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the need for more flexible working hours and environments has been a steadily growing trend in recent years, many businesses have had to quickly adapt to this new way of working by implementing digital solutions that enable virtual and hybrid meetings.
Jorgen Solberg, founder and CEO of meeting technology company Decisions, believes that, although work-from-home strategies have historically been mistrusted by management, there is a new-found acceptance based on their many benefits.
“Many organisations are seeing higher productivity from their employees through these more flexible working methods,” he says. “Employees have more time to focus on their tasks since they are no longer commuting to the office or spending time at the coffee machine with their colleagues.”
Microsoft Teams has been key to making this transition easier for many individuals and organisations, but Solberg believes there are still challenges around virtual meetings.
“It is extremely easy to set up a conversation via Teams, but as a result, many people now attend a lot more meetings than they may have when working in the office,” he explains. “This can cause ‘meeting fatigue’ which makes communication and collaboration less effective.”
Solberg also points out that virtual meetings can often be less structured than physical meetings, causing matters to drift off and participants to lose track of time. “This causes attendees to become disengaged with the conversation and begin to multitask,” he says.
Better collaboration tools could be the answer to these problems, so Decisions has developed a set of features that can be used within the Microsoft Teams application to add structure and simplify the meeting experience for all users.
“It’s so important to have effective tools for planning meetings, running meetings and following up afterwards, and I think this is where Decisions is really helping to make these virtual interactions better,” says Solberg.
Decisions says its Microsoft Teams application offers a comprehensive solution for each stage in the meeting process, including an agenda builder, minutes template, time tracker, secure voting, task management, and more.
Recently, Decisions released the in-meeting extension for Teams (part of the Microsoft Teams apps for meetings initiative) that offers a meeting management solution which helps users to plan meetings and agendas based on participant comments and suggested topics. Within the Teams meeting window, users can then track the agenda and time to see what will be discussed and when, based on the time allocated for each topic. “Having that kind of structured agenda available right in the Teams experience is a priority for us,” says Solberg. “Time tracking will help meeting participants to address each point on their agendas in the allocated time, giving them a higher degree of discipline. Making this kind of contextual information available throughout a meeting is super-important in terms of keeping everyone engaged.”
Users can also easily access relevant documents through the new integration, for example enabling them to see shared notes and files, as well as personal notes about agenda topics, all while being able to see the other meeting participants.
Solberg also believes the new features will add real value to meetings with larger numbers of participants, such as council or board meetings.
“Small virtual meetings are typically easier to run, but as they get larger, you need more structure to ensure things flow smoothly, and I think that’s where large organisations have been struggling,” he says. “When there are close to 100 people on a call, you need to make sure that everybody is heard. We are enabling this. We even offer features to securely collect votes on official motions, simplifying the experience for everyone involved.”
And how will a return to normality change the work-from-home routines that employees have become accustomed to during the Covid-19 pandemic?
“I think there will be a new normal after this,” says Solberg. “People are used to adapting to new working patterns and embracing new digital tools, but the pandemic has brought about a permanent change, with ‘hybrid’ as a key word. While many may choose to return to the office on a full-time or part-time basis, there may be others with health conditions or that live more remotely that may choose to join meetings from home via Teams.
“There is also a cost aspect – many organisations fly people all over the world to attend meetings, so they see a real benefit to removing that element of travel. Travel and sustainability considerations will become even bigger trends as a result I think, so we are working to ensure that everyone can participate fully in meetings, whether they are physically present or remote.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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