Story at a glance
- New data suggest employees are successfully adapting to remote work, as online meetings have become more efficient, spontaneous and frequent since 2020.
- That’s according to information gathered from 10 different companies using three different meeting platforms.
- The findings indicate workers may be compensating for the loss of in-person interaction and engaging in behaviors similar to in-office work.
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees across industries to quickly transition to remote work, many grew concerned about the loss of interpersonal relations between colleagues, employee disengagement and other negative consequences stemming from the lack of in-person interactions.
However, new research out of the University of Texas at Austin found employees are actually interacting with each other more now than they did in 2020 — at the onset of the pandemic — based on data from remote meetings.
Andrew Brodsky, an assistant professor of management at Texas McCombs School of Business, analyzed Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx meeting data from 10 different global organizations across fields. Seven of the companies were Fortune 500 firms, and companies ranged from the health care to energy sectors.
Brodsky compared data from a six-week window between April and May 2020 with information from the same time frame in 2021 and 2022. A total of 48 million meetings among more than half a million employees were included in the dataset.
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The research revealed remote meetings tended to be 25 percent shorter in 2022 than they were in 2020, down from an average of 43 minutes to 33 minutes.
But these shorter meetings became more frequent and impromptu.
In 2022, there were 59 percent more remote meetings per employee than in 2020. In 2020, employees had five remote meetings per week on average compared with eight per week in 2022.
Two-thirds of one-on-one meetings this year were also unscheduled. In 2020, just 17 percent of these meetings were unscheduled, while the growth of all meetings within the study window was driven by more spontaneous one-on-one meetings.
Average meeting size fell from 20 participants in 2020 to just 10 in 2022.
“The combination of these findings presents an interesting picture: not that remote workers seem to be becoming less engaged, but rather—at least with respect to meetings—they are becoming more engaged with their colleagues,” Brodsky and Mike Tolliver, the director of Product Management at Vyopta, wrote in the Harvard Business Review. Vyopta is a software company that provides remote meeting and collaboration analytics to large organizations.
“This data also suggests that remote interactions are shifting to more-closely mirror in-person interactions. Whereas there have been substantial concerns that employees are missing out on the casual and spontaneous rich interactions that happen in-person, these findings indicate that remote employees may be beginning to compensate for the loss of those interactions by increasingly having impromptu meetings remotely.”
Microsoft Teams was the most popular platform used all three years, accounting for 71 percent of meetings.
Findings also contradict recent reports of employee disengagement or “quiet quitting” as workers who were leaving the organization tended to attend substantially fewer meetings, research showed.
“Our data would suggest that the increase of meetings was at least in part due to an increase in engagement rather than fully an increasing need to pretend to be working,” authors said.
“The most disengaged employees in our data (i.e., those who would soon leave the organization) — those who would be the ones expected to ‘fake it’ — had fewer rather than more meetings,” they wrote.
Researchers were unable to collect data on in-person meetings or interactions. However, even as some employees returned to the office post-2020, the frequency of remote meetings per employee still increased in 2022, underscoring increased employee engagement overall — at least with respect to spontaneous individual remote meetings, authors said.
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