Immersive Remote Work

How to Make Virtual Meetings Immersive Without Video

For many of us, virtual meetings have become the lifeblood of remote working communication. COVID-19 has made face-to-face meetings the exception rather than the rule. But the recent surge of digital collaboration tools has made remote teamwork much easier to manage. 

However, the global switch from physical to digital has pushed us into new networking territory– complete with its own footprint of pros and cons. 

Virtual meetings make us more productive and efficient employees. But too much time on a shared screen can also contribute to anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and fatigue. 

In fact, 49% of employees report feeling a high degree of exhaustion after video calls. This state of exhaustion is dubbed “Zoom Fatigue,” and it’s affecting a large percentage of the working population. 

So, how can remote teams continue to collaborate productively without causing a backlog of exhaustion? 

Well, we can start by conducting virtual meetings without video. It might not work for every team, but trying new methods of virtual collaboration is key to finding one that works for yours. 

Video Versus Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

For most people, virtual meetings are somewhat synonymous with a video presence. And there’s a good reason why—video calls are the closest we can get to person-to-person communication. Seeing the faces and expressions of colleagues helps us to understand them better. And this contributes to more effective communication. 

However, at a time where stress and anxiety levels are reaching an all-time peak, shifting how we communicate is essential to resisting burnout. If switching the camera off allows us to feel more at ease, it may be in our best interest to do so.

That being said, both video and audio-based virtual meetings arrive with their own list of pros and cons. 

So, what are they? Let’s look at video first. 

Pros And Cons of Video-Based Virtual Meetings 

Video-based meetings are the standard expectation for digital collaboration in 2022. They enable us to view the expressions and mannerisms of colleagues, promoting trust and empathy. 90% of employees feel they can get their point across more clearly via video, and 35% say it makes them feel more included. 

The caveat with video-based virtual meetings is the toll it takes on mental and emotional health. Being on call throughout the day is exhausting, and it has a negative impact on productivity. 63% of employees say that they now attend more meetings over webcam than they did pre-pandemic. 

Self-identified introverts in particular struggle with this. 2-3 hours of their day is now funneled into forced social interaction. Even for extroverts, the pressure to perform socially can become immensely taxing over time. This, in turn, can contribute to burnout, which is not healthy for personal or professional growth. 

Pros And Cons of Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

In 2021, only a handful of virtual meetings were being conducted on an audio-only basis. This is partially due to the wide availability of high-functioning video collaboration tools. Notably, it’s buffered by the impressive productivity statistics that video boasts. 

However, audio-based virtual meetings could be the (not so) silent hero of remote working communication. Not only are the apps cheaper and more accessible for those without high-quality webcams, but they also liberate workers from the anxiety of social interaction. 

Reduced eye contact, decreased cognitive load, and lack of viewing one’s own face makes audio-based collaboration much easier to process. Cutting down on the visual sensory element can allow us to focus better and preserve more energy for productivity. 

Bearing all that in mind, the reality is that audio-based virtual meetings are less familiar to us than their video alternative. For that reason, knowing how to conduct one in a way that is still immersive and productive can be a challenge. 

How To Conduct Productive and Effective Audio Meetings

Despite the benefits that come with audio meetings, conducting them in an efficient way requires a different set of tactics than their video counterpart. Because there are no visual aids, whoever is conducting the audio meeting needs to put emphasis on vocal communication. 

Being clear, concise, and continuously open about meeting progression is paramount to running a successful audio-based virtual meeting. Here are some more helpful tips:

1. Eliminate distractions. 

Because there will be no visual element for team members to focus on, all other distractions must be eliminated. If you’re trying to conduct an audio meeting in a loud or chaotic environment, extracting information from it will be very difficult for listeners. 

Aim to conduct your meeting from a quiet and undisturbed room, and encourage your team members to do the same. 

2. Have an agenda. 

It can be easy to lose track of where you’re going in a meeting without a proper agenda. Creating a list of key points to focus on will help both you and your listeners concentrate better. Make sure to have a clear objective for the meeting so that others can follow you towards it. 

Adding this type of structure to your audio-based virtual meeting will encourage focus and motivation from beginning to end. 

3. Track and summarize progress. 

If you’re tackling a particularly complex topic, regularly reflecting on what’s said is crucial. It will help attendees to better grasp what you are saying. Breaking down the meeting into distinct sections will encourage comprehension and provide others with an easy way to track the flow of conversation.

You want those partaking in the meeting to maintain a constant grasp of what you are saying, and tracking progress is one way to do that. 

4. Set a time limit (and stick to it). 

Nobody likes a never-ending virtual meeting. In fact, sessions that last longer than the stipulated time frame are considered by many to be the worst quality a meeting can have. Let’s avoid that. 

Holding attendees captive for longer than they bargained for will only cause them to lose interest. Setting a time limit beforehand and sticking to it displays respect for the attendee’s time. Additionally, it makes the whole process less stressful for everyone. 

5. Don’t stray off topic.

While we’re discussing respect for attendee’s time, remember not to waste theirs by talking about unrelated topics. The energetic bandwidth for virtual meetings is strained enough. But rambling on about irrelevant matters will only make it worse. 

When conducting a meeting without video, staying on topic will allow attendees to remain immersed in what you are saying. 

6. Invest in a quality microphone. 

Because your voice will be the sole form of communication, it needs to be heard loud and clear. Think of it like a branded logo. It needs to make an impact and people need to immediately take note of your message. Investing in a good quality microphone will allow others to understand what you are saying without question. Plus, it will help to avoid miscommunications. 

There are plenty of affordable microphones designed for this exact purpose. Owning one will only add value to your future meetings—both audio-based or otherwise. 

7. Allow time for questions.   

It’s always a good idea to leave space towards the end of a virtual meeting for questions. It prevents misunderstandings and provides attendees with the space to voice their queries one at a time. Without a designated time for questions, a meeting can quickly turn chaotic. 

Chaos is the last thing you want for an audio-based virtual meeting. Structure and orderliness are where purely vocal meetings thrive. 

8. Stay professional. 

Casual meetings have their time and place, but professionalism is important when it comes to mandatory group meetings. Chances are the people attending your meeting are already battling fatigue. So, keeping things straightforward is in everyone’s best interest. 

Staying professional, calm, and to the point is the best way to conduct an immersive and engaging audio-based virtual meeting. 

Is Audio Conferencing the Way Forward? 

The answer to this question greatly depends on the nature of your team. Clearly, there are pros and cons to both video and audio-based virtual meetings. The best one for your team is largely dependent on their personal and professional needs. 

For example, the success rates of joint video conferences are much higher for large teams of people. Audio, on the other hand, has proven very effective for small groups. This is due to the fact that audio-only meetings can become chaotic when too many people (and voices) are present. 

Furthermore, audio-based virtual meetings have proven to be less exhaustive for remote employees. And they can contribute to better mental health. Having the option to unplug from video communication helps us feel less anxious and more in control of our workdays. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that each remote team comprises unique individuals that require different things for productivity. 

Summary

Since 2020, virtual meeting platforms and workplace collaboration tools have received a huge increase in attention. They’ve changed the way we work and the way we communicate in so many ways. Right now, many research projects are being conducted on the nature of their effects on our mental, emotional, social, and motivational health. 

Remote working culture is here to stay. The platforms that sustain it must adapt to meet our personal and professional needs. 

Nobody should have to commit to a culture that depletes their energetic resources—even for the sake of productivity. Burnout is a real threat to the working population of today, and any methods for lightening the load should not be taken lightly.