Are too many Teams Meetings damaging productivity? A dive into digital transformation

Proven routes to successful digital transformation have key steps

Over the last few years, many companies have moved to Microsoft Teams as a front-end to making better use of Microsoft 365 services. Many of these companies had spent time understanding the challenges of their users and then thoughtfully considered how technology might help; then spent time helping their users understand what the benefits were for using Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and other products so people could come on that journey together.

For a lot of companies, those challenges typically include too much travel, too many emails, problems working together on documents, a desire to share knowledge and best practices, challenges with internal communications – and, not surprisingly too many meetings.

Usually, after understanding what challenges employees have, the general types of roles they fit into across the business and what improvements they need to see, we might also consider what bad outcomes are caused by today’s practices; both for the individual and for the organization.

After mapping solutions to relevant technologies in Microsoft 365, we might consider what would have happened if they had been using tools like Teams in ways we’ve prescribed. After showing the business scenarios like this that they understand, we might then help them adopt the tools in the right ways, helping teams change their behaviors to a better way of working.

Underscoring all of those activities is an overall strategy aiming for digital transformation, aimed at driving an outcome of people being able to work from anywhere from any device with technology helping them to be more productive.

Over the last six months, many organizations that lagged behind technology adoption had no choice but to implement tools or their business would die. Microsoft and others suggested these events have accelerated digital transformation – but in reality, it’s meant a lot of companies that were badly exposed have had to do the bare minimum to keep employees working.

Learn more: How to Master Office 365 Management After your Migration

If you work for a large company that performed an 18-month digital transformation programme, then you’ll know that a large part of that work was understanding user needs; but another part of that often included the underlying migration of data to enable some of the outcomes desired. The types of activities that do take time and effort, and in the case of migrations – are limited by the speed of data transfer.

No short cuts to true digital transformation

A lot of digital transformation that has happened has been a temporary short-cut to a solution and isn’t sustainable. Many bad technology decisions will have been taken – in some cases encouraged by Microsoft and other vendors – that will be costly to undo.

Read more: Office 365 Global Admin Best Practices by Joshua Bines

IT departments that are solely thinking about how their users can work the same way today, but from anywhere often are the same that don’t really see the benefit in Microsoft 365. A common comment might be “well, our employees can already access email from anywhere or VPN to access files”.

Having ignored what their users truly need from technology, they have been left in a situation where a short-term tactical solution to prop-up the business is all they can do.

Remote work works, but video conferencing isn’t the sole enabler

Teams meetings and competing solutions like Zoom have been one of those all-important crutches that have been crucial to helping people work in a similar way, just remotely.

If you read about how people have used video conferencing (in particular Zoom, in their personal lives) to stay in touch during the lockdown and you’ll see journalists reporting an arc of enthusiasm – with people being elated to find tools to stay in touch with groups of friends or colleagues initially, relying on it day to day, then in people’s personal lives tiredness of video calling creeping in. The predominant outcome is that people actually don’t prefer to meet their friends over video calls.

When it comes to work two key points have been made with home-working.

Firstly, employers have found that no, they don’t need to watch their employees check they’re working physically. Secondly, a large number have found they prefer to work from home some, most, or even the whole time.

Not everyone of course wants to work remotely and not everyone has found it beneficial. People living alone and people without childcare have struggled particularly; some will need to visit an office for social interaction – and school re-openings will give those parents struggling today a different perspective on remote work.

This brings a challenge that IT and businesses need to solve, rapidly. If businesses stand to save money on office space and attract the best employees, then moving back to traditional office-based culture isn’t attractive to them. If employees find remote working tiring and difficult, then they’ll either leave for companies who’ve worked out how to do it well; or demand to go back to the office.

Microsoft is one of the employers who hadn’t embarked on the same kind of digital transformation as some of their customers had. This isn’t uncommon – with other companies, like Google and Slack also moving to home-working.

What it did mean that there was quite a lot of visibility and quickly Microsoft employees talked openly online about some of the challenges they had – including back-to-back meetings not feeling as productive as in-person meetings and Microsoft acted quite quickly to understand why video conferencing felt less natural than working in-person.

The benefit here is that we’ve seen improvements, such as Together Mode in Teams, which rather than being a technology gimmick, have been designed to make video conferencing less mentally tiring and promote more natural interaction.

Are too many Teams Meetings damaging productivity?

Improving the meeting experience for people is of course extremely important. However, replicating the in-person meeting culture to a remote world hasn’t been the key to unlocking digital transformation for businesses that fully adopted Microsoft 365 before this year.

Moving meetings online has meant that people have ended up with more meetings than before, as the time between meetings people often enjoy has evaporated.

This is partly due to the natural tendency when people move to remote working to feel like they need to justify their time in a way that people don’t when they are seen in the office. There’s also less time technically needed between meetings as people don’t need to walk between their desks and meeting rooms, wait for the outside guests to arrive, and so on.

Therefore we’ve seen a productivity benefit in time that on paper, might look wasted being used – but over time we see tiredness creeping in where people are in back-to-back meetings, a reduction in the time people can spend on interaction outside of meetings to progress work and time available to focus on post-meeting actions.

Solve these issues before Teams becomes the problem

The solution is to try and anticipate these issues before they become a spiralling problem. The underlying problems that businesses try and solve with digital transformation still exist – people are still relying on meetings to progress work and email to interact between meetings; and using traditional methods to produce outputs they need, like proposals, documentation or plans – which often involve versioning issues or reliance on people taking turns to provide their input.

For the same reason, the world hasn’t seen Slack become a verb in the same way Zoom has, people don’t automatically see chat-based collaboration in channels as a direct analogy to daily stand-ups or meetings to process work.

People do understand though when it’s demonstrated and explained that it’s beneficial to have a continuing thread about the topic people are working on to progress items. And it can be shown that many meetings can be avoided by people keeping in touch using chat-based collaboration.

Using Teams for chat-based, channel centric team collaboration is key to unlocking these benefits and ensuring that people don’t become overwhelmed and exhausted from over-use of Teams meetings as a crutch to ensure important work is progressed.

The visibility of channel-based chat, rather than one-to-one or small group chats helps ensure that everyone in the team understands the progress of key topics that would be traditionally discussed in meetings. People don’t need to join a meeting to get an update on what the rest of the team is doing. And by having those discussions in a team channel rather than isolated one-to-one chats helps with keeping the focus on work that needs to be accomplished in the same way that a meeting ensures everyone understands the most important tasks are under the spotlight.

Learn more: How to Manage Teams Sprawl by MVP Vasil Michev

Making use of Teams’ underlying hooks into the rest of Microsoft 365 is one of the key benefits Teams has over it’s competitors. Access to and integration of tools like SharePoint and Planner means that issues like co-authoring documents together moves from something that might need to either be done in serial or over a screen-sharing session to something that can be done asynchronously in parallel. Tasks assigned to people in a meeting don’t live in a spreadsheet, OneNote (or worse, someone’s notebook) – but are visible to everyone, and when completed, members of the team know.

Fundamentally though, both user research and explaining why – “what’s in it for me?” is necessary. This is why although many companies have rapidly adopted Teams, they aren’t using functionality outside of meetings to the same level. Most employees aren’t technology experts, and people need to understand how it will benefit them and the organization to work in a different way – and buy-in is needed from executives, team leaders, and team members.

Upcoming Webinar: How to Move PST Files to Office 365

About the Author

Steve Goodman

Technology Writer and Chief Editor for AV Content at Practical 365, focused on Microsoft 365. A 12-time Microsoft MVP, author of several technology books and regular Microsoft conference speaker. Steve works at Advania in the UK as Field Chief Technology Officer, advising business and IT on the best way to get the most from Microsoft Cloud technology.

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