Future of meetings
In December 2019, Zoom reported 10 million daily users. Three months later, the number of Zoom’s daily participants jumped to more than 300 million.
The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically altered our daily routines, shifting our day-to-day activities from offline to online. Online lectures, meetings, and conferences skyrocketed following the pandemic. New conferencing platforms emerged while existing ones gained in popularity.
Expressions such as the ‘future of meetings’, the ‘future of work’, and the ‘future of learning’ have been used extensively, each referring to a specific field of our daily activities which have been impacted by COVID-19.
New challenges began emerging the moment we shifted to meeting online. Some of the setbacks are related to the existing digital divide between regions/countries that have the necessary access and capabilities to use information and communications technologies (ICTs) and the internet, and those that do not. Other challenges have arisen with the increased popularity and use of online platforms.
Tackling the challenges
Following the pandemic outbreak, Diplo launched its ConfTech project to assess the challenges and opportunities of the shift to online work and learning. Since then, ConfTech has been publishing guidelines on the use of various online platforms, and providing advice to event organisers and moderators, as well as tips and tricks for organising successful and effective online events. All of these resources are available below.
In May 2020, Diplo addressed the shift towards online meetings in its landmark Future of Meetings online conference which included almost 600 participants. The event explored the five main aspects of the future of meetings: technology, security, moderation, behaviour, and diplomacy. A summary of the discussions can be found in the report available here. The main aspects of the future of meetings will be tackled in the following sections.
Technology and security of online platforms
One of the recurring questions when organising online events is how to choose the right videoconferencing platform. The influx of conferencing platforms, each claiming to offer easy videoconferencing, leaves many meeting organisers puzzled. For this reason, Diplo has conducted a comprehensive and comparative survey of online meeting platforms and outlined the basic features of each one to help users select the right option.
It is also worth noting that a number of regions still face obstacles in regard to internet infrastructure development which, to a large extent, impact one’s participation in online meetings. This is why an increasing number of platforms enable low bandwidth utilisation, by, for instance, adjusting resource usage depending on network conditions.
Online meetings are also prone to numerous security and privacy challenges. The sharp rise in videoconferencing increased the possibility of security breaches of all kinds due to security limitations of platforms. They can occur through participants’ computers, via their internet connections and online meeting platforms, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex.
‘Zoom bombing’ reports have been in the headlines ever since the pandemic broke out. Uninvited participants have been hijacking meetings, classes, and conferences, and using obscene language and visuals. On the other hand, manyfold leakages of meeting recordings, transcripts, and participants’ data have come to public attention and led platform companies to tighten their security and privacy settings.
There are a number of ways users can secure their online events. For example, meeting hosts can require a password for meeting attendees, set up waiting rooms, lock meetings, keep their software up-to-date, and encrypt meeting resources, to name but a few.
Moving beyond technology: The importance of social interaction
While technology is key to online meetings, it is not the sole enabler of successful and efficient videoconferencing. Efficient moderation of online events, for instance, has become even more important for effective online meetings since participants are only a click away from finding something more interesting on the internet. Therefore, moderators need to appropriately engage with the audience by adapting content to online settings, avoiding long statements, interacting with participants through icebreakers such as polls and surveys, brainstorming and other collaborative activities, and be ready to improvise on the spot.
Good planning and preparation, such as preparing a scenario ahead of time, are key to conducting a successful online meeting. Time management is no less important. Below are some of the most important tips regarding time management during an online meeting.
ConfTech has also tackled the issue of good moderation and has published its Do’s and Don’ts for Online Hosts and Moderators.
Emotions and social contexts are equally important. Often, it is hard to remain focused on the meeting, and being physically present does not imply cognitive presence. It has become even harder to resist distractions in the online environment where the abundance of interesting content is just a click away. Given that our attention is limited, keeping pace with an evergrowing number of video conferences will require making meetings brief and focused, and increasing the use of interactive and engaging tools and approaches as mentioned above.
Social interaction is indispensable to meetings. Eye contact and body language are an essential part of every meeting. However, many have addressed the challenge of reproducing this kind of social interaction in the online environment. That said, one can still apply various aspects of body language to video conferencing by having a video on during the meeting, making eye contact by looking directly at the camera, paying attention to the posture, or replicating gestures used during the onsite meetings (e.g. hand gestures).
Another important aspect that appears in discussions about online meetings is the issue of ‘conference extras’, i.e. activities that are essential to onsite conferences that cannot be easily replicated online, such as corridor discussions, coffee breaks, and networking events. However, there is a growing number of online platforms that simulate networking events by offering online spaces where attendees can virtually move, reach out to other participants, and start one-on-one and small group conversations. One such platform is Wonder about which you can read more on our page ‘How to use Wonder for hosting an event’.
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