Your strategy for virtual meetings must embrace not just what workers do, but what they want to do. Digital workplace application leaders must learn worker preferences from our survey of more than 10,000 digital workplace users before committing to a path that may make hybrid working more difficult.
Workers who consider themselves in very high demand or hope to seek a new position with their current employer prefer to spend a higher proportion of meeting time in virtual meetings using audio and video rather than in person.
There has been only a slight swing back toward workers preferring face-to-face meetings against the onslaught of virtual meetings.
The laptop dominates as the meeting device of choice.
For application leaders supporting the digital workplace:
Prioritize a “virtual first” approach and support employee retention by listening to the voices of employees in very high demand who prefer virtual meetings.
Budget and resource meetings by assuming that all will be hybrid and some will be purely virtual, but avoid overcorrecting toward more in-person meetings.
Design remote and office meeting spaces and processes by investing in training, higher-quality audio and video, improved experiences, and by expecting employees to bring a personal device.
Strategic Planning Assumption
By 2024, in-person meetings will drop from 60% of enterprise meetings to 25%, driven by remote work and changing workforce demographics.
This research presents insights meant to improve effectiveness of the strategies and practices for your organization’s meetings. Organizations and individuals must be hybrid-fluent, that is, equally effective in all meetings, whether remote or in the office.
Gartner conducted a consumer survey in 2021 to understand digital workers — specifically, shifts and trends in their sentiments and expectations, their level of engagement, and their satisfaction with the applications that their organization provides. As a follow on to our survey in 2019, we asked workers again about meetings, which enabled us to capture a snapshot of current views around this critical business activity following the changes most organizations saw in 2020. The results are a reality check that both validates and challenges some of our collective assumptions about how meetings are today and how workers would like them to be.
These insights will aid application leaders supporting the digital workplace (hereafter, “digital workplace application leaders”) in understanding the state of meetings. This meant asking some broad, foundational questions about:
Meetings that take place face to face
Meetings with remote participants over audio and video, which we will refer to as virtual meetings in this research
Meeting technologies and devices
Office meetings versus remote meetings
In this research, we summarize our observations on what seems top of mind, where responses were strongest and where trends were clear.
Digital workplace application leaders are responsible for supporting an effective technology and policy strategy for hybrid work. How an enterprise’s workers meet has a material impact on what they deliver and their employee experience.
There are three essential principles to follow in order to develop your organization’s capacity for hybrid fluency when it comes to meeting effectively from anywhere (see Figure 1).
Here are key, high-level insights about the modern digital worker’s point of view regarding meetings. Use these to gauge how your organization compares with others:
Employees ready for new positions with their current employer are more likely to prefer to spend a higher proportion of meeting time in virtual meetings.
Employees who believe they are in very-high-demand roles are more likely to prefer virtual meetings rather than in-person meetings.
Millennials tend to prefer to spend a higher proportion of total time in virtual meetings when compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers.
Workers who are allowed to personally obtain applications prefer virtual meetings more than those who can use only applications provided by their companies.
China, India and the U.S. had higher percentages of respondents that preferred to spend more time in virtual meetings than France, Germany, Singapore, the U.K., Australia and Japan.
66% of respondents spend less than one cumulative day per week in meetings.
34% of respondents spend one cumulative day or more per week in meetings.
9% of respondents spend 20 or more hours per week in meetings.
On average, workers spend about eight hours per week in meetings.
64% of respondents prefer mainly work from home or flexibility about where to work and want more time in virtual meetings.
32% of respondents prefer to work mainly in the office with some work from home and want less time in virtual meetings.
Workers spend about 65% of their meeting time in audio and/or video meetings versus 35% in person.
We combine key take-aways from the data with our insight and recommendations.
Leadership or organizational pressure to bring workers back into the office for meetings may have unintended consequences. Meeting overload, a constant complaint, is a workforce management issue, not just a technology issue; and digital workplace application leaders play a key role in elevating the visibility of that issue. The profound drops in in-person meetings, down from an average of 63% of meetings in 2019 to only 33% of meetings in 2021, are an exacerbating factor (see Figure 2).
Meeting together in-person may feel qualitatively better to some leaders, but there’s a probable penalty: it goes against what workers in very-high-demand roles tend to prefer. Twenty-three percent of survey respondents indicated that employer demand for their type of role was very high. Of those, 26% wanted more than the average time in virtual meetings, while only 21% wanted to meet in other ways.
Is the ability to meet virtually a benefit, entitlement, right or necessity? Conflicts arise when the employer and employee views differ.
Digital workplace application leaders must communicate the danger that meeting overload may become an employee talent and retention issue because:
Demand for meetings exceeds the time available to meet.
Employees in very-high-demand roles are more likely to prefer virtual meetings.
Employees who plan to pursue another role with their current employer are more likely to prefer virtual meetings compared to those continuing in their current role or who intend to leave for other opportunities.
A worker in a very-high-demand role is partially in demand as a meeting organizer, decision maker or participant. Virtual is the most practical approach for meeting to collaborate globally.
Meeting policies and practices are more successful if they don’t give top talent reasons to leave. Digital workplace application leaders support their organizations best if they work closely with business leaders in these ways:
Advise executives and HR leaders on the possible negative consequences of any policy decisions that limit whether workers can use virtual meetings for some scenarios. The flexibility to meet virtually is key if you want employees in very high demand to contain their ambition to your organization, either by moving up or laterally.
Explicitly encourage these very-high-demand employees to save time and reduce the stress of their various commitments by giving them the autonomy to host and attend all meetings virtually from outside the office.
Experiment with new meeting guidelines and formats. For example, employees in very high demand may benefit from scheduling meetings of no more than 15 minutes with an agenda of only a single topic.
We recommend a commonsense point of view. Gartner’s position is that a virtual meeting implies the ability to meet from anywhere. Some organizational leaders may rationalize that a return-to-work effort that mandates that employees commute into the office does not diminish the flexibility to have virtual meetings from the office. However, stressed employees in very-high-demand roles who hope to maximize productivity and wellness are unlikely to agree.
Also, while meetings are a common activity whether workers are in an office or not, handling meetings effectively is only one part of an overall digital workplace strategy. For many, not every moment of work in the office is made up of meetings, although anecdotal feedback from Gartner IT leader clients suggests that those in leadership and managerial roles bear a heavy burden of meetings. The approach for remote work and the approach for hybrid meetings must align.
“Video first” is a popular term to encourage visibility and engagement in meetings, but “video flexible” is probably more appropriate to today’s sentiments. Digital workplace application leaders can help support effective meetings by assessing and reducing the gap when it comes to how workers meet today and how they would prefer to meet.
Workers surveyed in 2019 wanted more virtual meetings, but the desire for in-person meetings has increased slightly in 2021, as noted in . Digital worker survey respondents in 2019 told us their aspirations for time in different kinds of meetings did not match reality (see Table 1). The challenge for digital workplace leaders in 2021 is not to overcorrect when organizations may need only incremental changes to reduce the number of virtual meetings or to slightly improve opportunities to meet in person.
Digital workplace application leaders can support effective meetings by reducing the differences between how workers actually spend their time and how they want to spend their time. Each organization will be different, but Table 2, Table 3 and Table 4 offer some ideas for helping workers who have too many video meetings, prefer to use only audio, or want more in-person meetings.
Offering workers optional space to meet is not the same as mandating workers meet in person. Gartner notes a disconcerting trend among leaders of meetings, who are also organizational leaders, to privilege their own preferences. That is, if the meeting host (or the boss) feels like meeting from a meeting room, everyone else must also. Those who participate remotely in a hybrid meeting with organizers who are in a meeting room may, as before the pandemic, feel like second-class meeting participants.
Leaders may be on the dangerous path of backsliding into focusing too much on in-person meetings from the office. We recommend a simple intervention: meeting leaders should regularly run meetings remotely, even if other participants are in the office and have access to meeting spaces. Meeting leaders can observe possible limitations of being remote. If those continue to seem like impediments, digital workplace application leaders have their directive to smooth out any friction so meetings from anywhere are absolutely the same.
Laptops undisputedly dominated as the meeting endpoint of necessity according to survey respondents. Only laptops and mobile phones increased as all other devices declined from 2019 to 2021 (see Figure 3).
Digital workplace application leaders need to take this information and use it to bolster their approach. There are three significant possible postures. For remote workers, embrace the reality of the laptop and improve the experience around it — digital workplace application leaders can help in these ways:
Advocate for upgrades to laptop models with better integrated microphones and cameras.
Supplement their standard laptops with better peripherals.
Support a business case to provision some employees with extra screens or touch devices to support visual collaboration or digital whiteboarding.
For workers in the office, design so the laptop augments every meeting experience — digital workplace application leaders can help in these ways:
Make meeting from a laptop in the office easy, whether from a desk, a huddle space, an individual pod or a meeting room, with proper space, power, network and privacy.
Acquire high-quality headsets and ambient noise reduction to reduce distraction in open office environments.
Provide training so that workers can use the devices they trust — their laptops — for contribution, collaboration and control when joining from their enterprise meeting spaces.
Deploy vendor technologies that demonstrate explicit enhancements to reduce friction when bring their laptops, such as by muting device microphones that may echo or conflict.
Promote enabling laptop webcams to show closer views of in-room meeting participants to attendees if the in-room technology does not yet include intelligent zoom and speaker framing.
Regarding embracing the laptop, there is some old thinking that discourages laptops in meetings because meeting participants multitask. If that kind of distraction is still happening in your organization, consider a format change or have a shorter, more focused meeting with only mandatory attendees. Given the option, many workers will bring their laptops to meetings anyway. For better meeting results, enable laptop use as part of meetings to focus attention on the screens participants have with them as part of your meeting design and practices.
A key challenge now is investing just the right amount of money to enhance or refresh meeting spaces, either due to normal replacement cycles or as part of return-to-work initiatives. Purpose-built equipment in meeting rooms and thoughtful meeting space design can smooth collaboration and make meetings more interactive and engaging. Old patterns are broken and there should be a question of whether they should be repaired. If you always met in rooms prepandemic, but didn’t meet in rooms at all during the pandemic, your current needs for meeting spaces are probably different now. Change is uncomfortable. Your incumbent technology vendors may approach you for a return to the status quo. Assume instead that some of your new pilots for meeting space will be dramatically different.
Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey was conducted to understand workers’ technological and workplace experience and sentiment. The research was conducted online during November and December 2020 among 10,080 respondents from the U.S., Europe and APAC. Participants were screened for full-time employment, in organizations with 100 or more employees and required to use digital technology for work purposes. Ages range from 18 through 74 years old, with quotas and weighting applied for age, gender, region and income, so that results are representative of working country populations.
Disclaimer: Results of this study do not represent “global” findings or the market as a whole but are a simple average of results for the targeted countries covered in this survey.
(For additional articles of interest, see Note 1.)
Gartner Recommended Reading
Note 1. Additional Articles of Interest