Can online meetings be more productive than in person?

06 July 2020

From developing confidence with public speaking to utilising the free time and energy that studying from home can afford, undergraduate ambassador, Deborah shares her experience of working in groups online.

Throughout the past few months, I have attended many online group meetings which would otherwise have been face-to-face. In this post, I will talk about my experience regarding the sessions, focusing on my most recent experience with Microsoft Teams.

Making the most of Microsoft Teams

As a part of the Student-Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC), I joined termly meetings via Microsoft Teams. Before the first meeting, I had doubts about the effectiveness of this approach as I was worried it would become noisy with 60 of us due to attend the session. I was also afraid of the potential technology difficulties that may occur and disturb our meeting.

To my greatest delight, I was wrong: it was a fantastic experience. I have personally found that the online sessions have resulted in the most productive meetings we have had throughout the school year, and I would be open to repeating it for future group work.

The set-up of the Teams app helped to make the meetings particularly productive. Teams only displays four people at a time; those who are currently speaking or have spoken last. This made the conversation way easier to follow, as I would always know who was speaking, and we could pay more attention to the speaker.

Additionally, the group chat function helped us in a number of ways during the meetings:

  1. Sharing a question in the group chat meant that any of us had the option to answer it, so if it was a general question, we did not have to waste time answering them out loud. Instead, we answered questions in writing without taking the focus away from the main agenda of the day.
  2. If our question was relevant to the conversation, we could post it in the chat and our Chair could answer it as soon the presentation finished or, in some cases, during their speech. This helped to ensure that we did not interrupt the speaker’s flow of thought or forget our initial question.
  3. The chat function made parallel conversations possible. As we do not always have time to discuss everything within one meeting, the chat function offered space for further discussions that complemented the presentation itself.

Benefits to being online

An unexpected advantage of online meetings and group work has been that they have taken away all my stage fright. I have found that speaking through a computer is so much more liberating, and it has given me more confidence to speak up in front of 60 people and share my opinions on certain topics.

Logistics, such as organising a meeting, have been made a lot easier by online sessions. It can often be quite tricky to book a room and arrange everything for a meeting which will accommodate more than 40 people, and having meetings online has saved everyone a lot of time and energy. Also, it has made scheduling much easier, even with the different time zones we are in.

As a side note, navigating across different time zones was a lot easier than one would expect. In general, the majority of us were from Europe so there were only a couple of hours’ difference in time. However, we had participants from Asian countries as well, so all meetings happened later in the morning which seemed to work for all participants.

Another benefit of online meeting is the significant increase of attendance amongst participants. This has resulted in the most creative meetings, as many different voices were heard.

All in all, working in online teams has been a positive experience for me, and I would be open to following this approach post-COVID as well. Online meetings are more productive and time-efficient, as well as significantly reducing the logistics we have with scheduling a time, place and other additional considerations, such as rearranging classrooms. I genuinely believe that online meetings are a feasible solution for the future, especially when it comes to bigger group meetings.

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