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NextGen Magazine


Consultant, Saying 'Mediocre' Virtual Meetings Diminish Workplace Culture, Suggests Fixes

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Feb 29, 2024


Meetings have changed in recent years, as the pandemic and newer technology occasioned more flexible working arrangements, transforming workplace culture for the worse, Priya Parker, a workplace consultant and author, told The Wall Street Journal, while offering some ideas for improvement.

"All organizations basically have vibes and cultures," and remote and hybrid work has “killed the vibes,” said, Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. "[A]nd so our perceptions of each other, our understanding of what our work is, our understanding of what the workplace is, is now primarily through mediocre meetings."

Zoom, for example, is “a sterile environment,” she said. “It destroys one of the core elements of group conversation, which is a feedback loop: call and response.”

In-person work provided apprenticeship and informal interactions, which allowed for new people to succeed in an organization, she said. “Now, the mode of conversation that happens when you’re not being watched by 20 people [on a video meeting] is fundamentally different.”  Establishing meaningful connection through remote work can be done, but it’s a skill, she said.

She offered some ideas to about how to make that happen.

Asked if serendipity in the workplace—“the water cooler effect”—can occur online instead of just in person, she replied that, “In the future, serendipity will either be designed or dead.” As offices have open floor plans, hallways and water coolers in which people can bump into one another, the “digital office planners of the 21st century will equally be designing for some of that spontaneity and serendipity,” she said.

Parker acknowledged the advantages of virtual meeting tools by saying that “There are conversations you can absolutely have on Zoom that you can’t in person. In a 1,000-person town hall on Zoom, you can actually get a lot of data by the chat box, which is a completely different dynamic than when you’re in-person.”  

She said that she foresees more intentional in-person gatherings in the next five to 10 years. She also foresees “much more sophistication in creating meaningful online connection, with more apps and tools that will allow for not just large-scale participation, but circles of small groups and more intimate connections across the workplace.”  

Asked about the evolution of virtual meeting etiquette, she replied that, in the future, “there will also be more norms around Zoom backgrounds … . I think we’ll look back at this time and be shocked at the lack of care of what we asked employees to show or not show without actually thinking about it.”

Parker called Slack “the biggest Trojan horse,” faulting it for shifting “power across a company to everyone” and increasing complexity. She did credit the tool for increasing inclusion; “When companies have reckonings, there are often private Slack groups created by disenfranchised populations that have come together,” she said.

“Leaders need to think in a very deep way about the purpose of their organization and these tools, and the norms around how they use them,” she added.

She concluded with her biggest meeting pet peeves: three people finding each other in the hallway and deciding to take a Zoom call together, making it hard for everyone else to focus; meetings that start with logistics; and TBD calendar holds with no agenda and no title.

“To me, the biggest pet peeve is wasting people’s time,” she said.