The average American worker spends at least three hours of the week in meetings. In remote and hybrid environments, a large portion of that time is spent in online meetings. With so many hours spent on Zoom or similar online meeting platforms, you might wonder if your coworkers are focused 100% of the time.

Knowing this, we conducted a survey of 1,200 currently employed Americans to ask what they’re really doing during online meetings, how they focus and how employers can make them more engaging. Read on to discover what we found.

Key Findings

  • The most common online meeting distractions are texting (86%), doing other work (75%) and online shopping (56%).
  • The majority of Americans (80%) zone out more in online meetings than in person.
  • Exactly 50% of Americans prefer to keep their cameras on during online meetings.
  • Over half of employees (56%) would choose to never go to an in-person work meeting again.

What Americans Are Doing During Online Meetings

A major benefit (and possible drawback) of Zoom and other video conferencing systems is that these platforms make it easy for employees to log in to meetings with cameras and microphones off. While this allows flexibility, it also allows ample room for distractions or multitasking — hence the modern phenomenon of Zoom fails.

We asked American professionals to share the most common tasks they have completed during an online meeting (other than paying attention to the meeting). Some of the most common were downright shocking.

What Americans are Doing During Online Meetings

The most common online meeting distractions include texting (86%), doing other work (75%) and online shopping (56%). While some use meetings as a time to divide their attention and potentially get some other work done, most actions take away their attention entirely, such as holding full, in-person conversations (36%), playing online games (36%) or watching online videos (35%).

Completing other tasks when sitting idle during a boring online meeting offers quite a draw. Workers have the ability to multitask on important things like using the bathroom or making and eating a meal, but the productivity of the meeting clearly suffers.

80% Zone Out More in Online Meetings Than in Person

Why is all of this happening? Employees might complete other tasks during online meetings simply because they are able to, but holding meetings online seems to result in an inherent lack of engagement. In fact, 80% of workers reported they zone out more in online meetings than in person.

80% Zone Out More in Online Meetings Than in Person

The lack of in-person connection in online meetings causes 74% of workers to feel frequently distracted or bored. When segmented by generation, Gen Z is the most bored during online meetings (82%) — perhaps since they have experienced their peak usage both in college and in entering the workplace.

You may find it especially hard to focus when staring at a bunch of photos or icons instead of live faces. While it can feel like nobody ever has their camera on, preference is actually split right down the middle: 50% turn their webcam off the majority of the time. Baby Boomers (63%) and Gen X (55%) are more likely to have cameras on.

One of the worst feelings is being called on in a meeting when not paying attention, and looking foolish in front of your coworkers and boss. But at this point, this experience is par for the course, as 43% have had it happen to them.

How to Help Your Employees Focus During Online Meetings

Knowing how employees struggle, how can managers help them focus? We asked respondents to share what tips and tricks they use to focus during online meetings. We also asked what they prefer their managers and other meeting organizers would do to make online meetings more engaging.

How to Help Your Employees Focus During Online Meetings

To focus during online meetings, Americans will do things like take manual notes (49%), turn off notifications on their devices (38%) or put their phone out of arm’s reach (35%). Some will also turn off extra screens (27%) to zero in on the meeting at hand or use fidget toys (13%) to centralize their attention.

Some other ways employees liked to focus on the content of the meeting without excessive distractions include:

  • Doodle
  • Chew gum
  • Be an active participant (offer comments, questions and so on)
  • Color
  • Pace the floor
  • Play solitaire
  • Knit
  • Drink water
  • Stare into space
  • Play games

On the employer side, some of the best ways to make online meetings more engaging include providing an agenda and sticking to it (82%), using visual aids (76%) and investing in high-quality tech (69%) to optimize sound and video quality across the organization.

Employees also appreciate references after the fact, so be sure to follow up on any action items after the meeting (66%), and if possible, record the meeting for future reference (61%).

56% Would Choose to Never Go to an In-Person Work Meeting Again

Despite all the shortcomings of online meetings, it’s clear that they’re not going anywhere. Not only that, but employees prefer them: 56% would choose to never go to an in-person work meeting again.

56% Would Choose to Never Go to an In-Person Work Meeting Again

In the average American workplace, there are about 4 online meetings per week. Some industries average even more, such as engineering and technology, at 6 per week, or finance with 5.

We asked respondents to share the major pros and cons of online meetings as a whole. The best parts about meeting online include the ability to meet with people from anywhere (35%), but notably, not having to show your face (25%) and the mute button (18%) also ranked highly. Both the accessibility and incognito nature of online meetings are attractive to employees.

Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks, too. The potential for technological issues such as people misusing the mute button (19%) or video feeds and audio lagging (19%) are significant. With 18% reporting difficulty focusing as the worst part of online meetings, if your greatest asset is your employees’ attention, there’s no doubt it suffers when you’re holding an important meeting on Zoom.

In remote environments, engagement can be challenging. Use the above tips for improving focus during online meetings, and help establish camaraderie and unity in distributed workplaces through high-quality custom swag that reminds employees you’re all on the same team.

Methodology

On September 13 and 14, 2022, we surveyed 1,200 U.S. professionals who are employed full-time. Of those surveyed, 61% identify as men, 38% identify as women and 1% identify as nonbinary. The generational breakdown includes 6% Baby Boomer, 23% Gen X, 59% Millennial and 12% Gen Z.

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