Last updated: Zoned out: What workers really do in virtual meetings

Zoned out: What workers really do in virtual meetings


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Despite the revival of some in-person meetings, virtual meetings are here to stay for most corporate workers, for better or worse.

A recent study showed that many American employees would be perfectly happy never going to an in-person work meeting again. After all, they can get so much done during virtual conference calls — things like online shopping, playing games, and working a second job.

A survey of 1,200 American workers by Quality Logo Products revealed the dirty secret of Zoom calls and other online meetings: Employees can be busy doing anything but paying attention to the task at hand.

Sure, I’m listening: Virtual meeting distractions

Corporate workers spend a lot of time in meetings, and since the pandemic, that meeting time has been online. A couple hours a day on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet calls is common, but some workers spend a majority of each day in virtual meetings, according to one poll.

With options for keeping cameras and mics off, virtual meetings open the door wide open for multi-tasking, QLP’s survey found. Top distractions and extra-curricula activities include:
  1. Texting (86%)
  2. Doing other work (75%)
  3. Online shopping (56%)
  4. Online games (36%)
  5. Worked another job (32%)

infographic showing what workers really do during virtual meetings including icons for texting, eating, and shopping.

No big surprise here: The poll showed that Gen Z is the most bored during online meetings (82%).

Another generational finding: Only half of workers turn on their cameras, with Gen X and boomers more apt to do so.

To be sure, multi-tasking conference call attendees can blow their cover. You know, when they accidentally leave their mic on while washing dishes or making a phone call, prompting moderators to plead, “Everyone, please mute your mic!”

Returning to the office and in-person meetings

Despite zoning out way more during online meetings than in-person meetings, more than half of employees polled said, given the choice, they’d never go to another in-person work meeting again.

Some won’t have a choice much longer. A number of companies now require workers come into the office for at least a few days a week. Disney, for example, recently ordered employees to return to the office four days a week beginning March 1.

In fact, a survey of 1,000 business leaders by showed that 90% of companies plan to require employees to return to the office at least occasionally this year.

Still, the hybrid working model isn’t going away, and some companies are trying to address the fatigue associated with virtual meetings.

Businesses are bringing workers together for some in-person meetings for collaboration and relationship building. Zoom itself is trying to make its platform more engaging, including plans for Zoom Spots, free-form video conversations designed to recreate spontaneous office watercooler discussions.

And one company that’s sticking with remote work is cutting all recurring meetings involving more than two people to give them back time for other tasks.

Regaining focus

With 80% of workers saying they’re more distracted during virtual meetings than in-person ones, there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.

There’s no end of advice available for ways employers can make online meetings more engaging and productive, from basic tips to fun ideas like icebreakers. games, and even guest llamas.

Some steps that employers told QLP they take to help workers focus include:
  • Stick to an agenda (82%)
  • Use visual aids (76%)
  • Invest in high-quality technology (69%)
For their part, the top ways employees try to improve virtual meetings include:
  • Take notes (49%)
  • Turn off notifications (38%)
  • Put phone out of reach (35%)

And of course, filters are always fun.


HR, better.
Employees, happier.
Businesses, healthier.
It’s time to modernize the employee experience.

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