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How to improve video meeting inclusivity, effectiveness and wellbeing

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

The pandemic caused a shift in how we work. For many, moving from office to home meant the need for back-to-back video calls, some for hours at a time. This created fatigue and affected work performance, team relationships and wellbeing.

Paul Hills, meetings expert, and Honorary Research Fellow at UCL, explains the vicious circle that underpins many poor video meetings and a solution he has developed, which was recently proven to work in a randomised controlled trial by UCL. The solution involves using hand signals alongside the spoken word and a technique of ‘passing’ the conversation. This is further enhanced when combined with a team conversation about meeting values and behaviours and an explicit focus on wellbeing and inclusivity.

The Vicious Circle of Video Meetings

Paul Hills, one of the UCL team, developed the Video Meeting Signals (VMS) approach to combat the problems many users experience with video meetings, which he observed often resulted in a ‘vicious circle’ of withdrawal.

‘In many meetings participants don’t get enough of a reaction from others, so they contribute less and become uninterested. They think others aren’t listening to them or are doing something else. So, they begin to multitask too, which magnifies the problem. We feel the need to multitask because we are often trapped in a work approach that involves too many meetings and no time to keep up with emails or non-meeting work. '

'To make things worse, often meetings are not well lead, have poor agendas and overrun. All of this is exhausting, feels unsatisfactory and is not good for wellbeing. Then we take our stress to the next meeting.’

Using hand signals tackles head on the key problem of getting no reaction from others.

Figure 1: The vicious circle

A Science-backed Solution UCL recently undertook a randomised controlled trial that found an effective way to handle video call fatigue.

Professor Daniel Richardson, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, says: “As we have all moved meetings, classes and social interactions online in the last year, many of us have found that it can’t replicate seeing people in-person and some have felt fatigued or isolated. While some people are trying to use more technology to improve video conferencing, we wanted to investigate a behavioural method and see if we could test it as rigorously as possible.”

The solution involves using hand signals alongside the spoken word and a technique of “passing” the conversation. This technique is further enhanced when combined with a conversation on the values and behaviours that the team wants to adopt for video meetings. There is an explicit focus on wellbeing and inclusivity.

These skills are already being used by a diverse range of organisations including AstraZeneca, Oxford Innovation and LexisNexis. They can transform video meetings making them more productive, more engaging and better for wellbeing. In the UCL trial, groups that used the hand signals gave significantly higher ratings for group affiliation, personal experience and learning outcomes. The groups also said the mechanics of their group interactions were improved.

What Are The Main Hand Signals?

Using hand signals tackles head-on the key problem of getting no reaction from others. Hills’ initial idea and trials were inspired by his own use of hand signals in other environments (as a lifeguard and mentor) and observing parents and children using baby signing.

Figure 2: The main hand signals

The signals allow everyone in a meeting to all communicate views and share emotions at the same time. A further technique, Team Chairing and Passing, uses hand signals to pass the conversation between people, avoiding silences or “you go, no you go” moments. This often brings the additional benefit of sharing out the meeting time more evenly. It also allows the more introspective members to contribute. The overt use of hand signals helps create a virtuous circle of response/reward and engagement. This compares to a depressing cycle of little response from others followed by withdrawal and multitasking.

Do Companies Like Video Meeting Signals? Many organisations are already experimenting with the use of hand signals in their meetings.

Mark Smith, market development director, LexisNexis, is very positive about the techniques:

“Paul worked with a leadership team to introduce the video meeting signals approach. He took a high-performing team and improved meeting efficiency and communication while at the same time providing the opportunity to deepen relationships. Paul’s open and honest style and research-based methodology worked really well for us and I would recommend anyone considering the approach to give this a try.”

The techniques can make a huge difference to team meetings. The graph below shows the difference in team member views before and after just two one-hour sessions. The team had approximately 15 members who met monthly and were frustrated with their video meeting experiences.

Figure 3: Konektis case study research

What’s Next For Video Meeting Signals?

So far Konektis have worked alongside UCL and Exeter University on two experiments:

  • Experiment 1 (March 31st 2021) - which proved a benefit to using hand signals

  • Experiment 2 (July 21st 2021) - which looks at the difference between using hand signals and reaction buttons.

The research article published in August 2022 can be found here

Konektis is inviting organisations to take place in further research, particularly around hybrid meetings. Please contact us if you are interested.


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