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Since the pandemic began, many of us have been glued to our devices, trying to make the best of virtual communication. The move to Zoom has forced us to scramble and come up with new solutions to keep things interesting — from just mastering the basics to more whimsical methods, like having a llama from an animal sanctuary join the call. But, as great as it is to have a llama at a meeting, how do we really fix the problem of making virtual meetings more collaborative and engaging?

The virtualization of work has generally increased the hours that people spend on the clock, and blurred boundaries between life and work. “Video fatigue” comes from many factors, such as the difficulty of making real eye contact with meeting participants (known as “gaze awareness”). Research by Microsoft shows that concentration begins to fray about 30-40 minutes into a meeting, and that stress begins to increase after about two hours of videoconferencing. These physical issues feed strategic challenges faced by many executives: engaging in creative problem solving or holding contentious discussions given the constraints of virtual meetings.

Even as companies welcome back employees to workplaces, virtual meetings will be here to stay, so how do we make them go from a painful necessity to a productive tool?

Over the course of our work (three of us at management consultancy Innosight, one of us at DBS Bank), we’ve worked with groups to find innovative solutions to virtual-work problems, and, recently, we conducted a LinkedIn discussion in the Harvard Business Review Discussion group for fresh, crowdsourced ideas.

Our goal was to help others find ways to improve Zoom calls, using techniques we’ve used with companies worldwide to build their innovation capabilities, which we also described in a previous magazine article and covered in more detail in our new book Eat, Sleep, Innovate.
The basic idea is to borrow from the behavior change literature and use behavior enablers, artifacts, and nudges (we call them BEANs) to make desired behaviors habitual. Behavior enablers directly help people follow desired behaviors (think checklists). Artifacts and nudges act as powerful indirect reinforcements (consider visual reminders or gamification).

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