Getting better at online meetings

By Adam Earnheardt

Last month, I started a sabbatical from my regular work at YSU.

I’m lucky. Most U.S. employees won’t take a sabbatical (e.g., pay cut, etc.), so it’s a blessing to get the opportunity.

To be completely honest, I’m a little miserable. Sure, I like working from home, having time to do research I would otherwise never get to do. But now that I’m home, my work-life balance feels a little imbalanced.

I feel like a telecommuter. I’ve had quite a few online meetings, and they’re just not as satisfying or productive as in-person, face-to-face meetings.

So like a good social scientist, I turned to research on telecommuting to see how others deal with working online from home.

Telecommuting is defined as working for a company from another location. Also referred to as “telework” or “remote work,” telecommuters don’t typically commute to a traditional workplace on a daily basis.

Turns out, we’re working more at home. According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 percent of people employed in the U.S. did some or all of their work at home.

The number of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 to 22 percent in 2016. When you break it down, those numbers equate to an additional half-hour of work from home, or 3.1 hours per day (up from 2.6 hours in 2003).

Results from the Bureau’s American Time Use Survey (ATUS) showed that those who worked from home did more household activities and engaged in more leisure and sports activities.

You can include me in that “household activities” group, thanks in part to an ever-expanding “honey do” list.

To avoid those household chores, some of us work on the road, logging in from various locations around the world. These workers are referred to as “nomad” telecommuters, and you might see them working from public spaces where wireless access is readily available.

One can assume that the internet and better bandwidth fueled this growth in remote work (remember the good ol’ days with 56k modems). After all, if we’re working from home, this means doing more work online, conducting more virtual meetings and fewer face-to-face.

So, this will be my working norm for the next year: online meetings.

I don’t like them, but they’re necessary to collect the data I need.

Ken Perlman, an engagement leader at Kotter International, provided strategies for getting the most out these virtual meetings.

When travel budgets for meetings were decreased, he brought together 25 volunteers from different parts of his company, from different levels around the globe, speaking different languages.

For successful online work, Perlman’s virtual work sessions had to be clear.

Be simple, interactive, collaborative, and deliberate. When this happened, he found that everyone contributed to the conversation, and confidence grew.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at

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