Remote Work

Is Multi-Tasking Okay in Remote Meetings?

January 13, 2022
5 Min Read

Let’s face it: remote meetings are difficult to stay focused on. We’re all human, after all. Even if you have the best intentions going into a meeting, sometimes you find yourself multitasking: answering emails, checking your texts, or even taking care of various personal matters.

So, is multitasking in meetings harmful? If so, what’s the best way to keep you and your team productive during a meeting?

What Are The Effects Of Multi-Taking During Remote Meetings?

Multi-tasking hurts your productivity, efficiency and safety. Not only that, it also makes you less focused. Studies have shown that when you multi-task, you’re likely to be less productive, more stressed out, and more prone to making mistakes. In fact, a recent article by Harvard Business Review stated the following:

"Researchers have found that when people attempt to perform two cognitive tasks at once, they produce lower-quality work on both tasks than if they had done each separately."

While it may seem harmless to multi-task while in a remote meeting, it may have negative effects. Ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of the meeting. If it’s a mandatory, company-wide meeting where your daily responsibilities won’t be discussed much, it’s probably not going to be a big deal if you're checking emails or doing other work. However, you never know when someone might ask you to report on what you learned from a meeting, and in this case, it would have been better to just give you full attention to the meeting in front of you.

Multi-Tasking Reduces Retention

For the most part, working from home tends to allow people to focus on the task at hand. Most workers have fewer distractions than they would if they were in an office. However, as we're all still adapting to this new environment, you may find yourself multi-tasking more than usual during remote meetings.

Multi-tasking can make it harder for people to retain meeting information, so it's important that you try your best not to do it!

Some of us might think we are good at multi-tasking, but in reality only about 2% of the population is actually adept at doing two complex things at once without a drop in productivity or performance.

The rest of us can experience what is known as cognitive overload when trying to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. This has been shown in studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and brain activity monitors that found blood flow increased the most in prefrontal areas of the brain – which handles decision making and problem solving – when doing just one thing versus multi-tasking.

Multi-Tasking Is Isolating

Multi-taskers are more isolated than non-multi-taskers. They tend to feel less connected to their colleagues and have a harder time catching up with them. They also have more difficulty building relationships with their fellow team members. Ultimately, multi-tasking can make you feel lonely.

This makes sense because if you’re in a meeting and trying to perform other tasks while your peers are sharing their experiences, you will miss out on those stories. The more you know about someone, the more likely you are to want to have a good relationship with them. You never know how much value relationships will provide. To ensure you have good relationships with your co-workers, try to give your full attention to them during remote meetings.

Multi-Tasking Can Be Distracting To Others

When you’re in a remote meeting, it’s tempting to multi-task. After all, there are so many other things you could be doing. And why not? It's not like anyone can see what else is on your screen, right? Wrong. Multi-tasking in remote meetings is distracting—for you and the people around you.

This can be especially true if you're on camera because your facial expressions will show that your attention isn't fully on the meeting. While it might seem like no big deal, multitasking during a meeting means that someone else has to teach you later about what went over your head—which wastes everyone’s time.

Even if your camera is off, because our brains are wired to only focus on one thing at a time, someone may directly ask you a question and you could miss it. If someone asks for your feedback and you’re not aware of what’s currently being discussed, it will be awkward and you’ll have to ask someone to fill you in. That makes it pretty obvious you weren’t paying attention, and that’s never a good look.

So stay focused and engaged during meetings by putting away any distractors! Your colleagues will thank you for it!

Fact: Multi-Tasking Makes People Less Productive, Not More

Multi-tasking is problematic because it makes you less efficient throughout the day. Consider this: According to a meta-analysis of research on multi-tasking cited by the Wall Street Journal (and based on 10 peer-reviewed studies), people who frequently switch between tasks take longer to complete them and have higher error rates than those who focus on one thing at a time. On average, people who multi-task took 50 percent longer to complete a task and made twice as many errors than their counterparts.

In other words: Multi-tasking is bad for your productivity.

Key Takeaway

It's better not to multi-task during a meeting.

Multi-tasking may seem like a good way to get more done in a meeting, but it’s better not to multi-task during a meeting. Multi-tasking can make you feel isolated, which isn’t good for the meeting or for you. Even worse, it might be distracting for everyone else in the meeting.

Multi-tasking can also make you less productive than if you focused on one thing at a time. You might think that if you listen to your boss and work on an assignment at the same time, you’ll get more done during the workday. But remember that multi-taking actually makes people less productive than focusing on one thing at a time. It takes 15 minutes–twice as long as usual–for people who multi-task to complete tasks compared to those who focus on one thing at a time.

Say it like you mean it.

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