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How To Keep People Engaged During Meetings Tech is a powerful tool for solving the UAE's productivity puzzle, but only when it is used correctly.

By Eric Brouwers

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Some of the most powerful factors driving engagement levels in meetings are tech-related, explains a study commissioned by Barco to find the main factors that contribute to engagement in business meetings, and by extension to workplace productivity. The study, which was a global survey spanning the UAE, US, UK, Germany and France, allowed us to determine the most common meeting-room pitfalls in each country and the extent to which each of these pitfalls affect engagement.

The influence of tech-related factors is very apparent in the UAE, where business professionals are both the most likely to become disengaged by tech issues (55% of respondents) and the most likely to become more engaged by multimedia content– some 77%.

Clearly, tech is a powerful tool for solving the UAE's productivity puzzle, when it is used correctly. Unfortunately, business leaders are not currently seizing this opportunity, with more UAE business professionals reporting regular tech failures in meetings than in any other market. Robust, simple tech would be an easy fix here to boost productivity.

On a more positive note, the UAE evidently has a productive approach to controlling the number of meetings per day and thereby tackling disengagement levels. Globally, 59% of people suffer from meeting fatigue: their engagement is affected by the number of meetings they attend per day. The UAE performed well here, with the lowest proportion of professionals attending 3 or more meetings per day, at only 1 in 10.

A more worrying result was the global proportion of business professionals to admit to checking social media during meetings, especially considering that 80% find such behavior offensive. However, politeness was an area in which the UAE excelled, with only 30% of respondents admitting to surfing social media during meetings, compared to a global average of 38%.

What does this mean for the UAE and what changes should we make to maximize engagement and increase productivity? Some findings are easy to act upon: providing multimedia content and simple, robust meeting room tech (designed to minimize disruptions) will increase engagement. Further, meeting fatigue can be eliminated by organizing fewer, more focused meetings per day, thus streamlining business processes and increasing engagement.

Then, there are some more nuanced results. The study found that the seating arrangement is a major factor affecting engagement in meetings. There is no straightforward solution for this as it is hard to find a set-up where every attendee has an optimum seating position. Also, different people are affected by different types of seating arrangement. However, one easy fix is to ensure attendees will not be distracted by window views as this is a sure-fire way to cause distraction.

Finally, the UAE has the most people distracted by food in a meeting, whilst also having the fewest people who admit to attending meetings just for the food. These statistics may seem like perfect grounds for banning food from all meetings. Nevertheless, this "low' proportion of people attending meetings just for the food is still some 44%, so maybe it is unwise to rule out using food as a bargaining tool for meeting attendance.

This research should influence business leaders to change the set-up their meetings to ensure maximum engagement, and the most effective course of action is:

  1. to utilize multimedia content in presentations
  2. to ensure that meeting room tech is simple and issue free,
  3. to limit the number of meetings per day
  4. to be very selective about which meetings to provide food for, and control the amount of food, and
  5. to ensure the room is set up so as to avoid obvious distractions like large windows.

Productivity, efficiency and engagement will follow.

Related: Making Meetings Matter: 11 Tips For Running More Productive Meetings At Work

Eric Brouwers

Vice President Middle-East and Africa at Barco NV Dubai

Eric Brouwers is Vice President Middle-East and Africa at Barco NV Dubai, Dubai, UAE, where he oversees the company’s operations across a variety of selected professional markets: control rooms, defense and aerospace, digital cinema, healthcare, media and entertainment, and simulation and virtual reality. Before joining Barco, Brouwers was the CEO of Mitra Energy and Infrastructure SA , General Manager of Cherokee Europe, and a member of the executive committee of the public company Cherokee International in California, USA. Prior to this, he worked with Alcatel and the France Telecom Orange Group. Brouwers has operational experience in high tech manufacturing, software, and product maintenance services, besides business management. He holds a master's degree in electronic engineering from the University of Louvain in Belgium, and an MBA from the Flanders Business School in Antwerp, Belgium, and the Kellogg School of Management, Chicago IL, USA.

He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of CityMesh NV, nCentric NV, BEC/IEC, Be-One Communication.  He is also a former Vice President of Agoria IT, Belgium’s largest employers’ organization and trade association. 

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