Field Report: how false memory & confirmation bias can hurt employee wellbeing.

VP of IT uses to correct a false impression and an episode of confirmation bias re: the risk of isolation for a team member.

In psychology a memory bias is a cognitive bias that either enhances or impairs the recall of a memory or that alters the content of a reported memory.

How MyMeeting info was used:
During a first review of data visualisations (in which we also calibrate our algorithm to match company norms re: meetings frequency) we flagged that the VP of IT had one team member (John*) at risk of isolation (defined as not having met with any peers or supervisors for 7 days straight).

The VP challenged the data and said he distinctly remembers John being on the virtual company happy hour 3 weeks ago.

The calendar of the event supported this notion, because it showed John had accepted the happy hour invite.

However after checking the meeting dashboard for the past 3 weeks (inc. a deep dive in meeting attendance data for that event) the VP could see that John had not joined.

How this awareness drove behaviour change:
It seems this might have been a case of an initial false memory (I remember seeing John) further being supported by a confirmation bias (See, John accepted the invite) that John wasn’t at risk being isolated from contact.

Firstly, the VP immediately pinged John’s team manager, to set up a 1:1 that day and see why John has been out of touch for 3 weeks.

Secondly, HR requested we give them with a company-wide alert that notifies HR if a person misses 2 scheduled and accepted meetings in a row.

HR can now alert all team managers to investigate this issue within 24hrs.

Meetings are scheduled, accepted, cancelled and rescheduled all the time. This can lead us to lose track if we actually met with a specific person or not (in particular if these are large group meetings).

Just because we recall something with a lot of confidence, detail and emotion, doesn’t mean it actually happened that way. Especially when dealing with the well-being of our team members.

Being able to align calendars, logged meeting data and personal assumptions increases our effectiveness as team leaders, because we have a more complete picture of what is and how to act on that reality.

*The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved

The reason Video calls drain your energy

Video chat is helping us stay employed and connected. But what makes it so tiring – and how can we reduce ‘Video fatigue’?

Your screen freezes. There’s a weird echo. A dozen heads stare at you. There are the work huddles, the one-on-one meetings and then, once you’re done for the day, the hangouts with friends and family.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we’re on video calls more than ever before – and many are finding it exhausting.

But what, exactly, is tiring us out? BBC Worklife spoke to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness, to hear their views.

Is video chat harder? What’s different compared to face-to-face communication?

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says.

Delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused

Silence is another challenge, he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable. One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.

An added factor, says Shuffler, is that if we are physically on camera, we are very aware of being watched. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen, or not to be conscious of how they behave in front of the camera.

How are the current circumstances contributing?

Yet if video chats come with extra stressors, our Zoom fatigue can’t be attributed solely to that. Our current circumstances – whether lockdown, quarantine, working from home or otherwise – are also feeding in.

Petriglieri believes that fact we feel forced into these calls may be a contributory factor. “The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be in the workplace together,” he says. “What I’m finding is, we’re all exhausted; It doesn’t matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic.”

Then there’s the fact that aspects of our lives that used to be separate – work, friends, family – are all now happening in the same space. The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects – context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy, says Petriglieri. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings.

Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now – Gianpiero Petriglieri

“Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed,” says Petriglieri. “Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now… We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window.”

Shuffler says a lack of downtime after we’ve fulfilled work and family commitments may be another factor in our tiredness, while some of us may be putting higher expectations on ourselves due to worries over the economy, furloughs and job losses. “There’s also that heightened sense of ‘I need to be performing at my top level in a situation’… Some of us are kind of over-performing to secure our jobs.”

But when I’m Zooming my friends, for example, shouldn’t that relax me?

Lots of us are doing big group chats for the first time, whether it’s cooking and eating a virtual Easter dinner, attending a university catch-up or holding a birthday party for a friend. If the call is meant to be fun, why might it feel tiring?

Part of it, says Shuffler, is whether you’re joining in because you want to or because you feel you ought to – like a virtual happy hour with colleagues from work. If you see it as an obligation, that means more time that you’re ‘on’ as opposed to getting a break. A proper chat with friends will feel more social and there will be less ‘Zoom fatigue’ from conversations where you’ve had a chance to be yourself.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work – Gianpiero Petriglieri

Big group calls can feel particularly performative, Petriglieri warns. People like watching television because you can allow your mind to wander – but a large video call “is like you’re watching television and television is watching you”. Large group chats can also feel depersonalising, he adds, because your power as an individual is diminished. And despite the branding, it may not feel like leisure time. “It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work.”

So how can we alleviate Zoom fatigue? 

Both experts suggest limiting video calls to those that are necessary. Turning on the camera should be optional and in general there should be more understanding that cameras do not always have to be on throughout each meeting. Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings, says Petriglieri. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room, so may be less tiring.

In some cases it’s worth considering if video chats are really the most efficient option. When it comes to work, Shuffler suggests shared files with clear notes can be a better option that avoids information overload. She also suggests taking time during meetings to catch up before diving into business. “Spend some time to actually check into people’s wellbeing,” she urges. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.”

Building transition periods in between video meetings can also help refresh us – try stretching, having a drink or doing a bit of exercise, our experts say. Boundaries and transitions are important; we need to create buffers which allow us to put one identity aside and then go to another as we move between work and private personas.

And maybe, says Petriglieri, if you want to reach out, go old-school. “Write a letter to someone instead of meeting them on Zoom. Tell them you really care about them.”

This post was originally posted on BBC.

Being late for meetings reveals more than we think

One of the metrics that tracks is attendance quality. How many people are late for meetings and how many leave early.

In this blog post we want to dive deeper into this metric, because there’s more to unpack around unpunctuality, from the point of employee wellbeing, besides our annoyance with it.

Several studies around lateness have been done over the years. And they reveal a more complex picture that managers might not be aware off.

Digging into the psychology of lateness reveals interesting possibilities about why people are late. It can indicate poor self-control, procrastination or the failure to set realistic goals. It can also be a sign of lack of focus or deeper-seated problems such as stress and anxiety.

Diana DeLonzer, the author of Never Be Late, conducted a study at San Francisco State University involving chronic lateness and found that of the two-hundred and twenty-five people in the study, 17% were chronically late.

The 17% chronically late, had trouble with self-control (were more prone to habits like overeating, drinking too much, gambling and impulse shopping), showed an affinity for thrill-seeking and displayed ADD-like symptoms like restlessness, trouble focusing and attention issues.

Secondly Pauline Wallin a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA, has found that people who are chronically late often wrestle with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence, or other internal psychological states.

Habitual lateness may be part of that very hard to deal with phenomenon of passive aggression where someone is resistant, often in a way that is hard to put your finger on, that undermines progress and makes people feel uncomfortable because the aggression is there but unspoken.

While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as a manager who cares about team wellbeing (especially during forced work from home situations), keeping track of attendance is less about being a headmaster, and more about spotting potential deeper issues based on a behavioural signal.

Infographic: HR suffers people data gap during coronavirus crisis

As the world grapples with the threat of coronavirus, organisations are looking to their HR function to support business critical decisions around jobs and continuity planning. HR directors and managers in particular are being asked critical questions by their leadership teams, but do they actually have the data and tools to answer them?

Industry analysts Fosway Group recently conducted a study of HR professionals that has revealed that many are relying on outdated technology and data sets to support crucial strategic decisions at this time.

“As the Covid-19 crisis has unfolded, the pressure on HR teams has intensified dramatically. Suddenly they have been asked for all sorts of answers and data to support strategic decisions that for many organisations is frankly about keeping the lights on, ” explained David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group.

“What is not helping is that, for the majority, their HR systems are not actually designed to record or analyse the data necessary to provide business critical answers.

There is enormous reliance on managers and spreadsheets to support new daily reporting, and only a minority have the tools to model the future impact of Covid-19 on their workforce and ongoing business operations,” he added.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Only one in four HR professionals said it was easy to report on key statistics including how many people are self-isolating, working remotely or are hospitalised.
  • Only 30% of HR leaders believe their team has the skills to analyse and predict the impact of COVID-19 on their organisation.
  • Just 13% have found it easy to do the analysis.

The full results of the research can be seen in the infographic below.

Fosway Group infographic

This article first appeared on HRzone

When Your Employees Are Remote, You Have To Stop The Body-In-Seat Mentality

There’s an insidious attitude permeating many companies; that when employees have their bodies-in-their-seats, it means they’re productive. But if you’ve ever seen studies on actual employee productivity, or if you’ve ever forced yourself to sit at your desk for eight straight hours, you know that having a body-in-the-seat does not equal productivity. And the problem becomes especially acute when the body-in-seat mentality follows suddenly-remote employees into their home workspace.

Before the pandemic, a Leadership IQ study found that remote employees are 87% more likely to love their jobs than people that work in offices. Why? One factor is that normally-remote employees have figured out productivity hacks to enable themselves to spend more concentrated time on deep work. They’re able to focus without interruptions, and one way they accomplish that is with time-chunking. Unfortunately, that’s a concept that has been slow to permeate traditional working environments.

A study from RescueTime found that knowledge workers check email and Slack every six minutes, with more than a third checking email or Slack every three minutes. And 40% of knowledge workers never get more than 30 minutes straight of focused time. The email interruptions and lack of straight focus time help explain why knowledge workers, on average, have just 2 hours and 48 minutes a day for productive tasks.

By contrast, top freelancers, who’ve worked from home for years, have long known the fallacy of the body-in-seat mentality. And that’s why they’re more likely to work intensely for dedicated blocks of time. 

Time chunking (also known as time blocking) is essentially carving out pieces of the day when you can disconnect from email (or Slack or IM, etc.) and focus on performing work that requires deep thinking. It’s not a complicated concept, and you’ve no doubt experienced the drastic productivity improvements that time chunking creates. It’s just like when (pre-pandemic) you worked from a coffee shop and accomplished more in one hour than you would have accomplished in eight hours at the office.

If you want to drastically improve the productivity and effectiveness of your remote team, start giving your team dedicated blocks of time throughout the day when they have to be online and other times when they can disconnect and work free from interruptions.

For example, you could set core periods throughout the day, e.g., 10 AM-12 PM and 2 PM-4 PM, when employees have to be accessible online (via email, Slack, IM, etc.). You could even add these three sentences to your work from home policy:

Employees must be available to their supervisors and co‐workers during core work hours. There are two core periods each day. The first runs from 10 AM – 12 PM and the second from 2 PM – 4 PM.

Making this kind of policy change offers several benefits: First, you’re giving your employees periods of the day when they’re allowed to disconnect, to focus deeply on their work without interruptions, and actually produce great results.

Second, having times throughout the day when they can disconnect allows your suddenly-remote employees that have kids to connect with their family. It can be chaotic having kids and spouses around. But when your employees have an hour to disconnect from email and check-in with everyone in the house, they’ll likely be able to restore some semblance of order. And that means when they come back to their desk, they’ll be significantly more focused and productive.

Third, there’s much to be said for focusing on the results someone achieves rather than how long they sit in front of a computer. But when we’re operating with a body-in-seat mentality, we’re de facto telling people, “it’s not what you get done but how long you sit there that matters.” I’ve seen organizations where employees are online for three hours a day that accomplish twice as much work as companies where everyone is online for ten straight hours.

Finally, when your employees get to disconnect for a few hours a day to accomplish deep-thinking work, guess who else gets to unplug and enjoy similar accomplishments? You! It’s an absolute treat for most leaders to have a few hours when they know that they won’t be interrupted and, thus, can produce better and faster results.

In our study “Interruptions At Work Are Killing Your Productivity,” we discovered that when people get interrupted frequently, there’s only a 44% chance that they’ll leave feeling like “today was a really successful day.” By contrast, when people can block out interruptions at work, there’s a 67% chance they’ll leave feeling like “today was a really successful day.”

The body-in-seat mentality doesn’t work well when people are the office, and when they’re working from home, it fails miserably. Top freelancers (e.g., writers, programmers, artists, etc.) have long known that it’s important to disconnect to accomplish great work. It’s time for suddenly-remote teams to learn from them and end the body-in-seat mentality once and for all.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

Extreme loneliness or the perfect balance? How to work from home and stay healthy

More and more people are working where they live, attracted by the promise of flexibility, efficiency and no commute. But does this come at a cost to their wellbeing?

When Sean Blanda started working remotely in 2017, the allure of a “digital nomad” lifestyle – working at your laptop on the beach, say – wasn’t lost on him. The ability to work flexibly, be that at home or wherever else life may take you, is the dream for every disgruntled employee who has to fit in school pickups, dentist appointments and long commutes around office hours.

But after two years of working from home, Blanda, an editorial director for a tech company based in Philadelphia, knows only too well the many pitfalls of this way of life, with the greatest being isolation.

“You’ll need a lot of quiet self-confidence,” he recently wrote on Twitter. “You won’t get the positive reinforcement you’d normally rely on from body language and the ‘vibe’ from being in an office.”

Beyond the lack of interaction with colleagues – there are no ideas by osmosis, no overhearing others talking – there is also the lack of interaction with the wider world. “The main way most of us are connected to our local, geographical communities is through work,” Blanda says. “When you remove that – when you’re not commuting, you don’t bump shoulders, you don’t meet the guy who happens to have a cousin on your block and now you’re friends – you have to work harder to feel connected.”

More and more people are working where they live and living where they work, attracted by the promise of greater flexibility. In the UK there are 4.8 million freelancers, mostly home-based workers, making up a significant 15% of the workforce, and companies are increasingly allowing employees to work remotely.

But there are problems with blurring the line between work and home, as London-based academic Frances Holliss, who teaches at the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, found during her systematic analysis of “the work-home” for her doctoral thesis. After interviewing everyone from a professional juggler to a building surveyor who worked out of a garden shed, Holliss found some common disadvantages and negative impacts: mental health suffered (anxiety, stress, depression), isolation was rife (not being in a team), and it was hard to have self-discipline (proximity of the fridge and biscuit tin; not enough exercise; difficulty in setting boundaries between work and life).

Working alone may mean greater flexibility and fewer interruptions, but it is in those small interactions with colleagues – where people become multifaceted, as opposed to the flattened, disembodied personas of online avatars – that connections are made. The entire workforce at InVision, the tech company that Blanda works for, operates remotely, so he makes sure to start online meetings by asking his colleagues about their weekend plans or their families. “It’s about depth,” he says. When you’re hardly ever in the same room, it’s the only way to really get to know each other – and to build trust.

The loneliness that comes with the territory is one of the reasons that freelance editor Louise Goss, based in Northamptonshire, recently launched the Homeworker, a new magazine catering for those in what she calls “a hidden economy” – all the people plugging away in their domiciles. Beyond the obvious interest in curating relevant resources, from support with self-assessment tax returns to desk-based pilates, Goss also wanted to foster a sense of community: “Just that feeling that, even though you’re on your own, you’re not alone.”

Of course, the biggest hurdle when you are alone is that there is no one to help you regain perspective when things are not going to plan. Not knowing when to say no to work – or how to switch off for the day – can quickly lead to being overwhelmed. Figuring out how to balance life and work in the same space is difficult for everyone, although research published last month by the Hans Böckler Foundation in Germany suggests women have it harder.

Contrary to the received wisdom that working from home equals more flexibility for parents, this study found that, for mothers, it basically means more childcare: three whole extra hours a week, to be exact. The home-based fathers the study polled, meanwhile, just got extra work done – but scarcely more time with the kids. If juggling sickness, school plays, inset days and the never-ending summer holidays with a full-time office job is difficult enough for a parent to manage, trying to do anything that requires brain power from your kitchen table in the midst of tiny people is – well, to call it “challenging” seems disingenuous. It’s impossible.

Dana Denis-Smith founded her legal services company, Obelisk Support, in 2010 to address this conundrum. The journalist and lawyer turned entrepreneur was struck by how antiquated the nine-to-five office-based model seemed in the contemporary service economy, noting how many women were excluded as a result. Professions such as hers in particular struggled to accommodate the flexibility that the first 15 or so years of having children generally require. “No one wants me,” seasoned lawyers would tell her, or “I’m just a mum.” Denis-Smith’s solution was to come up with a system to keep them in the game. Obelisk is a legal agency of sorts, connecting a pool of home-based lawyers – who decide exactly how much work they want to take on – with any company needing ad-hoc legal support.

Denis-Smith set up her company at the same time as she had her first child: “It was very hard,” she says. In the beginning she had to work nights, from 11pm through to when her daughter woke up at 4am. Her husband would bring her a coffee in bed; she would catch an hour’s sleep.

The baby and her business grew in tandem – more business each year meant she could get more childcare – until five years ago, she finally went full-time and took an office. The whole undertaking has been a constant balancing act between giving her all and giving herself a break, as well as not being shy to ask for help. “It’s about staying confident,” says Denis-Smith, “and not letting it feel like you’re failing in any way.”

Self-confidence is key to successful home-based working of any stripe, as is knowing how to communicate clearly (so your distant bosses and colleagues know what you are up to), learning to work consistently (in the absence of feedback you might otherwise receive in an office environment) and, crucially, recognising when you need to go for a walk, work out or otherwise just take a break.

For Germany-based architect and interior designer Judith Simone Wahle, who has worked from home for six years, mastering this has brought its own rewards: realising your own system is working is empowering, she says. “It makes you strong, seeing you can manage it all.”

That often means getting the small things right, such as having a clearly defined workspace and a routine. Wahle starts work only once she has showered, got dressed and put her shoes on (curiously, she’s not the only remote worker who mentions the need for shoes). As she puts it: “How can you do planning applications, and still be in your pyjamas? It just doesn’t feel right.”

Engineer Isabelle Santaella, 50, learned this the hard way. She had spent the 25 years she worked at a digital security company in La Ciotat, southern France, wishing she were at home. About two years ago, she finally took the plunge and quit her job to set up a permaculture homestead in her backyard. The psychological landing was brutal: the anxiety she felt about not knowing how to manage her time and her crippling fear of failure sent her straight to the doctor in tears.

About 18 months into her new working life, her former colleagues can testify to how happy she now is, she says. She has learned to temper her expectations of herself and to let work go, and the impact on her wellbeing has been obvious. “I haven’t been ill once, I’ve lost weight, I feel great,” she says. Plus she gets to feed her chickens in her PJs every morning.

Santaella talks about the psychologist’s notion of congruence: your daily life being in sync with what is going on inside. “It’s about not doing a job I hate: I’m no longer in conflict with myself.” It’s also about being at home, literally: she says she would not have made this change if farming involved commuting to fields elsewhere. “We worked so hard to make our house a home,” she says. “It’s where I feel best.”

Blanda goes for a similarly domestic comparison, likening working from home to cooking from scratch: it might take a while to figure out what you are doing in the kitchen, but once you have nailed it, your meal will almost always taste better.

In spite of the obvious challenges and tough learning curve of bringing your work home, it seems it is worth it: the vast majority of remote workers report enjoying the way they live and work. Of the 100-odd remote workers Holliss interviewed for her studies, only about six said that they would return to the office given the chance. Everyone else loved it. And that may be about as good as working life can get.

This post was originally published at The Guardian.

How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings

These days it’s hard to get people to pay attention in any meeting, but when people aren’t in the same room, it can be especially difficult. And it’s particularly annoying when you make a nine-minute argument, pause for an expected reaction, and get: “I’m not sure I followed you” which might as well mean: “I was shampooing my cat and didn’t realize I would be called on.”

Let’s face it, most meetings have always sucked because there’s often little to zero accountability for engagement. When we are together in a room, we often compensate with coercive eye contact. Participants feel some obligation to feign interest (even if they’re staring at their phones). In situations where you can’t demand attention with ocular oppression, you have to learn to do what we should’ve mastered long ago: create voluntary engagement. In other words, you have to create structured opportunities for attendees to engage fully.

There are four broad reasons to hold a meeting: to influence others, to make decisions, to solve problems, or to strengthen relationships. Since all of these are active processes, passive passengers in a meeting rarely do quality work. The precondition for effective meetings — virtual or otherwise — is voluntary engagement.

We’ve spent the last few years studying virtual training sessions to understand why most virtual gatherings bore groups into a coma. As we’ve done so, we’ve discovered and tested five rules that lead to predictably better meeting outcomes. In one study we did, comparing 200 attendees of a face-to-face experience with 200 of a virtual experience, we found that when these rules are applied, 86% of participants report as high or higher levels of engagement as in face-to-face meetings. And we’ve now applied these rules with over 15,000 meeting participants.

Here’s what works.

Let’s take Raul, a mid-level manager, who is about to lead a 15-minute virtual presentation to 16 of his peers scattered from North to South America. His goal is to convince them they should identify some global sales opportunities from each of their regional account portfolios, then cooperate in pursuing them. To avoid a passive lecture and engage the group, he plans to use 18 slides. Here are the rules Raul should follow.

1. The 60-second rule.

First, never engage a group in solving a problem until they have felt the problem. Do something in the first 60 seconds to help them experience it. You might share shocking or provocative statistics, anecdotes, or analogies that dramatize the problem. For example, Raul could share a statistic showing average global deal sizes for a competitor that provokes a sense of inferiority with the group. He could share an anecdote about a frustrated customer who discontinued purchasing because the team failed to offer global pricing and support. Or, he could engage emotions by making an analogy to whales who feed far more effectively when they work together to encircle large schools of krill— and then take turns gorging on the feast. No matter what tactic you use, your goal is to make sure the group empathetically understands the problem (or opportunity) before you try to solve it.

2. The responsibility rule.

When people enter any social setting, they tacitly work to determine their role. For example, when you enter a movie theater, you unconsciously define your role as observer — you are there to be entertained. When you enter the gym, you are an actor — you are there to work out. The biggest engagement threat in virtual meetings is allowing team members to unconsciously take the role of observer. Many already happily defined their role this way when they received the meeting invite. To counteract this implicit decision, create an experience of shared responsibility early on in your presentation. Don’t do it by saying, “Okay, I want this to be a conversation, not a presentation. I need all of you to be involved.” That rarely works. Instead, create an opportunity for them to take meaningful responsibility. This is best done using the next rule.

3. The nowhere to hide rule.

Research shows that a person appearing to have a heart attack on a subway is less likely to get help the more people there are on the train. Social psychologists refer to this phenomenon as diffusion of responsibility. If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Avoid this in your meeting by giving people tasks that they can actively engage in so there is nowhere to hide. Define a problem that can be solved quickly, assign people to groups of two or three (max). Give them a medium with which to communicate with one another (video conference, Slack channel, messaging platform, audio breakouts). If you’re on a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout groups, use them liberally. Give them a very limited time frame to take on a highly structured and brief task. For example, three minutes into his pitch, Raul could say something like, “The next slide shows who your partner will be. I want you to take two minutes in your breakout group to identify a global regret: a client you believe you could have had a much bigger deal with if we had worked together better in the past 12 months.” Next, he could ask everyone to type their answers into the chat pod, and/or call on one or two to share their example over the phone.

4. The MVP rule.

Nothing disengages a group more reliably than assaulting them with slide after slide of mind-numbing data organized in endless bullet points. It doesn’t matter how smart or sophisticated the group is, if your goal is engagement, you must mix facts and stories. We encourage people to determine the Minimum Viable PowerPoint (MVP) deck they need. In other words, select the least amount of data you need to inform and engage the group. Don’t add a single slide more. A side benefit of this rule is that it forces you to engage the attendees. If you have too many slides, you feel enslaved to “getting through them.” If Raul has 18 minutes to get his job done, 15 slides is far too many. He should be able to make his case with one or two slides, then use any additional slides to accomplish the tasks in rules 1-3 above.

5. The 5-minute rule.

Never go longer than 5 minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. Participants are in rooms scattered hither and yon with dozens of tempting distractions. If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, they will retreat into that alluring observer role, and you’ll have to work hard to bring them back. In his 15-minute presentation, Raul should have 2-3 brief, well-defined, and meaningful engagement opportunities. For example, he could wrap up his presentation with a group-generated list of options, then throw out a polling/voting opportunity to determine the team’s opinion about where to begin.

The truth is these rules should already be second nature, no matter what kind of meeting you’re leading. But the stakes are even higher today when team members are out of sight and their minds are free to wander. Following these five rules will dramatically and immediately change the productivity of any virtual gathering.

This post was originally published on Harvard Business Review.