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Exclusive: This is why you can and should multitask in a video call

Is being a multitasker a good trait to have, or does it indicate that the person isn’t really giving each task their full attention?

In some cases, video meetings do not require cameras being on, and multitasking can involve doing laundry Multitasking, like taking notes or looking at the documents being discussed, helps people stay focused Stick to shorter tasks you can drop in and out of, such as reviewing or responding to quick emails

 By: Sam Tayan, Head of MENA at Zoom

Multitasking has always been a topic of debate. Is being a multitasker a good trait to have, or does it indicate that the person isn’t really giving each task their full attention? As video conferencing has become a major part of our lives, it seems that multitasking has become a norm. It makes us feel more productive and gives us a sense of achievement. While many advise refraining from multitasking during video conferencing, we are programmed and, in some cases, incentivized to do so. So, the question remains: should we multitask while video conferencing?

Remote work wasn’t a common amongst practice before the pandemic, but suddenly became a new way of work ever since. We had to adapt quickly to it and in many cases, we weren’t sure how to best handle the sudden change. One new grey area which emerged, as a result, is the etiquette around remote work. Do you have to dress up for meetings? Or is it acceptable to go with a more casual and laid-back look since we aren’t in the office? Is it ‘good manners’ to look into the camera and try to engage with everyone? Will looking around the screen during a call be misunderstood as you are busy with other things?

Good manners never go out of fashion. There are some age-old guidelines for good meeting etiquette, such as punctuality, maintaining eye contact, and paying attention. Applying those same principles to our video meetings can go a long way in ensuring a productive experience for all as they would be appreciated regardless.

Another key area that has come into the spotlight, is multi-tasking whilst on a video conference call. In some cases, video meetings do not require cameras being on, and multitasking can involve doing laundry and shopping online at the same time. According to a survey by Uniphore, 56% of UAE consumers reported they spent significantly more time on video last year than in prior years. Participants admitted to doing a wide range of nonwork-related tasks, including web surfing, online shopping, and social media scanning, and attending to other projects during video calls.

In some cases, multitasking during online work meetings, like taking notes or looking at the documents being discussed, helps people stay focused and to keep up with their workload. Employers should be aware of this and support more flexibility when teams are multitasking.

As multitasking isn’t going to go away, how can we be considerate of the other call participants and minimize any potential disruption that multitasking may have on the call? Here are some pointers to consider:

  • Choose your multitasking activity wisely: Try to steer clear of longer tasks that require mental immersion or extensive creative thinking or problem-solving skills. These activities will draw your attention away from the call, and the likelihood is that both the call and your side-activity will suffer as a result. Instead, try to stick to shorter tasks you can drop in and out of, such as reviewing or responding to quick emails. 
  • Prep and review call agenda: Familiarize yourself with the agenda before the call if possible, or at least review it carefully at the start of the call, so that you can work out when you’re likely to be called upon to contribute and when you’ll just be listening. Pay particular attention to changeovers between agenda items (which is more easily done with shorter in-and-out tasks, as explained above). Avoid multitasking during periods where the agenda indicates you’re more likely to be called upon and try to restrict your multitasking to items that are more clearly removed from you.
  • Mute is your friend: Background noise is one of the most disruptive elements you can bring to a conference call, whether it be taking the call from somewhere not geared up for conference calls – like the airport or a coffee shop – or keyboard tapping from other work you’re doing. When you’re not required to speak, make sure that you mute your line to avoid including unwanted noise. The flipside of this is that you must remember to unmute your line when you’re called upon to speak!

Meeting virtually has changed the nature of our social interactions, but remote work and conference calls will still be part of our lives. Being mindful of specific multitasking activities, timing and methods, won’t lead to unwanted meeting disruptions.