Asynchronous videos: Can the TikTok generation save us from meeting overload?

Technology vendors seem to think there's something to asynchronous video and messaging. It's worth a try, given meeting overload is real.

Meeting overload is real and we're all looking for a break from a calendar stacked with video calls, check-ins and meetups that seemed to be designed just to keep you from getting into your workflow.

The big question: Is asynchronous communication the answer?

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Technology vendors seem to think there's something to asynchronous video and messaging. Consider:

  • Cisco's Webex has tools to send asynchronous video and analytics that give you insights on whether you speak on meetings or not. Rule of thumb: If you don't speak during meetings, chances are you don't have to attend. Cisco's Hybrid Work Index for October found that 48% of meeting participants didn't speak. 
  • Zoom has added video voicemail to Zoom Phone and asynchronous features to Zoom Whiteboard.
  • Salesforce's Slack recently launched Slack Clips, which enable customers to share audio, video or screen recordings within any Slack channel or direct message.

Bret Taylor, chief operating officer and president of Salesforce, summed up the meeting fatigue issue:

If you read about Zoom fatigue, it's because everyone took the meetings and the conference rooms and they moved to the video conference room and said, we've digitally transformed. And you feel exhausted by the end of the day, and you don't feel more connected to your colleagues. If you had a morning standup meeting, people could do that asynchronously and watch it on their own time. So, it gives employees more flexibility to actually work asynchronously. If you talk to any leader who's really been successful managing a distributed workforce, asynchronous is one of the words you'll hear a lot out of their mouths because that's really how you take full advantage of the different time zones, different workforce plans, recruiting for more cities, but it's not easy.

Here are three reasons why I'd agree with Taylor that asynchronous won't be easy.

  • Discipline. Meetings are undisciplined. If an exec requests a 3- to 10-minute video instead of a 30-minute meeting whoever makes the video needs to be on point.
  • Culture. There are two cultural hurdles to asynchronous meetings. First, some of us aren't that great at video. I've just worked my way up to being below average at video. And then there are the managers. Many meetings just want you on video in that little box to show you're "working." These long-winded video meetings are less intrusive than a key logger (maybe).
  • Video-centricity. Asynchronous meetings will be awesome once the TikTok generation starts running the show. Teens and tweens are capable of good asynchronous content. It's safe to say most enterprises aren't up to speed on quick hit videos.

Nevertheless, this asynchronous thing is worth trying today. Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco's security and collaboration business, has a standing rule for anyone who wants a 30-minute one-on-one meeting. The rule: Send a video no more than 10 minutes. "The lack of focus time is the biggest stressor with meetings so I've moved a lot of work asynchronous," said Patel, who said he's been using personal insights from his WebEx dashboard to track how time is spent.

Patel then sets aside some time to watch a stack of 10-minute asynchronous videos and provides feedback in a direct message if follow up is needed. Add it up and Patel took 180 minutes of meetings and cut it to 60 minutes or less. Pro tip: Executives are watching these clips at 2x speed to get the gist faster. Webex recently announced Vidcast, an asynchronous video tool.

Tamar Yehoshua, chief product officer at Slack, has replaced internal standup meetings with 3-minute video clips. Watch the video on your time, respond in a channel and acquire more productive time. "Instead of going to a 30-minute meeting, I can fast-forward (video), play them on 2x speed and get done in 10 minutes," said Yehoshua. "You aggregate all of that together, and it saves a tremendous amount of time."

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The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. A member writes it of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. 

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