Digital Engagement and Life on a Laptop

by Elizabeth Porter

Digital Engagement and Life on a Laptop

This article has been adapted from our whitepaper “Notes on Digital Engagement”.  Download the full whitepaper here.

With the spread of coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 / COVID-19 has come the spread of use of videoconference and remote collaboration platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and accelerated adoption of online learning. People are discovering the limits of simply trying to run a meeting the same way they do in a conference room, or deliver a class online in exactly the same way they do a class on campus. Attention spans are shorter, the kind of connection and communication you have with another person or a group of people is different. 

We like the metaphor that it’s as difficult as the transition from silent movies to “talkies”, or from 2-hour theatrical films to TikTok. Each of these are examples of phase-changes, paradigm shifts from one way of communicating to another.

How can we improve the manner in which we engage through digital?  How can we make it more productive?

A critical insight is that the size of the meeting or class has a dramatic impact on which digital tools you use to enable that meeting to be more successful.  We’ve put together a brief summary of different modes of engagement, and what tools work best for each:

  • Video is important because it delivers social cues and more engagement. As much as possible, you want to see peoples’ faces. 
  • No matter how long the meeting, every 3 to 5 minutes you need to create an interaction mechanism so that people need to do something and think. It can be a Socratic question, an invitation for comment, a quick on-the-fly survey, but in all instances you need to check in with people frequently – more frequently than in a live meeting or classroom.
  • You absolutely need to create a way for each person to participate. If it’s a bigger meeting or class, you might use polls, other digital devices, and breakout groups.  For meetings under 8 people, you can use timers or AI-driven collaboration systems (like the Riff Platform).
  • Email is the last resort. Most people don’t read them. In fact, research published in Harvard Business Review shows that more productive teams send 17% fewer emails.

For detail on each type of meeting and how to get the most out of it, please download our free whitepaper “Notes on Digital Engagement”.

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