At a recent event, I spoke to a chief technology officer (CTO) about how it was not unusual for him to have a day of 14 consecutive half-hour meetings. He explained that it started at the start of the pandemic and by 4 p.m. he was completely exhausted and struggling to stay focused and pay attention. He added, however, that over time he got used to such a busy schedule and was able to manage his energy and focus better.
Upon hearing this story, I commented that while I often hear stories like this from all kinds of executives at different companies, I often wonder how people end up getting a job if they’re in meetings consecutive throughout the day.
I asked mildly ironically how we got here, given that I had never seen a job description containing an objective requiring a person to attend as many meetings as physically possible.
This elicited a few smiles and quite a few nods.
While my comment was playful, it also contained a serious point that I made to many executives about how they should actively manage their time to create the space to really reflect and understand the challenges they face. .
I was thinking back to this conversation the other day when I came across research from Microsoft on the impact on our brains and emotional state when we have back-to-back meetings.
Use of electroencephalography [EEG] cap, the Microsoft research team was able to monitor electrical activity in the brains of attendees of back-to-back meetings. Unsurprisingly, they found that back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful, and a series of meetings can reduce your ability to focus and engage.
However, research has also found that introducing short breaks between meetings to allow people to move, stretch, collect their thoughts, or have a drink of water can help reduce the cumulative buildup of stress during a series of meetings.
It’s a really helpful insight, and I hope more executives and their teams embrace the introduction of these short breaks between meetings to reduce stress, promote well-being, and maintain attention levels.
But I also wondered if these search results had a broader application.
Specifically, I thought about whether the calls taken by customer service agents could be analogous to a series of very short consecutive meetings. If so, it has ramifications for the level of stress that customer service representatives face. This is highlighted when you consider that the average customer service representative is often expected to be constantly on calls for the duration of an 8 hour shift, with the exception of a 30 minute lunch break and two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning. and one in the afternoon.
So is it any wonder that the contact center industry faces constant burnout and high levels of employee turnover?
Suppose we want to build a more sustainable approach to serving our customers, especially on live channels like phone or video. If we do, we need to think more clearly and with more empathy about our agents and what they are going through.
Now I know the technology is changing to help meet this challenge and that’s great. But we must not stop there. Building a more attractive and sustainable contact center model will require us to rethink both contact center operations and their economics.