Plus, there’s often plenty more to be desired when it comes to the quality of such calls; freezing video, failing to screen-share, a long delay, or choppy audio, due to a poor network connection or a lack of bandwidth which means you cannot get an image on screen or follow a presentation during the call. Why do conference calls not work as they are supposed to? The user instructions can be complicated, not user-friendly or incorrect, a poor connection can prevent a high quality conversation. Or a lack of full duplex technology, that is to say technology that allows communication in both directions, and a lack of an inclusive meeting culture that enables a good experience online.
Even Sweden’s Minister for Digitalisation does not allow digital participation in Digitalisation Council meetings, for the simple reason that they don’t trust the technology in their experience. And if someone like him who is supposed to lead the way doesn’t do it, who then should?
However, there are a few rays of hope on the horizon that suggest digital meetings can work well in the future. On 29 September, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) arranged a “Virtual Conference on the Development of University Pedagogics” for which 500 people registered via Zoom.
I personally found myself in the west coast archipelago, one of the less connected places in Sweden, to enjoy the start of the lobster season that weekend. Everything exceeded my expectations; the speeches via digital media, quizzes that resulted in word clouds, questionnaire questions and chaired chats for Q&A sessions and discussions. Lunch with break exercises, gymnastics or a lunch à deux to forge new acquaintances online all worked. The conference was skilfully chaired by the Swedish network for IT in Higher Education (ITHU) and SUNET that made sure speaker microphones were unmuted and that we were included in hives. The format persuaded me to take an active part, ever ready to offer some input or make a comment, instead of checking my email or doing something else on the side.
Pretty soon, I think we are going to be able to hold more meetings digitally than IRL. This will be a necessity if we are to be able to become a more sustainable society and reduce the amount of travel and at the same time enable us to become more effective. Current problems with technology will be a thing of the past. Sound and image quality will give us the same feeling of closeness and affinity as at a physical meeting. But how are we going to reach that point? As organisations we must put high demands on the usability of technology – you should be able to launch a conversation with one click.
The technology should work with all devices and not require any additional installations. Everyone must learn how to use the technology in video conferences, how to get connected and how to troubleshoot when problems arise. Plus, we need to learn how to chair and participate in digital meetings. We need to work together to all become better at organising these meetings and quite simply to dare start using and learning how to hold a good meeting online.