Focusing on meaningful discussions online

Thursday October 21 2021
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By Business Daily Africa

Many negative consequences swept the world as the coronavirus scourge swept the world. Clearly, negative health consequences proliferated with the devastating loss of lives and many long-term health effects hitting families and communities. Millions also lost jobs or experienced lower salaries, dried customer pipelines, and severe disruptions in global supply chains.

But global pandemics, just like wars, bring terrible immediate results and devastation. Often community and economic upheavals can lead to better societal outcomes in the long term.

The crisis showed the value of universal health coverage, decentralised medical supply chains, and the results from swift decisive government actions juxtaposed against lazy or self-centered local, national, and global politicians.

But the pandemic also ushered in a swift jump towards remote working and studying for hundreds of millions of global citizens and right here in Kenya for those fortunate to hold jobs, working from home was appropriate.

While the technology for remote working and distance learning existed for decades, it failed to make such an indelible mark on society until the pandemic.

While technology firms long embraced working from home and upstart universities endorsed virtual classes, Covid-19 brought mainstream insurance, banks, and consulting firms online while even Ivy League education leaders like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton rushed towards online classes. Here in Kenya, education luminaries like Strathmore and USIU-Africa brought mainstreamed quality tertiary remote learning.


Better technology came about through the explosion of usage and improvements in Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts.

Here in Kenya, parents embraced technological solutions for the children's learning needs as seen in the start-up and quick growth of innovative Kidato School and Pata Tutor.

Earlier Business Talk articles here in the Business Daily highlighted the effects of remote working as increased work hours, disproportionately affecting women, and decreasing efficiency. But research from David Strayer, Jason Watson, David Sanbobmatsu, and Nathan Medeiros-Ward show the effects of multitasking.

We can extrapolate the results to our current remote working, virtual learning, and hybrid in-person-online combinations. As thousands of Kenyans delved into remote working and forced hours on Zoom, Teams, and Hangouts meetings, one benefit against in-person gatherings is the ability to multi-task.

How many of us have sat in a departmental meeting since Covid-19 hit with the manager or moderator calling someone's name over and over and them not responding or a colleague asking a question that someone else had literally just given an answer to. In learning environments, teachers and lecturers can call on students who cannot respond effectively to the lesson.

Much of these reasons involve multi-tasking of the online participants that would not be tolerated in an in-person class or meeting.

The above researchers quantified how much worse people perform while multi-tasking. A staggering 97.5 percent of people perform worse while trying to do two tasks at the same time. The amount of task performance decline ranged on average from nine percent to 14 percent worse than focusing on only one task at a time.

So, while we feel more productive multi-tasking during virtual meetings and lessons, we actually often get less done.

So, if you are leading an online meeting, during important sections, have everyone turn on their web cameras and microphones and try to foster meaningful discussions and lessen the temptation to multi-task or social loaf.