Microsoft’s Copilot will let you join 3 meetings at once, but experts say it misses the point: ‘No one has ever wanted to be in a meeting’

AI productivity tools could exacerbate a culture of too many meetings and no meaningful connections, management expert warns Read More...

Microsoft launched its AI productivity tool Copilot with the goal of increasing efficiency and eliminating menial tasks. But office workers who discovered a questionable advertisement for the feature are wondering if Microsoft isn’t itself adding to that unnecessary work.

In the ad, a user brags: “Can I be in three meetings at once?” “Watch me,” complete with a frowning woman at a computer. Actual office workers were not sold on the function.

“I’m not an expert on Microsoft Copilot, but what feature specifically is enabling this to work?” one tech worker said in an Instagram video reacting to the ad. “This is implying they got the AI sitting in the meeting for her, but I haven’t heard about that feature.”

“They are marketing this like crazy and I’m like how on earth is it going to be productive if like a third of the meeting attendees are just these AI stand ins,” another user commented. “Most meetings could be a well written email.”

“Copilot, enabling burnout, overwork, underpay and untimely death of people,” another said.

Copilot, introduced for Microsoft365 in November 2023, is one of many productivity tools introduced by tech companies promising AI bot stand-ins to take notes and summarize telecall meetings. They’re a result of the rapid proliferation of meetings—and the growing frustration of the people having to attend them.

Since 2020, Microsoft Teams users have tripled the time they spend in meetings, according to a September 2022 Microsoft blog post, with the rates of overlapping Teams meetings increasing to 46%. A Microsoft spokesperson told Fortune, “Copilot can help users summarize a missed meeting nearly 4x faster than non-Copilot users,” citing internal research from the company.

But the anonymous angry comments regarding the program have validity, according to Jeanine Turner, professor of management and director of the communication, culture and technology program at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Microsoft even admitted it: There are too many meetings. And rather than solving this problem through apps and tools, Turner said, Microsoft Copilot is at best a treatment to a symptom of a systemic issue—and at worst, enables a massive workplace culture flaw.

“Microsoft Copilot is solving a micro-problem that emerged as a result of all of these other factors that are creating so many meetings,” she told Fortune. “You can see how that doesn’t really solve the overall systemic problem with too many meetings. It just allows people to go to more meetings. Because three—why stop at three?”

Why you can’t trust your digital twin

Tech companies are already starting to push the boundaries of what AI is capable of in meetings. Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan is hoping to create an AI avatar, or “digital twin,” to attend meetings on behalf of employees. The feature would eventually be able to respond to most emails and answer calls, Yuan said.

“You and I can have more time to have more in-person interactions, but maybe not for work,” Eric Yuan told The Verge earlier this month. “Why not spend more time with your family? Why not focus on some more creative things, giving you back your time, giving back to the community and society to help others, right?”

But Turner argued these AI bots are enabling attendees to zone out: “No one has ever wanted to be in a meeting,” she said. With more excuses to not pay attention, there’s “more and more of a disconnect between this relationship between people and what they’re talking about.”

From a managerial perspective, zoned-out meeting attendees not only miss out on spontaneous watercooler interactions that promote workplace bonding, but also the magic of riffing off employees to unravel a challenging problem and create unique solutions.

“A lot of the serendipitous task-like conversation is not happening,” she said.

Beyond the interpersonal disconnect is the potential for a logistical nightmare, Turner said. Sure, your AI double may be taking thorough notes, but now you, the employee or a manager has to actually go through all those notes. Without having attended the meeting in person, they also have no idea which bullet points on that meeting summary are the most important. What comes next in this confusion spiral—recruiting AI tools to decipher which parts of the AI-generated notes summary are most important?

“Now we’re getting more and more disconnected from our work,” Turner said. “They are really just perpetuating the madness,” she added.

Too many meetings

Not only are AI bots potentially harmful to workplace connection, they also perpetuate the pandemic-era problem of overly abundant meetings that remain deeply ingrained in workplace culture post-pandemic. Turning to Zoom and other digital productivity tools in March 2020 was a split-second decision for many managers made out of necessity, but it’s not a necessity now.

“We had 48 hours, basically…[to] figure out how to address the fact that we couldn’t be in person anymore,” Turner said. “We solved that—in a time of global crisis—with Band-Aid solutions.”

These temporary solutions have become problems in their own right: Not only did the onslaught of remote meetings balloon—to the tune of 300 million daily Zoom users by April 2020—but those meetings are not guaranteed to be a source of productivity. About 30% of employees complete unrelated work tasks during Zoom meetings, like responding to emails or editing a document. Retailer Asos blamed its virtual meetings on the company’s sluggish post-COVID recovery, it told employees in an internal correspondence this week.

Meetings have lost their potency and power, Turner argued, because they are happening with frequency—but not urgency.

“We’re using them as a mechanism for kicking the can down the road, when we really should have been thinking, What is it we’re doing that requires a meeting?” she said.

Copilot’s promise of relieving workers of mundane tasks may fall short of solving workplaces’ meeting crisis, but it can still provide useful tools, Turner said: For one, it likely takes better notes than employees, and for workers with different learning and communication styles, such as conflict-averse people, those thorough notes can be a way to follow-up with a manager or co-worker about a particular issue.

The systemic problems caused by so many meetings means that programs like Copilot aren’t inherently harmful to workplace culture,Turner suggested, but they require intention to make them truly effective. This is an uphill battle: Managers don’t have a track record of intentionally scheduling meetings over Zoom, so why would they start being intentional in figuring out how to introduce shortcut technologies like AI bots?

“It absolutely can be [an efficient] time-solver,” Turner said. “It’s just that once again, we have to be thoughtful and careful of how it’s used.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

Read More

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment