Like many others businesses, Highwire Public Relations told employees to work from home in March. And like many others, they found themselves overwhelmed with virtual meetings: team meetings, one-on-one meetings, client meetings and virtual happy hours. They were suffering from what’s now called Zoom fatigue.
“We quickly found ourselves in nothing but meetings. It was all meetings all the time. It was exhausting and terrifying,” said Carol Carrubba, principal at Highwire PR, told CNN.
The problem isn’t necessarily that people are spending more time in meetings. The problem is that, besides consuming valuable time and causing long work hours, meetings on Zoom and other video conferencing tools drain emotional and mental energy. When attending in-person meetings, people rely on nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, gestures and posture to understand others and reach decisions, perhaps unconsciously. Without non-verbal cues, they become emotionally and mentally exhausted from focusing intensely on words and trying to sustain eye contact and appear interested.
People also feel uncomfortable looking at their own faces. Plus, many people worry about interruptions from children, pets and spouses. Many fret about how their backgrounds in their cluttered homes will look to others.
These are some ideas to reduce Zoom fatigue.
Fewer attendees. If an agenda topic is not relevant to some participants, either adjust the agenda or don’t ask those people to attend. Make meetings optional for those not directly involved with the issue. In the past, employees at cloud communications platform Twilio listed as optional would still attend; many skip them now, CNN reports.
Stop multi-tasking. Many people multi-task during video meetings. They think they’re accomplishing more but they reduce their performance and don’t listen or remember well. Close any tabs or programs that distract, like your mail inbox or Slack, and put your phone away, recommend Liz Fosslien, head of content at Humu, and Mollie West Duffy, an organizational development expert and consultant, in Harvard Business Review.
Rest your eyes. Take small breaks by minimizing the window, moving it to behind your open applications, or occasionally looking away from your computer. People will probably understand. Between online meetings look outside and move around.
Reduce on-screen stimuli. Hide yourself from view to avoid the distraction of seeing yourself. Managers can encourage meeting attendees to use plain backgrounds since people can’t help from being distracted by different backgrounds. Managers can also ask anyone who is not talking to turn off their video.
Reduce annoying sounds. Small sounds like tapping on keyboards, squeaky chairs, and slurping coffee are amplified to others on video calls, say experts at University College Dublin in The Conversation. Record a meeting on your own and listen back to understand how others hear you. Sometimes just moving your microphone can solve the issue. Switching from a laptop’s built-in microphone to a headphone microphone can mask many environmental noises.
Fewer video meetings. A video meeting seems to be the default response to every question, problem or issue. It doesn’t have to be that way. More organizations are limiting the number of video meetings per day, set “quiet times” when no meetings will be held, or schedule meeting-free days. Cloud communications platform Twilio implemented “No Meeting Fridays.”
Meetings without video. Team members can resolve many issues and hold many discussions with email, Slack or phone conferences. “And sometimes, the phone is better. On the phone, we only have to concentrate on one voice and can walk around which can help thinking,” says Libby Sander, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Bond University in Queensland, Australia. It’s especially important to avoid automatically scheduling Zoom calls with people outside your organization whom you don’t know well, warn Fosslein and Duffy. Consider a phone call instead. A video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations.
Set goals and celebrate results. Highwire PR established goals to eliminate 30% of meetings and shorten 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes or less and hour-long meetings to 45 minutes, CNN reports. It then created a Slack channel called the “#timebackchallenge” where workers share what they do with additional free time, such as reading more or making healthier lunches. They saved about three hours a week on average.
Bottom Line: Zoom fatigue is real. There are valid reasons why online video meetings are emotionally and mentally draining. Some simple steps can reduce Zoom fatigue while not hampering collaboration or productivity.
Schedule a Free Online Demo of the Glean.info Media Monitoring & Measurement Dashboard.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.