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Virtual meetings: How can we make them less tiring?

Posted on 26th August 2020 by Vanessa Cole


Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, almost one-third (32 per cent) of working Australians have moved to doing so from home. This means that the 4.3 million of us who are now logging in from our dining tables are taking part in virtual meetings:

  • By 22nd March this year, the number of people using the video conferencing software Zoom each day increased by 378 per cent compared to the same date in 2019

  • Also in March, the number of people using Microsoft Teams grew by 12 million globally in just one week

  • Between early February and the end of March, there was an increase of over 300 per cent in the number of people using Teams at least weekly on their mobile devices

This new way of working has been hard for some to adjust to. It has led to the rise of a new phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue’, where people find virtual meetings difficult to cope with.

What is Zoom fatigue, and why does it happen?

Zoom fatigue is the experience of finding virtual meetings more tiring and draining than face-to-face ones, and it happens because of the differences between the environments.

When we’re all in a room together, we put each other at ease, subconsciously read each other’s body language, make eye contact and communicate in a way that flows naturally. We get to experience each other’s emotional responses – something that connects us, adds to our overall experience of the meeting and also impacts management decisions.

By contrast, virtual meetings make it much harder to read non-verbal cues, and so our brains have to spend more energy filling in the gaps.

Feeling the vibes

In a virtual meeting, we rely heavily on what is being said without being able to physically feel the vibe in the room. The sensation that arises instead is nervous anxiety following increasingly awkward gaps while everyone is on mute and no-one can un-mute quickly enough. Research shows that any delay in responding can make us look unfocused or less friendly. When we finally do un-mute, we inevitably jump and speak at the same time as somebody else, and then worry that everyone thinks we’re rude.

How do I look?

Virtual meetings bring an acute awareness that we’re being watched, leading to self-consciousness about our appearance and behaviour, when normally we’d be focused on listening. We even worry if our colleagues will judge our loungeroom, or think that we’re not in control of our lives if the kids run in or we have broadband problems.

Are we in this together?

The lack of pre-meeting relationship building is having an affect; seemingly throwaway conversations that normally take place between our desk and the meeting room build a sense of togetherness that are important for wellbeing.

A few tips on how Team MAYDAY combats Zoom fatigue:

1. Keep it fun

There’s a time for business, and there’s a time for virtual pub quizzes, home-based scavenger hunts, Friday wins (to celebrate all the positives of that week), and beginning meetings with each person stating what they’re grateful for – gratitude is proven to be a huge mood booster.

2. Keep the small talk

Build in a little time at the beginning for small talk – ask about weekends, what people are making for lunch or what the kids have been up to. This gives a sense of normality and relaxation before business begins.

3. Build in breaks

We try to keep meetings shorter, cancel meetings that aren’t truly necessary, and ensure that if a longer meeting is necessary, to give everyone a five-minute break in the middle and encourage the team to get up and stretch.

4. Keep settings simple

Video meetings mean our brains have to process more visual stimuli than usual. If possible, have a plain wall behind you, and encourage others to do the same, so the screen is less cluttered.

5. Allow attendees to switch the camera off

Encouraging the team to switch their camera off reduces anxiety and the fatigue that comes with being watched. People can stand up and stretch while listening, without distracting others.

6. Keep some communications personal

Instead of involving the whole team, if communications can be done one-to-one by phone or even via email, we have the chance to keep it personal – personal communications help employees feel valued.

Want more information and tips?

Zoom fatigue is here, but hopefully not to stay. If you would like advice and support on how to make pandemic-era work easier, please contact us. Our experienced team of consultants are at the ready to take on your business’ unique challenges with innovative, tailored solutions.