Tired of ZOOMing all the time?
The combination of video meetings and working from home has not only blurred the line between our home and office lives, it’s created a new phenomenon called Virtual Meeting Fatigue (VMF).
VMF is the feeling of exhaustion after attending a series of virtual video meetings – and it’s serious. Although current data is not exact, scientists agree that video meetings deplete the brain’s store of glucose, which is the fuel that brain cells use for cognition, usually replenished during sleep cycles. This results in tiredness, worry, or burnout. Like other experiences created from the pandemic, VMF is widely prevalent, intense, and completely new.
It’s a new world out there, and we have all been through many changes, personally and professionally. We need to amend some of our behaviors to acclimate correctly. This includes giving yourself shut off times – and sticking to it. It’s tempting to check the phone every time your work email pings but make a commitment to yourself, your family, your brain to leave work at an appointed hour.
Take “brain breaks” regularly – to relax, clear, and rejuvenate – in order to mitigate VMF and allow time to absorb the meeting content and next steps. Collect feedback on your meetings to help shape future meeting content or duration, either informally or via a formal pulse survey, and ask your team for suggestions.
Here is a list of suggested questions to ask your meeting attendees:
How helpful are our team meetings?
What is working well and not so well? What should we do differently?
To optimize your workflow, should our meetings be scheduled in the morning, midday, or afternoon?
How long should our meetings be?
How often should we meet?
Would you benefit from days or time blocks with no meetings?
If you were to lead the meeting, what would you do differently?
After collecting feedback, reflect on it. Let their thoughts sink in and decide what you want to experiment with. You won’t be able to accommodate everyone, but you can mix it up. Try one team member idea for a week; another idea the next week. Your team will appreciate that you listened and heard them, and that you are making the effort to accommodate their needs.
Develop your own Best Practices for virtual meetings, and include expectations and etiquette. Researchers suggest keeping meetings short whenever possible (no more than 30 minutes), adding frequent 5 minute breaks for longer meetings, and avoiding consecutive meetings. This will reduce cognitive overload which occurs after 30 minutes of continuous partial attention (CPA).
Here’s a list to get you started:
Cancel unnecessary meetings and make necessary meetings shorter.
Assign different roles to attendees when it makes sense, such as facilitator, notetaker, or timekeeper.
Use breakout rooms for problem-solving, discussions, and social interactions.
Hold asynchronous meetings, such as by creating a shared Google Doc for employees to contribute to throughout the day.
Build in breaks during long meetings and in between back-to-back meetings. Encourage employees to get up, stretch, and walk around.
Implement meeting-free time blocks or days.
Moderate and facilitate virtual meetings more actively, moving topics along when needed and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
Turn off “self view,” if possible, on your meeting platform and make camera use optional for some meetings. Looking at ourselves can be stressful.
Try a 30 second meditation before you begin. This allows people to relax their brains, gather their thoughts and present or listen much more effectively.
Balancing the number of meetings is imperative for proper health and energy levels, and blocking off time for reflection is vital for cognitive recall. When associates take the time to reflect on a meeting or review our notes, they will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the leadership perspective needed to level up your own ideas.
Now that we are in the spring season and warmer temperatures are imminent, make it a point to walk outside and release your mind from the stresses of the work day.
Take a look at the Top Ten Tips to Reduce VMF below. These simple steps can make our lives easier, more productive, and rewarding.
TOP TEN WAYS TO REDUCE VIRTUAL MEETING FATIGUE
1. Use the Active Speaker view. Consider asking participants to change their video layout to Active Speaker view. This will reduce the amount of information each attendee needs to process.
2. Standardize the meeting background. When it’s important to use the gallery view so everyone can see each other, consider asking participants to use a solid color background filter to reduce onscreen stimuli.
3. Discourage multi-tasking during virtual meetings. Both continuous partial attention (CPA) and multi-tasking can cause the brain to deplete its store of glucose and inspire a desire for sleep. The difference is that CPA is an unconscious thought process that happens automatically — while multi-tasking is a choice that requires conscious effort.
4. Use virtual meeting software judiciously. Even during a pandemic, not every meeting needs to be conducted through virtual meeting software. Sometimes it’s more efficient (and less tiring) to share information with a phone call, email, or chat thread.
5. Create an agenda beforehand and share it with all participants. Meetings that meander from topic to topic without purpose are exhausting and a waste of time. Before every meeting, create an agenda listing the important topics to touch on and the meeting’s overarching goal.
6. Be selective about who you invite. For less stressful and more efficient meetings, keep them as small as possible. The more people added to a meeting—especially a video call—the more potential distractions you add. Plus, it’s always going to be more exhausting trying to manage a 20-person meeting versus a 5-person one. Research tells us that fatigue begins in about 30 to 40 minutes into a meeting.
7. Think 20-20-20. To ease eye strain, every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
8. Reduce distracting noise. In a physical meeting, we would all be in the same room and it would be easier to identify distracting noises. But in a virtual meeting, we’ve got noise sources from several different places at once. This requires extra energy trying to identify where the noise is coming from and listen to what the speakers are saying.
9. Find ways to socialize with associates outside of meetings. Video meetings can drag on because it’s the only time we feel we can socialize with the coworkers we used to work side-by-side with every week day. For that reason, try creating social activities outside of work meetings to bond with associates. Companies have had success with shared game platforms, virtual happy hours, and just talking about personal plans in the beginning of the meeting.
10. Acknowledge that maybe you just miss your coworkers and your “old normal.” They say remote work is the “new normal” for us during the pandemic. And while many office workers love to complain about their pesky coworkers, nagging boss, and stuffy cubicle—the truth is, some people miss how things used to be.
And now a word on etiquette. What is virtual etiquette?
Be respectful. Even though virtual meetings don’t seem as professional, the truth is that they are. As such, they deserve the same respect and etiquette. That means that everyone should turn off any smartphone or computer notifications, mute their mic when not speaking, and always looking into the camera.
Consider your background. Is it appropriate? It is distracting? Looking at several different backgrounds can stress the brain as well, so consider your team mates and stick with a solid color or an acceptable standard for your company.
Come prepared and ask for an agenda is one is not presented. Make time in your day to be ready for the meeting. Do your pre-reading. Leave comments on the agenda. Send notes if you want to add things to talk about. You can do your part to make the meeting great if you can jump into the discussion time as soon as possible.
Tell your brain it’s time for the meeting. Think about how you went to meetings when you were in the office. You stopped working, stood up, and stretched. You grabbed a notebook, and walked by the desk of coworkers to see if they were ready. You grabbed a quick cup of coffee and had a seat in a totally different room from where you were before.
What happens when you attend a virtual meeting from home? You work right up until 9:59am, click a link, and BOOM, you’re in the meeting. Instead, five minutes before the meeting, stand up, stretch, and go get something to drink. Consider logging in from a different room, or at least a different part of the room. If you don’t need to share visuals, take a walk.
You are trying to make a shift from your personal focused work to a more engaged mindset. Otherwise, you’ll immediately start thinking about the other work you could be doing instead of being in the meeting. Changing your environment will help you stay engaged with the conversation instead of doing email.
Dress appropriately. Even business casual workplaces frown on sweatpants and hoodies. Dress as you would for the office and present a neat appearance.
Prevent your distractions. Turn off all chat applications and notifications. Silence your phone. Close out any tabs that aren’t essential to the meeting. If you are a fidgeter, have something in your hand.
Log in early. Don’t wait until the last minute to log in. You will start off distracted, and you may forget to log in on time. Logging in five minutes ahead of time is good online meeting etiquette for attendees. Start some light conversation with others. If you are going to be late, send a message to the meeting organizer so they know if they should wait for you.
Start with video on unless otherwise directed. Video is a powerful way to maintain a human connection in a virtual meeting. Starting a call with a bunch of blank screens is pretty cold and impersonal. If you are uncomfortable sharing your background, apply a filter or a blur. “I didn’t brush my hair” is not a valid or professional excuse to keep your video off during a planned business meeting. If connectivity or bandwidth is a problem, let everyone know you are going to turn your video off after saying hello.
Speak slowly. Be aware of non-native speakers on the call. Many rely on watching your face or reading lips to get the full context. Without those signals, they need you to slow down to make sure they catch what you say.
Don’t leave the room. You wouldn’t quietly sneak out the back door of an in-person meeting, would you? Online meeting etiquette for attendees is the same. If something urgent comes up, such as signing for a delivery at the door, leave a chat message to say you will be right back. If you have your video off, send another message when you return. This also prevents the awkwardness of being called on during the meeting and not answering.
Dealing with interruptions. If your dog, child, grandmother, or spouse walks into the screen, don’t freak out. By this point, everyone’s had this experience. It’s just another reminder that we are all humans trying to figure this out.
Chat side conversations. Is it bad virtual meeting etiquette to send chat messages? Not necessarily. Chat during meetings can actually be a fun way to augment the experience and make it more fun for everyone. But do not think it’s appropriate to send a private chat about someone else in the meeting. You may forget to hit private and it could go to ‘all’ and plus it’s not nice.
- The chat should be available to everyone. Quick, private side conversations are bad online meeting etiquette.
- Don’t make a comment that degrades someone.
- Be respectful of the meeting host.
Don’t talk over people. In a virtual meeting, it’s hard to know exactly who spoke first. Be ready to let the other person speak ahead of you. If you need to complete a statement, say something like, “Ramon, I just want to finish this thought, and then I want to hear what you have to say.”
Resist the urge to do other work. At some point you’ll get the urge to check your messages, research a catch phrase, or get lost finding the perfect GIF response. Doing work while on a meeting means you won’t be focused on either and both will suffer.
If you find yourself consistently distracted, here are a few things to try:
- Keep your hands in the video feed
- Take the call on a mobile device and shut down your laptop
- Always volunteer to share your screen for the group when required
- Change your atmosphere (see above)
Be inclusive. Include remote callers in pre-meeting chitchat. Direct questions specifically to remote attendees if you haven’t heard much from them.
No whispers. Don’t start a side conversation with someone else in the room where no remote team members can hear it. This is bad online meeting etiquette in any situation.
Defer to remote speakers instead of interrupting. If you and a remote attendee spoke at the same time, always allow the other person to go first.
Stick around afterwards. Some of the best conversations happen after the meeting is over. Instead of chatting with people in the office, give a remote team member a call right afterwards. Debrief the call and catch up for a few minutes.
As with most things, digital has changed the face of meetings. Proper online meeting etiquette for attendees is new and changing every day. Virtual meeting etiquette exists to smooth out the digital experience so that everyone gets the most out of the meeting.
And please, always remember to make time for yourself.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing virtual meeting fatigue or to eliminating “bad” meetings. Be willing to adapt and grow and adjust as needs change or evolve. Rely on meeting best practices and develop a tailored response to make sure your next virtual meeting energizes rather than drains. Find out what matters to your people and then deliver. Most of all, take care of your brain, because a happy brain is a happy life.