Video meetings can quickly turn from fun to annoying.
One big issue with them is that they look deceptively convenient. Managers might think that since employees are attending video meetings from the comfort of their homes with only a few clicks, they have more freedom in scheduling and prolonging these meetings to squeeze the most out of them. And so, a simple note that could be delivered via email or, at most, a phone call turns into an unwelcome video call.
Video meetings could lose their purpose and get unnecessarily lengthy, which will in turn cause video call fatigue, a phenomenon widely known as "Zoom fatigue.” Over time, your meetings could adversely affect your employee’s performance and overall mental health.
You need to keep your video meetings time-boxed and purposeful to avoid this.
In this article, I’ll briefly explore possible causes for “Zoom fatigue” and then offer ways to keep your video meetings time-boxed and purposeful, thus avoiding “zoom fatigue.”
What is “Zoom fatigue”?
After the pandemic left companies with no choice but to go remote and use video calls for meetings, Zoom, the video conferencing company, went from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to more than 300 million daily participants 5 months later. The word “Zooming” has been gaining momentum in everyday conversations ever since, just like “Googling” did when it became a part of our lives.
The problem began when the excessive use of video calls for work caused widespread user fatigue. Zoom fatigue soon became a fad, and many major media outlets started picking on the issue.
One survey by Virtira Consulting showed that “nearly half of professionals working remotely (49%), which translates to 32 million individuals, reported a high degree of exhaustion due to numerous daily video calls”.
The most comprehensive study on Zoom fatigue is probably done by Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford University professor. In his research, he proposes four possible explanations for Zoom Fatigue:
1) Eye Gaze at a Close Distance
During a Zoom call, people need to maintain close eye contact with speakers that have unnaturally big faces on the screen. During a zoom meeting, this excessive closeup gaze is typically reserved for an intimate talk with the loved ones in real (physical) life.
With strangers, it could be intense. As a result, people tend to avoid excessive eye contact with the speaker (taking notes, checking out the handouts or the presentation board, etc.). Still, during a Zoom call, people need to maintain eye contact with the speaker, which puts the speaker in a stressful position, much like everybody experiences when doing public speaking.
Hours of forced close-up eye contact are stressful for Zoom users.
2) Cognitive Load
The non-verbal cues in a physical conversation (head nods, direct eye contact, smiles, etc.) are demonstrated and perceived naturally and without any effort (or cognitive load). However, during a video meeting, these behaviors need to be shown intentionally and are more difficult to perceive and process by people.
For example, during a Zoom call, you should always position yourself in the middle of the screen, nod excessively to show your approval of a point, or stare excessively at speakers. Receivers of these signals should also spend more time and energy interpreting these behaviors. This high level of cognitive load could be exhausting over time.
3) An All Day Mirror
Imagine someone keeps holding a mirror in front of you all day long so that you’d see yourself anytime you’re speaking. This is basically how the default mode on Zoom functions. As a result, you see your face in your feed while speaking (you can change the settings to “hide self-view” to avoid this). And this level of self-focused attention might cause distress over long periods.
4) Reduced Mobility
In physical meetings, people are free to move, have gestures, walk, stretch, and be more creative with their body movements. These movements have proved to increase the effectiveness of their speech and reduce stress. However, during video calls, you need to maintain a static distance from the camera and position yourself in the center of the screen. This reduces your mobility and might cause distress.
Needless to say, “video call fatigue” could have adverse effects on the overall performance of your employees. Over time, they might lose interest in contributing to your meetings. To avoid this, you need to keep your sessions purposeful and time-boxed. Here’s how.
How to keep your video meetings purposeful and time-boxed
1- Promote a results-first work culture
Managers’ obsession with meetings seems to have aggravated in remote work culture. The reason might have less to do with accomplishing a tangible business goal than having their teams under control. Excessive emphasis on video meetings is, in fact, an attempt on the managers' side to exercise their supervision and restore the lost control of their teams.
The root cause for this is the managers’ preference for “surveillance and visible busyness” of employees rather than “defined outcomes and trust,” as Cal Newport writes for The New Yorker. Managers tend to define productive work as seeing their employees busy in their office booths: “How will I know people are working if I can’t see them?”
But as Jody Thompson, an early proponent of results-first work culture, asks, “people are sitting in their cubes, going to meetings, grumbling about how busy they are, but are they actually making progress on measurable results?”
It makes more sense to have a culture of trust in the work environment. Employees are responsible for achieving a particular set of results in a time frame and are free to choose their work environment, office hours, and, obviously, their preferred communication method.
“Trust is the number one value we share,” says ZeroBounce COO Brian Minick. “I manage remote teams across the U.S. and Europe, and if I didn’t trust everyone, we wouldn’t be able to work together. Luckily, our employees are independent and driven people, so we don’t need to micromanage them. We all work for the same goals, and no matter where we are in the world, this always keeps us pushing forward,” Minick adds.
However, such a huge culture change demands a lot of dedication and training. Moreover, not everybody is the right fit for this kind of freedom: some employees might lack the discipline to complete their assigned tasks independently.
Employee engagement software tools allow you to evaluate and manage your employees’ work performance in the new culture and design employee training programs if necessary.
2- Start with an agenda -- end with an action plan
One of the principles of results-first work culture is that you need to have compelling reasons for having meetings. Suppose your reasons can be worked into a clear-cut and reasonable agenda. In that case, your meeting could probably be replaced with a simple text, phone conversation, or perhaps a webinar that can be accessed at any time.
Along the same lines, if you can’t summarize the results of your meeting in a clear-cut action plan, then your session has not been purposeful.
Next time you feel the need to hold a live meeting, consider other communication options such as a text message, a phone call, or even a simple video recording that could be done at leisure.
That is not to say you must have very few meetings. The number of your meetings depends on your company goals and your team’s capabilities and preferences. If more sessions are needed to help your team accomplish their goals, you can go ahead with them.
For example, suppose you’re a software development company, and you have clients that need to be actively involved in the product development process. In that case, you need to take advantage of an agile project management methodology that relies heavily on meetings. First, you might need to learn more about project management styles such as this and others.
Scrum, an agile framework, has numerous meetings such as daily Scrums and review meetings to ensure the development team understands the client’s requirements and can make necessary changes. It’s worth noting that Scrum meetings have strict agendas and are, by definition, time-boxed (for example, the daily meetings should not exceed fifteen minutes). A Scrum software could manage Scrum meetings and keep them purposeful and time-boxed.
Write down your meeting agenda on your boards or, even better, hand them to each of your participants individually to make sure they know what will be discussed. This will keep your participants focused during the meeting and make it easier to develop an action plan based on the topics you covered.
3- Update your team’s collaboration skills
Although one of the main functions of meetings is eliminating siloed work and aligning individually achieved results to serve a more inclusive purpose, it would rarely be accomplished if your team lacks the necessary collaboration skills. For example, you won’t have productive meetings if your team members don’t know how to read or prepare necessary documents or present their work or discuss their opinions.
Some of the essential collaboration skills are:
1) Communication skills
There are various ways to improve communication when working remotely. Being clear on your communication expectations is the most critical step. As Dmytro Okunyev, the founder of Chanty, explains, “there’s no agreed-upon etiquette in the teams that were forced to go remote, which should be addressed. If you have driving rules, why not develop a set of rules for remote team communication? These rules will add clarity to any team.” In addition, experts recommend having a communication plan to guide team members.
In a communication plan, you need to define what should be communicated to who and how and when it should be communicated.
Make a list of people involved in the project and their contact information. Make sure people understand the goals for communication and what they should deliver. You should also define communication methods (phone, text, video, etc.) and how often it should be done. A project management tool with advanced communication features could help encourage effective collaboration.
2) 3Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic
The “3Rs” stand for three crucial skills in business: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Although these might seem a bit broad to be included in the list of employee skills, they are essential skills for success in any field and pretty much any job.
Can your team members read proposals, PDF documents, graphs, charts, or other documents and understand them well? Can they prepare these documents if they’re asked to report? Can they do the math when you present them with budget and expense numbers or do any calculation if they need to?
3) Understanding objectives, milestones, and deliverables
As a manager, you are responsible for clarifying project objectives, milestones, and deliverables for your team members, but can your team understand them and stick to them the right way?
Failing to understand objectives, milestones, and deliverables makes room for guesswork and misunderstanding. In many cases, you need to train your employees to keep projects’ goals, milestones, and deliverables in mind and never divert from them in the course of the project.
Gallup’s Q12 research shows that “knowing what’s expected” from employees is perhaps the most basic employee need and is vital for employee performance. So make sure your employees have a good understanding of your objectives. Use the SMART framework to convey them in the best possible way. SMART stands for:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable (or attainable, actionable, appropriate)
R = Realistic
T = Time-bound (or timely, traceable)
4- Use the right tools
Technical issues during your meetings could make the whole meeting experience unbearable. Interrupted streaming, voice and video issues and difficulty in sharing files or participating in the conversation are some of the technical issues your team might experience.
You need to ensure you’re using the proper hardware and software tools for your meetings to avoid these. The hardware tools required for a reliable video call are pretty straightforward. You need a high-speed internet connection (uploading speed is also critical here), high-quality cameras and microphones to capture your video and voice, a headset to hear the voices well, and obviously, a standard monitor that has no problem rendering videos.
Software tools needed for video meetings are diverse. The most popular ones are:
Zoom is quite the standard software for video conferences. It has some hefty features such as HD quality video and audio, built-in collaboration tools, recording, scheduling, and team chat.
Microsoft teams is another leading video conferencing software. It has all the necessary features for scheduling and holding a video meeting.
Webex by Cisco is another leader software in virtual meetings. However, it seems a bit more expensive than other leaders in video meetings.
Google launched its video meeting solution in 2017. Google meet is free and has all the necessary features you need for your typical virtual meetings. However, if you want to experience its full features, you need a Google Workplace subscription.
If you’re interested in holding video meetings for interview purposes only, you don’t need to pay for premium video conferencing tools. Instead, take a look at PMP’s list of video interviewing platforms to learn more.
If you’re using video meetings frequently, it’s good to secure your privacy by encrypting your traffic. A reliable and high-speed VPN provider could easily do this for you.
Remote teams heavily rely on video meetings to manage their teams and keep them productive. However, long and unplanned meetings could have an adverse effect. Zoom fatigue is a common mental health issue stemming from spending long hours on video calls.
Your team members might even feel that these frequent meetings have no purpose other than micromanaging them and keeping them under surveillance. So apart from endangering their mental health and work performance, these meetings could reduce employee trust.
To avoid all this, you need to ensure that your meetings are highly purposeful and time-boxed. You need to avoid holding meetings if you can address the issue using other communication methods such as emailing, texting, calling, or recording videos.
If your team members don’t have the necessary collaboration skills, then holding frequent meetings could not improve their productivity. Instead, invest in training programs to improve your team’s collaboration skills.
Finally, if your meetings have lots of technical issues, they could be annoying and unproductive, so make sure you’re using the proper hardware and software tools to hold seamless meetings.
Mostafa Dastras has written for some companies such as HubSpot, WordStream, SmartInsights, LeadPages, and MarketingProfs. Over the past years, his clients have primarily relied on him for increasing organic traffic and generating leads through outreach campaigns. Visit his blog, LiveaBusinessLife.com, or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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