In the last two years so much has been said about Zoom fatigue – people were nostalgic over the good old days of meeting in person and yearning to go “back to normal”. Now, for the most part, we are there – so what? While online meetings might not be as widespread as it was this time last year, we keep coming back to them. The reasons are simple – video conferencing is faster and cheaper than getting together in person.
What about the so-called “Zoom fatigue”? It is undoubtedly still there so leaders should acknowledge the problem and do something about it.
In this post, we will delve into the why of meeting fatigue, explore its effect on productivity and engagement in your team, and suggest actionable Zoom fatigue tips to make meetings more spontaneous and not as draining.
What is triggering meeting fatigue?
A while back, a Stanford study on Zoom fatigue coined and popularized the term to such an extent that there aren’t many people who don’t know what Zoom fatigue is. According to the research team, the phenomenon has 4 key root causes to which exhausted remote employees added a lot more.
After looking through a long chain of forum threads of people complaining about “Zoom burnout”, we noticed most struggle with the following:
- Artificial interactions. In online meetings, some aspects of the interaction are amplified while others are ignored completely. On the one hand, you have people forced to hyper-stare at each other for hours which makes everyone uncomfortable and too seen. On the other hand, virtual meetings don’t let us pick up subtle emotional cues (due to camera and lighting issues or the video conferencing software freezing) and give no insight into the body language. As the result, although we are looking at each other all the time, it’s hard to know how someone is actually feeling and guide the conversion to match these subtle hints.
- Hyper self-awareness. It’s bad enough that, in a virtual meeting, a speaker feels the pressure of the rest of the room staring. To make things worse, the self-view feature of virtual meeting platforms leads to people staring at themselves more than at the other party. The prolonged self-mirror effect culminates in higher stress levels, as people become hyper-vigilant about their surroundings and extremely aware of their appearance. At the same time, thinking of how the background is looking or how well our hair is fixed inevitably leads to a decreased attention span and loss of focus on the meeting itself.
- Monotony and boredom. Compared to in-person meetings, conference calls are a lot more rigid by design. When we replace the buzz of conference rooms with the monotony of staring at the screen for hours, it’s natural that excitement will be dialed down as well. Besides, online meeting participants have to fight background distractions that can pull them away from the meeting – noisy neighbors, kids playing, roommates chatting, the list goes on. With busy lives in the background, remote employees find it hard to stay focused on the video grid.
- Networking is boxed in. According to research published in Nature, rigid interactions like video calls tend to limit creativity and give teams fewer opportunities for networking and spontaneous knowledge sharing. People felt like hours spent on Zoom were not enough to build meaningful relationships with their colleagues – one professor told The Atlantic that he couldn’t pick the faculty members he’d spent countless hours with on Zoom out of a police lineup. Generally, remote employees feel like video calls are a lot less engaging and than face time with their teammates.
- New hires are pressured to stay presentable. Research shows that young people are more affected by Zoom anxiety than their older peers, as they struggle with being in the center of attention and are likelier to feel judged by the rest of the team. For fresh graduates entering the remote workforce, the stress related to video conferencing is detrimental as they lose career-defining networking and learning opportunities.
Why should team leaders care about meeting fatigue?
As much as employees keep proving that Zoom fatigue is real, managers continue sweeping it under the rug and stacking their teams’ meeting schedules for the sake of higher workplace visibility and control.
At first, a manager might notice that the team is struggling to function under a high load of meetings. For most, Zoom fatigue will pile up until they feel drained, exhausted, and burned out. Also, employees might struggle to diagnose the problem and think they are losing interest in their job or the field itself, resulting in engagement dips or resignations.
The outcomes of leaving meeting fatigue unnoticed are:
WHO defines burnout by three key criteria: decreased productivity, feeling distanced from your job, and depleted energy levels. All of these can be brought about by Zoom fatigue.
Haing to juggle video calls back-to-back would trigger energy depletion. Needing more time to recharge would leave teams less time for productive work, negatively impacting job performance. Finally, the inability to build workplace relationships would culminate in a persistent “who cares” attitude.
So, if you notice reduced engagement in your team (known today under the trendy buzzword of “quiet quitting”), the lack of video conferencing hygiene might be to blame.
At their worst, draining Zoom meetings might lead to people not wanting to see each other even if they had good working relationships in person. In the long run, the lack of desire to get together will lead to the team falling out completely and turning into a disorganized group.
That’s when organizational culture is at risk – when people are only focused on individual work, they lose the understanding of how their contributions benefit the organization. Before long, the lack of culture will spill over into customer-facing operations and the business’ brand identity will be lost.
Everyone is busy but nothing gets done
Finally, Zoom fatigue can jeopardize the company’s entire meeting structure – as conference calls gradually lose productivity, managers will need more meetings to make decisions or solve problems.
In fact, according to McKinsey, executives already feel like they are spending too much time on unproductive conference calls. They also find it leads to constant information overload and the inability to process and recall all incoming data.
How to combat Zoom fatigue? 7 tips for team leaders
Whether you look at it from an employee’s or a manager’s point of view, meeting fatigue sounds like bad news. The good news is you don’t have to give up the benefits of remote work to create a better and less stressful video call culture. Here are the tips leaders can implement to improve the productivity of video conferencing and put teams at ease.
Use avatar-based communication instead of turning the camera on
Since remote work became ubiquitous in 2020, a lot of managers found themselves wondering “How can I be sure my team is working?”, “How can I know people are listening in meetings?”, and others.
As the result, leaders started relying on turning the meeting camera on a little too much. Before we knew it, having your video on became synonymous with showing respect to your colleagues and managers, while wanting to keep your camera off could mean you are not at your desk at all.
How much truth is there in the link between engagement and turning your camera on? According to research, not a great deal. At the same time, the correlation between keeping your video on and virtual meeting fatigue holds steady.
One of the most effective ways to solve the problem is by using digital avatars that would give employees a sense of presence without putting them under the pressure of always keeping their backgrounds neat, backs straight, and looks – presentable.
Using an avatar-based communication platform is an effective way to help employees stand out. Even before the metaverse became a thing, avatars were already all over video games, and people attached a lot of importance to the look of their characters. In a workplace, talking to a moving avatar rather than a black square will help improve engagement even if everyone keeps their cameras off.
oVice is an avatar-based virtual office space that makes it easier for team leaders to stay connected to their teams without pressuring everyone to jump on video calls. As a manager, you will have higher visibility of your workplace with people’s avatars moving around compared to the vacuum leaders face when communicating asynchronously.
Add more mobility to video conferences
Another way to reduce meeting fatigue is by replacing the monotonous grid with a more engaging background.
By using a creative layout for your meetings, you will be able to shift the focus to something other than people’s backgrounds and help participants stay focused throughout.
Get your team enough time to recharge
If you see people losing interest in video calls, chances are they are having too many. Spotting Zoom fatigue symptoms in your team is an excellent opportunity to review your schedule and check for the following red flags:
- Back-to-back meetings: refocusing your attention when hopping from one call to the next is extremely mentally draining.
- Meetings at late/early hours. Unfortunately, it’s common for international teams to struggle when scheduling calls, up to the point of employees having to get on a conference call late in the night. If you see someone on your team having to continually make such sacrifices, consider breaking the meeting into several smaller calls with the timing all participants are comfortable with.
- Long meetings. As a rule of thumb, we recommend keeping meetings under 45 minutes long – after that point, our brains struggle to keep uninterrupted focus.
These simple fixes will give your team enough time to recharge and make sure that Zoom fatigue doesn’t pile up over time.
Turn the self-view off
To reduce the impact of the self-mirror effect, explore the settings of your video conferencing platforms and see if you can disable the self-view feature.
If the video conferencing app you use for calls allows you to get rid of self-view, create a short guide on how to do it and share it with your team. This way, you will help people reduce hyper-awareness and be truly present in the meeting rather than worry about minute details like a shadow passing over their faces.
Balance synchronous and asynchronous
“This meeting should’ve been an email” is a classic – yet, managers of fully remote teams tend to insist on useless and redundant video calls. There are several reasons why this happens – setting up a meeting makes us feel accomplished and creates a feeling of teamwork. Of course, that impression is often fake – if the meeting serves no purpose, participants are most likely zoning out and multitasking in the middle of it.
To reduce meeting fatigue, draw a clear line between when a video call is necessary, when it’s okay to have a phone call or as much as a Slack message is enough. We go into more detail on balancing these interactions in our guide on synchronous and asynchronous communication.
Provide your team with video conferencing equipment
Another way to make sure your team doesn’t have to grapple with lags, lighting, sound quality, and other video call anxiety is by including a high-quality microphone, webcam, and other video conferencing equipment, as well as a co-working space subscription for a noiseless background in the employee benefits package. This way, leaders will effectively lift the infrastructure burden from their reports and reduce Zoom fatigue.
Find other ways to socialize with the team
Last but not least, we believe that the “meeting” aspect of meeting fatigue is in many ways to blame. The whole ceremony of sharing invites, confirming meetings, and sending links to the call is so time-consuming, artificial, and frankly annoying that it’s hard for the call itself to compensate for it.
Thinking back to in-person interactions, was every interaction you had with your team a meeting? Did you have to book a meeting room just to catch up with a colleague in the hallway or share updates over coffee? The answer is obvious.
Bringing the same casual and spontaneous attitude to online interactions will help reduce meeting fatigue. After all, it’s not that tiring if someone on your team swings by to ask a quick question compared to having to come up with ice-breakers and beating around the bush every time you open a video conferencing tab.
Create engaging meeting experiences with oVice
oVice is a virtual office platform that enables exactly that kind of spontaneous interactions. The platform is inspired by the key benefits of in-person interactions: spontaneity and fluidity.
In a physical space, asking someone a question or exchanging meeting feedback was easy – walking up to a teammate’s desk was all it took.
oVice makes interactions just as effortless in a remote workplace. In our avatar-based virtual offices, there’s no need to put yourself through the ordeal of finding the right background just to catch up with the rest of the team or ask someone a quick question.
By reducing the emphasis on camera-based interactions, the platform also makes introducing themselves to the team easier for new hires.
Learn how we helped over 2,200 organizations worldwide make collaboration more effortless and fight meeting fatigue. To explore oVice and see how the platform can help your team, take a quick tour around a virtual office.