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Exactly why we're tired of video meetings (and when to not have them)
Image by Jimmy Foulds

6 min read

Exactly why we're tired of video meetings (and when to not have them)

Another day piled with back-to-back-to-back virtual meetings? I’m tired of talking on video, and I believe so are you. It’s time to ask ourselves if there’s a way to take a break from them.

Not! Another! One! Meetings used to be an excuse to walk away from your desk, have a screen break and sip on your coffee. Oh, and let’s not forget catching up with our teammates. Nowadays? Not so much.

When you open up your calendar and see another day of four meetings, you catch yourself letting out an exasperated sigh. If you feel like you’re a victim of Zoom fatigue, rest assured you’re not the only one. Staffing firm Robert Half says that nearly 4 out of 10 people are suffering from video call fatigue since the start of COVID-19.

Virtual meetings are SO draining

Sure, video is the closest thing we’ve got to face-to-face connection, but it does take a toll. Here are just a few ways to explain why it makes us feel so exhausted.

Video does NOT replace in-person interaction

Even though you’re able to see someone’s movement and facial expressions in real-time, it doesn’t mean that you’re replicating in-person interaction. I wouldn’t be the first to say that it takes more energy and effort to get your point across in video meetings without body language and eye contact.

Having to take turns and talk one at a time takes away from the dynamic of organic discussions, making meetings a somewhat transactional affair. Not to mention the awkward disruptions to the conversational flow like your dysfunctional wi-fi connection, screen freezes, and software glitches. All of these detract from that rich, bonding experience we feel when we meet face-to-face.

Video makes you feel exposed and vulnerable

Knowing that you’re sharing your home environment (which might reveal your gothic paintings and overloaded drinks cart) might make you feel like you’re leaving a wrong impression or behaving unprofessionally in front of your colleagues. Add in the interruptions, and you might be scared your boss is judging whether you’re as productive.

You’re forced to sit still

With your webcam activated, it often feels like you’re being monitored because everything is creepily obvious—a glance away from the screen, seconds of fidgeting. It’s as though someone identifies your every move, making it a real challenge to maintaining our attention. Why? Our self-awareness takes control, and we’re unable to focus.

Unfortunately, it’s not just about the mental adjustments. This 2020 study from Mayo Clinic attributes too much sitting to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. And adding up the screen time you’re dedicating to meetings AND completing your actual tasks, likely means prolonged eye strain and fatigue.  

Switching it up: the benefits and alternatives

Experts recommend moving away from video calls and replacing this communication channel with something else to protect our mental energy. Not only does this mix up the routine and introduces some form of a break, but it also supports our overall work-life balance by adding different elements to a rather one-dimensional mode of work.

So you might be wondering—we can go out to grab a coffee or take a walk outside instead of sitting in a conference room, but what are the alternatives to these virtual meetings? Even though video calls have become the proxy for in-person meetings, there are plenty of other ways to connect and get work done. From incorporating visuals, phone calls, or using your intranet, many channels help you get the message across just as efficiently as video conferencing. 

Remember that video might not be the most handy tool for asking a “quick question”, sharing overwhelming amounts of data, or editing live documents. Consider these alternatives for the next time you’re feeling “Zoomed out” but still want to make those meetings count:

Audio meeting: Next time you’re sharing your screen during a review or seeking feedback from others, remember you’re not obligated to show your face. Why add more distractions when you’re trying to focus on the presentation?

Phone calls: Yes, you can have work meetings on your cell phone (and ideally with a set of wireless headphones)! That way, you can move aboutgo for a walk around the block, buy your second cup of much-needed coffee, or fold the laundry because your wife’s breathing down your neck.

Email: You don’t have to jump straight on a video call with someone who’s pitching you new software. A simple email can get the point across if you’re dealing with external partners until you jump into the nitty-gritty. But when you find that the back-and-forth email thread is getting way too long, it’s probably time to chat live.

Direct messaging: Need instant clarification but running low on mental batteries? You can get project updates through instant messaging. This also works well when you’re just seeking a yes or no answer.

Note-exchanging: Collaborating on a complex deliverable or need to debrief after an event?  Shared files with clear comments can be a great option that avoids information overload, letting people digest and respond at their own pace.

Making video calls better

In general, schedule meetings when you need to make progress as a group and don’t have a specific project management tool to facilitate collaboration. A live video call also works well when it comes to all-hands meetings where leaders deliver big-picture sync updates. For team meetings, it’s always nice to see animated facial expressions during a juicy catch-up. But how do we make them better for us?

Sometimes, we get tired and hide ourselves on video calls. If you’re the only one, you might feel a bit antisocial or, contrarily, get a little FOMO. I get that, so here are some tips that might help if you find yourself in these uneasy virtual situations:

Limit your video meetings (or their duration): We only have so much attention to give—52 minutes. And when followed by a 17-minute break, we’re primed to perform at our best. Staring at a screen takes a toll on our brains, and so the general advice is first to consider the necessity of using video for meeting. And a report from Wundamail states 27% of employees found virtual meetings to be the biggest distraction of their workday.

Spend time to catch up: On life! It’s undoubtedly been a tough time, and we all ought to ask each other about new plants, what new recipes we’ve come across, or even give consolation when needed.

It’s okay not to want everything on show: If you’re feeling uncomfortable, specific programs allow you to blur your background. Alternatively, put up a fun virtual background and swap them out now and then for a guaranteed talking point! Catch yourself feeling self-aware on camera? Hiding that self-view will avoid that mirror distraction so you can focus on what you have to contribute and listen to your teammates.

Reduce distractions with speaker view: It’s intimidating when you’re looking at 11 faces in a meeting on top of a presentation deck you’re supposed to pay attention to. Setting the meeting to speaker view ensures you don’t have to look at so many faces and everyone’s reaction to what’s being said.

See what your workplace covers: Many benefits packages cover physiotherapist services, ophthalmologist exams, and prescription blue-light glasses to protect the eyes. You can also investigate the many software options available; I use f.lux that addresses the very problem of eye strain.

This recent Conversations at Work session provides many insightful virtual meeting tips from the real-life experiences of leaders at work.

All things said, let’s be grateful for video technology

Thanks to video calls and other software programs, many of us are able to keep our jobs and work location-independent through a pandemic. Even with the rise of asynchronous communication, many of our team-bonding and alignment exercises are probably most effective over live calls. And, of course, real-time discussions wouldn’t be possible without them. There’s also little harm in saying “Hi” to your colleague’s 3-year old every so often, right?

Even though I still don’t know how tall my manager is and haven’t met my teammates in the flesh (yet), it’s been great to know them virtually through 1:1s, team meetings, and social events even though we’re apart. For that, we have video calls to thank.

Conclusion

Video fatigue is taxing to all of us working from home, but it doesn’t have to be all “Zoom and gloom” at the end of the day. That’s why it’s ever so important to select the appropriate meeting avenue for the right kind of workplace communication. Above all, let’s work on promoting balance and breaks until we can work together in-person again. Now, enough screen time—here’s your permission to take a stretch!

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Faye Wai

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