Pandemic Series - Zoom Fatigue

Finding the whole online meeting thing a bit draining? Or are you resisting it altogether? That’s understandable. But online meetings are here to stay… so before you give up on them completely, try these tips and techniques from our very own Liz Wootton. Grab a coffee, sit back and relax to watch this video (or scroll down for the transcript).

Whether you love them or hate them, online meetings have become part of the landscape of work and life in 2020 – and let’s face it, are likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Most of us have accepted this new reality, albeit reluctantly for some. But it’s fair to say that “Zoom Fatigue” has also become regular vocabulary for many. Some are resisting online meetings. Some are outright refusing them. Others are struggling through, ending their days exhausted and frustrated, and longing for a return to the normal that was, pre-pandemic.

We have a long wait for a time we can safely return to a world of in-person and board room meetings – and even when that time comes, we may find that the world has moved on. Technology, combined with the necessity of the pandemic, has presented an opportunity that previously didn’t exist. Workers now have remote working options that previously weren’t made available to them – and many are loving it. People who had previously been told that working from home was impossible, even to accommodate disabilities or family responsibilities, are now being given the incredible opportunity to prove not only that they can, but also that they can be even more productive than before.

Whether you view online meetings as a short(ish)-term stop-gap solution during the pandemic, or as a permanent life-changing fixture, learning to live with them has to be part of our agenda.

We have been using online meetings at Human Nature Development for remote working for many years, as well as to keep in touch with friends and family in far-off places. So I want to offer some tips for avoiding and dealing with what has lovingly been called ‘Zoom Fatigue’ so you can begin feeling more positive about connecting with others in the online space.

1) Start with self-reflection.

If you dislike online meetings, ask yourself why. What irks you? And what’s behind that? For instance, the ‘obvious’ reason for hating Zoom might be that you can’t make eye contact, you hate sitting in front of a screen all day, using the tech is difficult etc. Under the obvious though, may be something a bit deeper – for instance, attending an online meeting that used to be in the board room can be a reminder of what you’ve lost. And being reminded of something you’ve lost has emotional consequences. It’s hard to accept something you didn’t want – especially when you liked what you had before – because you need to let go of what you had before in order for the acceptance to happen. Loss is difficult. Loss often means a grieving process of some sort.

It’s ok to feel feelings, even about something as supposedly trivial as an online meeting. Change is hard, even if it’s change you want. So be kind to yourself as you work towards acceptance.

2) If you feel uncomfortable being on video, you’re not alone.

Full disclosure here – I spent 3 years at acting school, honing my craft and preparing myself for a career on stage and screen. At the end of that 3 years, I was still uncomfortable as **** on camera. Weird, huh? What I eventually figured out was that I remained uncomfortable because I avoided the chances to practice – the chances to stretch my comfort zone by stepping out of it. That’s a human thing, because we like to stay comfy as much as possible. But the important thing for the average Zoom meeting participant is this:
a. It’s not like being on TV. Unlike me, in my previous life as an actor, your performance in a Zoom meeting is not being scrutinized and criticized. Zoom, Teams, Skype and the rest are merely tools that allow you to connect visually with other humans. If you’re ok being in a room with other people, there is nothing more to fear about the camera in front of you. Think of it like a window which lets the other people see you and you see them.
b. The other people in the meeting like to see your face. It’s not the same as being in the same room as someone, but it still provides visual cues that make communication more meaningful.

3) Be mindful of your energy budget.

Online meetings may feel more draining than in-person meetings. If that’s the case for you, schedule yourself with that in mind. Avoid back-to-back meetings wherever you can. Spread them out, and do energy-replenishing activities in between. Take fresh air, movement and nutrition breaks in between. Think about it this way – if you were previously moving to different rooms or locations between meetings, the fresh air or movement breaks were a natural part of your day that helped replenish your energy. If you previously had a commute, but now your path to work is a short walk from your bedroom down the hall, you might be missing the opportunity to set your brain going while you drive in, and take a moment for yourself as you enjoy the coffee you picked up on the way. Your end of day routine may also be missing the built-in decompression time you had on the drive home.

The things we miss aren’t always obvious but may be an important factor in our day. Once you identify them, you can create new ways of building them into your day with intention. Think about what your typical day looked like pre-pandemic, and include the trivial bits and pieces – water cooler chats, commuting, changing locations or environments, visits to coffee shops. Then think how you could intentionally replace some of that activity in your new working set-up. A quick check in call with a colleague while you have a coffee, walking around your back yard between meetings, journalling before you start work to replace the quiet alone time you had on your commute.

4) Avoid unnecessary meetings.

This, honestly, is advice for life in general, and applies just as much to in-person meetings as it does to online ones. If you can deal with it in a quick phone call or an email, it doesn’t need to be a whole Zoom performance. Likewise, avoid inviting people who don’t really need to be there. Everyone hates being dragged into something they’re not really needed for. Again, this is advice for effective meetings in general.

Be mindful – and avoid any meeting practices that happen just for the sake of it.

5) Always use good meeting etiquette.

This makes meetings better for everyone. Here are my golden rules:

  • Don’t multitask (EVER). It may be tempting when you’re on your computer and your notifications pop up, or the other participants can’t see your phone off to the side, but don’t do it! Not only is it rude, but it also drains your own energy faster if your focus is scattered between several tasks.
  • Always listen to the person talking.
  • Don’t talk or make noise over others, mute your mic if you need to and avoid interrupting. This can play havoc with the sound in online meetings. Instead, keep a pen and paper handy, and make a note of anything you’d like to say so you can raise your point when the other person has finished speaking.
  • Avoid side conversations using private chat. This is multitasking, and it means you’re definitely not listening to the person talking. If there’s something you want to talk to someone about, do it after the meeting. Keep your attention on the meeting at hand, and have a separate conversation afterwards.

6) Keep meetings on time and on track.

Start on time, finish on time, and have an agenda. Appointing someone as a facilitator is especially helpful to make sure you keep on track and that everyone has an opportunity to be heard – particularly in meetings with a larger number of participants. You can appoint a second person to take notes and keep an eye on the clock. Gino Wickman’s Level 10 Meeting, which he describes in his book, Traction, is a helpful template to follow here.

7) Celebrate working from home.

Forget the idea that you’re trying to reproduce what you had in the office in your home setting. It’s different, and that’s ok. You may be juggling kids and pets, and that’s ok too. A few years ago, this amazing interview happened on BBC News… Notice the poor guy’s awkwardness, and his wife’s horror when she realises what’s happened…

Those of us who worked from home at the time knew their pain; the awfulness of having your image as a highly professional expert in your field tarnished by the joyful swagger of your tiny child as she exposes your real (and imperfect) life as a parent and spouse.

But now, we no longer have to pretend that our lives outside of work don’t exist. Suddenly, working from home, with all its imperfection, has become the new normal. We shouldn’t have to apologize or feel shame for having a life alongside work, and we shouldn’t have to hide it in order to be seen as professional. We’re all in this together– kids, pets, no make-up faces, messy backgrounds – this is real life – let’s celebrate it!

8) Above all, remember that the person or people you are talking to are REAL HUMANS, and that Zoom, Facetime, Teams, et al are merely tools that allow you to connect with them, when in-person connection is not possible. Humans need other humans. We are social animals – and that makes this pandemic truly challenging for all of us. But we have this gift of technology that allows us to create connection in a way that even 20 years ago wouldn’t have been possible.

Instead of seeing this tech as an obstacle to the in-person, face-to-face connection you’re missing, reframe it as a TOOL for making the otherwise-impossible, POSSIBLE.

If you’d like help making your meetings more effective, or creating a better balance or boundaries for yourself as you navigate your new normal, please reach out today.

It’s what I do, and I’m here to help.

~ Liz

Life in a Pandemic – Zoom Fatigue