The Exhausting Impact of Virtual Meetings: 4 Tips to Combat Zoom Fatigue

Last week, on the back end of 3 straight Zoom meetings, I was leading a webinar on Working Remotely. About halfway through the webinar, just as I was discussing the impact multi-tasking has on our brains, I blurted out this:

Although we laughed our way through this blurp, I was succumbing to what so many of us have felt over the past few months as our slate of virtual meetings have ramped up: they are exhausting! We might make it through the 3rd meeting in a row ok, but at some point, either during one of the meetings or as soon as we close our laptops, our brains are feeling like mush.

“Zoom fatigue” comes from the way we process information over videos. It’s dramatically different compared to how we process in-person conversations, from what our eyes focus on to the way we decipher non-verbal cues to the ability to tell when someone is about to interrupt and much more. All of these cues come naturally to us in face to face encounters, but are pretty heavy lifting for our brain’s decoding mechanisms over screens.

Doing this on Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting over the course of a day is truly a recipe for exhaustion.

With this in mind, here are 4 tips to help you navigate Zoom-Fatigue:

  1. Avoid Multitasking During Virtual Meetings.
    It’s easy to think that you can use the opportunity to do more in less time, but research shows that trying to do multiple cognitive tasks at once cuts into performance. Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers. The lack of focus not only causes a lack of understanding, but it also leads to more and longer meetings!
  2. Build in breaks.
    Our brains are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.  Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy -- physically, mentally, emotionally-- requires refueling it intermittently.Take mini-breaks from video during longer calls by turning off your video to let your eyes rest for a moment. Stand up and stretch. Again, not an invitation to do something else, but moving your body and shifting your gaze can also be a helpful way to stay focused.
  3. Hide your own face.
    Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face. Most of us get drawn to the image of ourselves and are then hyper-aware of every wrinkle, expression, and how it might be interpreted. This can be easily avoided by hiding yourself from view. Use a post-it or sticky note if necessary to cover yourself from your own view.
  4. Schedule walking meetings.
    Check your calendar for the next few days to see if there are any conversations you could have over the phone. Throw on some earbuds and take a walk. You can also do this with bigger team meetings and rotate who stays at their desk to take notes. Getting out of our routine and moving our bodies can stimulate the part of our brain associated with creativity and better problem-solving - this is not multi-tasking because for most people walking is not a cognitive task.  Try asking a teammate: “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone while taking a walk.” Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, as well.

These virtual meetings are not ending any time soon, so let’s start strategizing on how to make them work best for each of us.



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