Last year, the world of work experienced a huge shift practically overnight as meeting attendees switched from rushing between conference rooms to rushing to find the right Zoom link. While the medium of meetings has shifted for many of us, our need to come together in groups to collaborate, discuss project progress and tackle work challenges is unchanged and ever present.
In fact, the number of meetings per day has actually increased since many workplaces adopted remote working processes in 2020. A recent “Future Workforce Pulse Report” predicted the continued increase in remote working arrangements beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual meetings are good for remote communication (as long as you have good connectivity), they can be fast, efficient and save costs associated with in person meetings; however, as with everything there is also a negative aspect to virtual meetings, namely:
- Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact which is highly intense, both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural.
- Depending on the size of your screen or monitor, faces on videoconferencing calls can appear too large and too close for comfort. When someone’s face is that close to ours in real life, our brains interpret it as an intense or threatening situation which may lead to conflict. This results in highly intense reactions.
- Constantly seeing or watching yourself during video chats in real-time is fatiguing. Seeing our own faces as we talk or listen, and the associated hyperawareness of how we appear or react can be stressful. The amount of effort required to process all of these stimuli, while simultaneously thinking and communicating causes fatigue.
- Video chats dramatically restrict our mobility. They do not permit the usual mobility as would in person or audio phone conversations.
- Video chats result in increased cognitive, load as opposed to regular face-to-face interaction. Although nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously, in video chats we have to work harder to send and receive these signals. We are not used to the unnatural lack of nonverbal cues, prolonged eye contact, or overload of faces (including our own!) that we process on the screen.
- Virtual meeting platforms, especially where cameras are switched off, can open the room for multitasking, working between multiple screens, answering emails, catching up on your messages, etc.; all of this occurs while you are still required to pay attention and keeping up with the meeting. Each of these activities require effort, attention and are all tiring on their own, thus increasing your exhaustion.
To combat fatigue, it is recommended that you:
- Operate the virtual meeting platform out of the full-screen mode/option and reduce the size of the virtual platform window in order to minimize the size and proximity of faces.
- Turn off your video (self-view) periodically during meetings. Where possible, make camera use optional for some meetings. This provides brief nonverbal rests.
- Where possible and permitted, rather switch on your camera only when you are called upon to do so, or when commenting or providing input in the meeting.
- Encourage attendees to switch to Speaker view, as the standard video gallery view can be overwhelming and distracting.
- Try and reduce on-screen distractions before your next virtual meeting. Minimize other pages, close tabs or mute any alerts so that you are not tempted to switch and lose focus during the meeting.
- Set virtual meeting rules – Virtual meeting etiquette is a must to avoid people speaking over each other. Mute when not talking to avoid any annoying or awkward background noises and keep your background as plain as possible.
- Make the meeting as interactive as possible.
- Cancel unnecessary meetings and reduce the length of necessary meetings as much as possible by moderating and facilitating virtual meetings more actively, moving topics along when needed and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
- Assign different roles to attendees in order to reduce the workload, e.g. facilitator, scribe, or timekeeper.
- Use breakout rooms for problem-solving, discussions and social interactions.
- Build in breaks during long meetings and in between back-to-back meetings, as well as encourage employees to get up, stretch and walk around.
- Implement meeting-free time blocks or days.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing virtual meeting fatigue or to eliminating “bad” meetings. Be willing to adapt and grow. Experiment with different meeting strategies or platforms. Adjust as needs change or evolve. Rely on meeting best practices and develop a tailored response to make sure your next virtual meeting energizes rather than drains.
This article contains information from:
• MIT Sloan Management Review by: K Kavanagh, N Voss, L Kreamer and S.G Rogelberg.
• Stanford news- Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab by Vignesh Ramachandran.