According to CNBC, since the onset of COVID-19, Zoom use has surged to over 300 million daily participants. Microsoft Teams has more than 75 million daily active users. and Rhythm client Connex International's business has dramatically expanded as they help companies connect, collaborate, and expand their business. Other video conferencing platforms have surged as well. For many people, all of the in-person interactions—team meetings, project work, strategic planning sessions, one-on-ones, daily huddles, coffee breaks, happy hours, and even personal social gatherings—have been replaced by video conferencing.
While many teams are heading back to the office, increased usage of video conferencing platforms in the workplace is likely here to stay. As different people cope with their health risks, childcare and eldercare challenges, and the need for more flexibility to work from home, remote work will likely only increase as we move forward from here.
Zoom and other platforms like it are an essential tool for remote work. As anyone who has spent days in back-to-back Zoom meetings knows all too well, they can be exhausting in ways that in-person meetings are not.
There are many reasons Zoom meetings wear us out more than in-person interactions. Some of it has to do with eye strain, distraction, and the work our brain is doing to process cues from 14 faces at once. It’s a combination of physical strain (sitting in the same position for too long, eye strain from not blinking enough and staring at your screen, the mental overload of trying to process too much visual stimulation) and emotional exhaustion (searching for connection and social cues and feel-good hormones you get from face-to-face interactions that just aren’t there).
At Rhythm Systems, we’ve been using video conferencing and screen sharing platforms to communicate with each other and our clients for over a decade. We’ve found ways to ensure that we maintain energy, productivity and focus—even with this more draining mode of communication. It is possible to overcome Zoom fatigue.
Here are 7 tips for fighting fatigue:
- Know your limits. After a certain point, we burn out. For example, I know that after about 5 hours on Zoom, I am less productive and more irritable. If possible, plan out your week with some limits on Zoom calls each day, and be sure to set up time for frequent breaks. Block the time on your calendar, and don’t book over it. Ideally, you should take a fifteen minute break after an hour and a half of working, and during that break, you should get up from your computer and move around. At the very least, look away from your computer screen, and give your eyes a chance to rest. Simply put in a Harvard Business Review article, "Without the visual breaks we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued.”
- Mind the gaps. As Elizabeth Grace Sanders points out in an article in Fast Company, "Even if it felt like you had no breaks between meetings before the coronavirus—you did." If you are used to an office where you move from conference room to your desk to your boss’s office for different meetings throughout the day, you are used to walking around and taking 5 or 10 minutes between meetings even on days when you were in back-to-back meetings. Be intentional in your calendar to keep those gaps, so don’t schedule things immediately back-to-back. Keep 10 minutes for a quick mental transition, stretch or bathroom break between Zooms, even if it means you move from hour-long to 45 or 50-minute meetings.
- Agree to some ground rules. Simple things like muting when you aren’t speaking can go a long way to minimizing Zoom frustrations and distractions. Always have a facilitator, even for informal discussions. This will eliminate talking over each other or confusion about what’s expected of participants and when. Agree on when you need to have the camera on and when you might be able to turn it off for a while and be more relaxed.
- Stay focused. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll actually be less drained by your Zoom meetings if you focus on them more completely. Caving to the temptation to check email on your other screen or reply to that text or Slack message while you are “listening” only wears you out more. Having breaks between meetings to check emails and messages will help with your focus.
- Experiment with your settings. Depending on the meeting and your role in it, you can try out different options in Zoom. You might find using the Speaker view instead of the Gallery view less tiring so you can focus on one person at a time instead of looking at everyone. You may also find it less taxing to hide your video so you aren’t constantly checking yourself out to see how you look. One less thing for your brain to worry about.
- Change positions. If you have access to a desk with variable heights (sitting and standing), this can really help you stay more energized and focused just by switching from sitting to standing for periods of time throughout the day. Get your blood flowing by mixing in some movement. If you have a laptop and few distractions at home, maybe you can work from your front porch for part of the day to get a change of scenery.
- Embrace asynchronous communication. Try doing a meeting audit. Look at your calendar for the week - are all of these Zoom calls necessary and beneficial? Can you accomplish the same goal with a quick phone call? Can you get those questions answered via a group chat or collaboration inside your strategic or project management platform? Limit Zoom interaction to times when it is really necessary to stave off fatigue.
What are your best tips for battling Zoom fatigue? How have you adjusted to remote work and maintained your productivity and energy levels? Please share in the comments!
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