Three ways to beat Zoom fatigue
Jean Gamester, Toastmasters International
For many people currently working from home, being able to get back to an office cannot come quickly enough—they hate the isolation. Others would be happy never to endure another commute—they love the bonus free time and the saved cash. According to a KPMG survey last year, 64% of workers preferred the flexibility of remote working[i]. However, the survey also found that a third of workers felt their ability to collaborate had fallen. Businesses that have identified significant benefits to continuing having their workers operate from home will need to carefully plan how they turn a pandemic-imposed quick-fix into a long-term strategy. And one of the key challenges will be combatting Zoom Fatigue[ii].
Computer monitors are now portals for team and client meetings, feedback sessions, conferences, webinars, even team-building exercises. Factor in the large numbers of us turning to subscription streaming services as substitute for social lives (according to Ofcom’s Media Nations 2020 study, viewing figures for video streaming is up more than 70% on 2019), it is no surprise that a life lived digitally can lose its lustre.
Here are three ways to boost the effectiveness of your virtual experiences:
Meetings in our pre-covid real world involved similar and familiar pre-event social ballets: hellos waved, coats and jackets hung up, coffees and teas made, seats chosen (or moved), pens and notebooks laid out. And all accompanied by chats about weather (obligatory), Brexit (inevitable), and children (optional). Rarely was anything said that shook anyone’s world, but that was not the point. Connection was the goal. We were taking the social temperature. And we were limbering up our communication skills.
When we are meeting remotely, it is important to recreate this greeting space; it may seem efficient to move straight to business, but how many successful sportspeople eschew warm-ups? When planning your online meeting, schedule some social time at the start. Open your virtual door early—ten or fifteen minutes will do—and allow those attending to flex their small-talk skills: the weather (still mandatory); lockdowns (unavoidable); children (if you must); box-set binge recommendations (a civic duty). By the time you hit your formal start time everyone will be relaxed, comfortable, and ready to get down to business.
In a real room, communication involves a variety of verbal and nonverbal cues. They help create a full picture, giving a better idea of when there’s an appropriate moment for us to make a contribution, how long that contribution should be, whether our tone should be sober or light-hearted, or how data or jargon heavy we should be. We look out for physical cues, such as someone leaning forward, or eye contact signalling an imminent interjection, or folded arms marking resistance or disagreement. But reading the room is much harder when there’s more than one room and you can see just a small rectangle of each.
If you are chairing, ensure everyone has a voice. Some people can fall into the trap of treating video conferencing like watching television: they become passive viewers. Make sure your online meeting is an interactive experience for everyone.
Internet connections permitting, encourage everyone to keep their video on throughout the session. That way you can keep tabs on facial expressions. You will be able to identify those burning to speak, those holding back and those needing more information, and you can rein in, encourage or clarify as appropriate.
Professor Robert Kelly’s kids gatecrashing his BBC interview a few years ago gave us an early warning of one of the greatest potential pitfalls of virtual meetings while working at home. The unexpected interruption can take many forms, from a Morrisons or Tesco delivery arriving early to a cat on a keyboard.
However, viral-clip moments are not the most common distractions. In a real-life meeting, checking Twitter or Facebook is an obvious no-no, so don’t do it in a virtual meeting. It may be tempting to minimise your meeting app and check your email inbox, but unless you need some relevant information, resist Outlook’s allure. And during a video conferencing session, Google is not your friend.
Before a meeting, close down everything on your computer except your meeting app and any documents you will need to reference or share. Turning your phone off is a good idea, but if you find that difficult, turn down the sound and put the phone out of sight and screen-side down.
If you find yourself zoning out or becoming fidgety, take a deep breath, stretch, take a sip of tea or water, and refocus. To get the best from a virtual meeting you need to put in extra effort into being present.
Connecting will always be a core business skill, even if that connection is facilitated by ones and zeros. Forward planning, remembering to take time to be social creatures, and adapting how we focus can all return a little of our oldnormal. Sequestering your cat in a different room or the garden also helps.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jean Gamester is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org
[i] KPMG Summer 2020 American worker survey – https://advisory.kpmg.us/articles/2020/american-worker-survey-summer-2020.html
[ii] Zoom Fatigue study from London South Bank University – Personnel Today https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/zoom-fatigue-is-a-thing-study-shows/