Yes, there are some drawbacks, but we need to figure out how to make it work because virtual meetings are here to stay.
Ahh, virtual meetings … they are as ubiquitous as face masks and hand sanitizer in our post-COVID world. Like both of those essentials, we can count virtual meetings among the things we need. They keep us connected, engaged and productive through long, isolating days of quarantining and working from home; they allow us to mingle and collaborate from a safe distance, and they are truly revolutionizing how we work.
Gone are the days of suffering through rush-hour traffic to hit that exact 8 o’clock arrival time, prepping for client visits, or tuning out office noise. Videoconferencing gives us the freedom and flexibility to work more effectively from anywhere.
And yet… Even with the convenience and freedom that technology affords us, spending hours a day in virtual meetings can wear you out physically and mentally. If you’ve wondered if it was just you—then the good news (or bad news?) is that there’s now research that confirms it’s not. Up to 44 percent of employees surveyed by Robert Half said they have experienced video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic.
Women, in particular, report feeling a higher level of exhaustion after virtual meetings than men, according to a Stanford University study. Contributing causes include “mirror anxiety”, or being distracted by your own self-image, and meeting duration, since women’s meetings tend to run longer than men’s. Women have also been shown to feel more physically trapped by the need to stay centered in their camera frame, limiting their freedom of movement.
The Psychological Culprits of Videoconferencing Fatigue
So why is videoconferencing causing some of us angst? Stanford researchers identified these factors:
- Excessive eye contact: Unlike in-office meetings where everyone is watching the speaker, taking notes, or looking elsewhere, you are looking at everyone else during a virtual meeting—and everyone is looking at you, even if you’re not the one talking. This can trigger anxiety, especially for the more introverted among us. The size and proximity of other people’s faces on the screen can also feel too close for comfort.
- Self-focused attention: Seeing yourself on camera, even if you’re just one of many faces in a square on your screen, can cause you to be more critical of yourself and how you appear to others.
- Reduced mobility: Back-to-back virtual meetings require you to stay put in front of your camera for hours without giving you much time to get up and move around. Not only is this sedentary behavior bad for your health, but it can also contribute to foggy thinking, researchers say.
- Cognitive overload: Nonverbal cues and gestures that come naturally to us in person can be harder to interpret over a video call. This forces us to put more thought into the signals we are sending and receiving.
Virtual meetings also come with plenty of frustrating distractions, including coworkers who multitask, don’t position their cameras properly or use the mute button, or leave their camera off entirely. So how do we stay relaxed and present in virtual meetings?
Research-Backed Tips to Reduce Virtual Meeting Burnout
- Limit the Length and Number of Meetings: It’s essential to not overload your schedule with back-to-back meetings. It’s advisable to limit meetings to what is necessary and keep them as brief and focused as possible.
- Include Breaks: Ensure there are adequate breaks between meetings to rest and refocus. You can also include short breaks during longer meetings.
- Establish ‘No Meeting’ Times or Days: Consider setting up certain hours or even entire days where no meetings are scheduled, giving everyone a consistent block of time to focus on individual tasks.
- Ensure Meetings Have Clear Agendas: This can help make the meetings more efficient and reduce the mental effort required to participate in them.
- Promote Asynchronous Communication: Not every piece of information needs to be communicated in a meeting. Utilize email, team collaboration software, and other tools to share information that can be read and processed at the recipient’s pace.
- Offer Training: Provide training on how to use virtual meeting tools efficiently. This can reduce frustration and the cognitive load of navigating the technology.
- Promote Healthy Work-Life Boundaries: Encourage staff to switch off notifications after working hours and to take regular breaks. A healthy work-life balance is crucial in preventing burnout.
- Encourage Video Off Times: Being on video can add to the pressure of virtual meetings, as it feels like being observed all the time. Allowing attendees to turn off their cameras when they aren’t presenting can provide a sense of relief.
- Practice Mindfulness and Stress-Relief Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can help reduce stress and avoid burnout.
Please note that these tips should be adapted to the specific needs and circumstances of your organization and team.