By Dr. Diane D. Chapman, Executive Director, Office of Faculty Development
“Zoom fatigue is real!” I feel it and I hear this at least once per day from colleagues and students. As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued on and on and on, it seems as if my days are becoming one solid Zoom meeting from morning until evening. This affects me in a variety of ways… I am not used to sitting so much, so I get sore. It would be best to get up and walk around, but in many of my meetings, I feel a social obligation to keep my video on. This means I cannot really move around as much as I would like. The fatigue of virtual meetings is so well documented that Stanford University researchers are researching a Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale (ZEF) Scale. My conversations with colleagues have recently revolved around how to make virtual meetings more kind and compassionate. Here are six suggestions for doing so.
- Schedule meetings for less than an hour increments. Sixty minute (or longer) meetings can be grueling by themselves, but when your entire day consists of back-to-back hour-long meetings, you have no time to take care of any other needs. A kinder approach would be to schedule meetings in less than hour increments. I now schedule my meetings for 50 minutes instead of an hour or 25 minutes rather and a half hour. This allows both me and my other meeting attendees to get up, stretch, and take care of other needs between meetings, without feeling ashamed for getting to a meeting late.
- Make it acceptable to turn off one’s video. When the pandemic began I was so happy for Zoom as I could “see” my colleagues and felt a little less distant. And, while that continues to be the case, I now see that being constantly on camera adds an extra layer of fatigue to my day. I see myself, I find that I am constantly critiquing how I look and it’s exhausting. I have never seen so much of myself in a single day. There are unreasonable expectations in a video meeting for always “looking” on task that are not expectations in face-to-face meetings. There are additional reasons people may not want to project video. Some people cannot use virtual backgrounds and may have anxiety associated with everyone seeing their space. Others have very limited bandwidth and projecting video slows down their connection even more. Set expectations at the beginning of your meetings. Let participants know that it’s acceptable to not broadcast their videos. If video is essential to your meeting, try to limit its use to only when needed. If you are an attendee and don’t want to use video, I suggest letting your meeting host know before beginning the meeting.
- Cancel unnecessary recurring meetings. I find that about a quarter of my weekly meetings are recurring, and that sometimes there is not enough business to conduct. If this is the case, cancel the meeting and move items to the following meeting. I have never heard anyone complain about getting time back to themselves. It’s my experience that colleagues appreciate you for valuing their time and will be more involved and on task for the next meeting. One rule of thumb is to keep regular, check-in-style meetings short and to the point, use monthly meetings to discuss more in-depth questions, and schedule quarterly meetings to focus on strategic issues.
- Evaluate whether or not you really need a video meeting. Zoom has become the go-to meeting platform for most of us. As the one year anniversary of working remotely occurs, we need to reflect upon whether or not every meeting needs to be a Zoom meeting. At this point, I find it refreshing when someone proposes a phone call rather than a video meeting. If there is an item that is urgent, you can always conduct it via email or a shared Google document. I am also fortunate to live near some of my colleagues. Occasionally they have suggested a socially distanced walk as opposed to a video meeting. Virtual meetings are essential, but they are not essential for everything.
- Build in breaks and activities during longer meetings. I start to fidget with any meeting in Zoom that lasts over an hour. That being said, there are some great reasons to have longer meetings. Meetings such as workshops and strategic planning often need over an hour to accomplish objectives or to avoid losing momentum. If you need to have meetings over an hour (or 50 minutes – see #1), build in breaks every hour (at a minimum) and have some sort of active engagement every 15 minutes. When we were face to face it was easier to take a break during a meeting. Because we were not scheduled with back to back meetings we had time to take care of personal needs. In video meetings we need to give the same courtesy. In addition, we need to keep people engaged in video meetings. To do this it’s best to have some sort of activity that gets attendees doing something. This can be anything from a poll, a breakout discussion, to work on a collaborative document. Your meetings will be much more productive when all attendees are engaged.
- Follow tips for effective virtual meetings. There are things you can do as a meeting organizer that will help make your meetings more effective and your attendees happier. Have an agenda to let people know what will be covered in the meeting and help keep people on task. When asking all participants to speak, such as in introductions, call on people in order to avoid dead air and people talking over each other. Test any new technologies that will be used ahead of time. In larger meetings assign a chat facilitator that will monitor chat and bring comments to the speakers’ attention. This person can also monitor audio and mute people with open microphones when needed. Keep to the time schedule as most of your attendees will have another meeting to attend soon after yours ends.
This pandemic has stressed many of us beyond what we have experienced in the past. It’s easy to see how misunderstandings or conflicts can occur, especially in virtually environments. When they occur, address them with kindness and compassion. It’s always better to assume that people have good intentions. By adopting kinder, more compassionate practices for your virtual meetings you will not only help others be more effective and productive, but also promote wellness where you work.