The majority of people in the United States who have the privilege of working from home have been doing so for two months now and counting. With many big companies like Facebook and Google announcing they do not have plans to return to an in-office work environment until 2021, the light at the end of the tunnel for going back to a “pre COVID-19” work routine feels more and more distant each day.
When my company first started working from home to abide by stay at home orders, I was excited to take meetings over Zoom and engage with my coworkers in a new way. Now after two months of constant screen time, the novelty is wearing off and virtual meeting fatigue is setting in. However, our virtual tools are here to stay, so we need to embrace them and find new ways to spice up our daily lives.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for fighting video meeting fatigue:
Let’s face it, back to back meetings – day in and day out – are exhausting. If you are only using Zoom to tackle dense business meetings, it’s no wonder you cringe just thinking about jumping on a virtual call. Mix it up with some enjoyable time like a virtual tiny campfire experience or a fun “Bring your pet to work” meeting.
During these times where in-office watercooler conversation isn’t part of our current workday, find a virtual way to simply say hello. If your company uses Slack try Donut. The Donut application randomly pairs people in your company up with someone else within the company with the recommendation to set up a time to chat watercooler style. Donut will even suggest conversation starters to break the ice.
We use it at my current company and people are set up twice a week to chat over a 10-15 minute video call to talk about anything but work. We are our best professional selves when we bring our whole selves to work. Gallup found that having close relationships at work can boost employee satisfaction as high as 50%. I can think of a few recurring meetings on my work calendar that I get excited to attend because I look forward to checking up on the people I have built work relationships with and whom I care about.
Zoom backgrounds are trending right now. Jump on the virtual meeting fun wagon and spice up your Zoom meeting routine by having virtual background themed meetings. I’ve attended meetings where all the attendees uploaded their favorite vacation photos to use as their virtual background. Everyone had a great time sharing personal stories of travels they had been on or travels they dream about going on in the future. Sharing pet photos, favorite movie poster images, or even as simple as displaying your favorite color in the background are other ideas for virtual background themed meetings.
You can easily upload virtual backgrounds from your Zoom settings. Virtually any photo can be used as long as it’s in the correct format. Companies like PLANOLY have created free Zoom backgrounds for anyone to use. Have fun and get creative. Find a virtual background that speaks to you and inspires you to talk about it at your next virtual meeting.
This advice is not meant to get you in trouble with your boss but if you can, consider declining meetings where you do not add value and contribute. Before slashing meetings off your calendar, talk to your boss or the meeting organizer. Politely decline meetings on the calendar invite so organizers are not expecting your attendance. If the meeting notes are recapped and distributed, make a point to skim the minutes so you are caught up to speed.
When I’m working from home, I’ve noticed that I get up and move around less compared to when I’m working in the office. When we work in an office building, we tend to cover more ground as we move from conference room to conference room attending meetings, dropping by the breakroom to grab a snack, and heading to the cafe for lunch. However, now that I am at home, there are days where I sit in the same spot for 3+ hours without getting up from my chair unless I force myself to move around.
There are 2 spots in my home where I can adequately take meetings. When I have back to back meetings, I mimic the ritual of moving conference rooms and move from my home office desk to the chair on my front porch. When I am not in a meeting, I retreat to a comfortable spot for a bit to get a change of scenery so when it’s time to jump on another Zoom meeting, I am moving my location yet again. It keeps the blood flowing, the heart rate up, and prevents work from home fatigue from setting in.
The sheer exhaustion of staring into the computer camera and trying my best to interpret words through an unpredictable internet connection can be taxing in of itself. And don’t forget about the meeting domino effect where when one meeting ends a few minutes late, the next gets off to a late start. And then by the end of the day your meeting schedule is extremely off track. If meetings are back to back with no end in sight, it’s easy to get behind on work, forget to catch up on emails and respond to ad-hoc priorities.
Find a rhythm that works for you. My endurance for attending consecutive meetings is 1.5 hours with no breaks. That could be three back to back 30 minute meetings or two back to back meetings with one 30 minute meeting and one 1 hour meeting. After that, my brain turns to mush and I need at least 30 minutes to recharge, take a bio break, check emails, skim Slack, and jot down my key takeaways from the past string of meetings.
Taking an entire “meeting free” day sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Just like booking times on your calendar for meetings, block off concentration time for actual work. For example, if it’s your responsibility to turn in a weekly report that takes 4 hours a week to prepare, put a 4 hour recurring block of time on your calendar to ensure you have uninterrupted productivity time consistently each week.
Just as important as it is to block off your calendar for quiet work time, blocking off your calendar to balance your personal life is just as crucial. Juggling kids, partners, roommates and more while trying to sit through virtual meetings is stressful. It takes time to create a healthy routine. If you know there are certain hours of the day where your home is more chaotic, block off your calendar. Your teammates will appreciate your transparency as to why you can’t attend the virtual meeting. Your time is precious and something you can never get back once it’s gone. Booking quiet time on your calendar before someone else races to book it is a race you don’t want to lose.
If you are the leader of the meeting, come ready. Set an agenda, take notes during the meeting, align on key takeaways, and distribute follow up items afterward. Present your material concisely. Rehearse what you plan to say and make sure the main points are clearly articulated. Your audience will thank you and are more likely to want to come to your meetings if they find what you have to say is valuable, efficient and productive.
At the end of the day those of us who work from home without skipping a beat cannot complain. Many of our fellow Americans are on the front lines working in essential jobs. We owe gratitude to each and every essential worker for taking care of our country during these trying times. So next time you feel video meeting fatigue coming on, remind yourself you are at home, safe and flattening the curve for all of us.