As Melbournians confront another 6-week lock down, many people are facing the prospect of returning to working remotely and death by virtual meeting.

I am personally struggling with social isolation and have been since this all started. As an extrovert I get my energy from people and trying to get my fix staring at a pinhole via Zoom is seriously draining my life (and I am seemingly not alone.)

Whilst some people are loving this new normal of online meetings, others are seriously stressed and exhausted by having to be ON all the time. I definitely fall into the latter category.

Researchers report that an increasing number of people are feeling the negative effects of “Zoom Fatigue” or “Zoomziety”. So, what are the impacts of this new phenomenon and how can we deal with them?

Brain Drain

Virtual meetings generate a very different energy in your body compared to a face to face meeting. As social animals we unconsciously pick up on facial expressions and other non-verbal cues like body language, pitch and tone of voice and these are not as visible or noticeable when you are staring at a giant face over Zoom. This detracts from the conversation and or meeting and leads to people having to work extra hard to connect with the conversation. Add to this we are all typically packing in more meetings than ever you can see how this can lead to exhaustion. To assist people to feel comfortable you may like to set up some rules of engagement for each of your Zoom meetings. This will give people certainty about what to expect and relax people as much as possible. To prevent the brain drain I also recommend keeping meetings short and sweet by having an agenda. Focusing on making sure everyone is involved or engaged in the conversation will also help to keep it interesting.

Distractions & Vanity

It’s not really natural to stare at yourself all day either. People are generally narcissistic by nature and I am the first to admit that I find it extremely distracting to stare at myself for long periods of time, and since I have grown a double chin over the last few months its not a pleasant reminder of the comfort eating I have come to rely on over ISO! For most people this is not only distracting it also creates a feeling of having to be continually ‘ON” not to mention having to sensor or exaggerate your emotional reactions and facial expressions which can lead to exhaustion and anxiety. Apparently, this is also causing anxiety in women mainly around having to “look good” in their Zoom meetings by applying extra makeup and getting that hair do right. People are also feeling uncomfortable letting people into their homes. This can be pretty invasive and lead to comparison if some of your workers live in pretty expansive mansions compared to others who may be shacked up in an old weatherboard.

I recommend offering the person the option of having their video turned off during meetings. When I am coaching people, I place them and let them know that I am so much more focused if I have my video turned off and most people seem ok with it! It’s about setting expectations and being open in your communication from the get go. You may also like to create a Zoom Background to avoid feeling embarrassed about your messy house, or ugly cracked wall!

Lack of rapport

The ebb and flow of an online meeting is also very different to an actual conversation. When we are chatting face to face or even over the phone, there are natural breaks and small talk. This becomes harder over virtual meetings as some people don’t take those breaks due to nerves or loving the sound of their own voice whatever it is, conversations seem more forced and rapport building is even more difficult when you are online. Pretending to attentively listen for hours at a time is also extremely taxing. I personally feel like I am shouting when I am talking on a Zoom call, and then I find it hard to stay focused when someone else is talking. I am a very visual person and all the faces are a massive distraction. To get around this I recommend starting off your meetings with some small talk or rapport building questions to break the ice. Also asking people what outcome they would like out of the meeting will also help to build up your relatedness and keep the focus.

Talking to no one

For presenters who are perhaps speaking to groups online, as many people turn off their video it can be pretty lonely and unsettling talking to the pin hole of your laptop with no feedback for long periods of time. If you are using webinar or lecture functionality my advice is to include group activities and ask people to turn their video on for those sections and engage in group discussions. This will give you increased engagement and real time feedback.

No agenda and Hogs

Finally one of the biggest problems with online meetings is I find they can go extremely off track, or become long winded leading to people checking out. It’s really important to have an agenda, make sure everyone is involved and engaged and avoid allowing the loudest person in the ether to HOG all the airplay.

The wrap up

Although Zoom meetings have created some new personal and workplace challenges I do believe there are many benefits.

So many unnecessary face to face meetings have now been replaced with shorter, sharper online chats. This has opened many doors and improved communication amongst teams who are doing this well.

Geographical boundaries have now also been broken down. I was speaking to a client yesterday who is in the middle of hiring 2 Developers. They now feel like the market has widened for them knowing that candidates could literally come from anywhere in Australia or overseas rather than the limited geographical location of their office as they have moved to a remote working model. This is obviously a massive plus.

The world has certainly changed in the last 4 months, some of it is welcome but in my opinion nothing will replace good old fashioned face to face communication. It will be really interesting to see how organisations take these learnings around remote meetings strategically into the future and if you need support on leading remote teams please reach out.

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