When COVID-19 caused my city to shut down in March of 2020, I had already been studying in online classrooms for three years and working remotely at a new job for six months. I had experienced the exhaustion of trying to learn a new job, understand coworkers’ collaboration styles, and interpret the mood of a room after an emotional meeting––all from afar. But this time, my whole team was remote. And office culture worldwide developed a term for what I had already felt: “Zoom fatigue.”
It’s no secret that the past year plus of working in isolation throughout a global pandemic has proven exhausting, lonely, and oftentimes frustrating. A recent Stanford study found that the reason we find video conferencing so draining stems from four main areas: unnatural extended eye contact, self-reflection on the screen, lack of physical mobility, and difficulty offering or interpreting non-verbal communication.
Yet despite the fatigue and the drawbacks to virtual meetings, some companies are moving toward allowing the option of remote work in the future, even after pandemic restrictions are lifted. After all, many workers and students found the flexibility to be an asset. I attended graduate school online while working full-time in a different city. Hiring managers find that the hiring pool is broader and better when candidates are given the option to work remotely. Some employees even find that working from home makes it easier to focus.
Could remote meetings be here to stay? If so, here are four ideas about how to make the best of virtual meetings. If you’re a manager, try integrating these ideas into some of your regular meetings. If you’re an employee or student, consider suggesting these ideas to your team lead or teachers/professors.
Take time to encourage and celebrate each other.
While celebrating accomplishments is wise team-building practice in general, taking time during a meeting to celebrate corporate or personal wins can change the entire mood of someone’s day. Taking the first five minutes of a meeting to spontaneously celebrate a few wins––big or small––is a small step to boosting the morale of your team and making another Zoom call a little less dreadful.
Allow for some off-camera meetings.
If possible, create a culture of grace around occasional appearances off-camera. My workplace sets a professional precedent of appearing on camera at our workspace. But some days a working parent needs to pick up her kids, or someone is balancing work and home life and just got out of the shower. It’s okay to have some grace. Even better, during summer COVID months, my supervisor would encourage us to take a walk in the park during particular meetings for some fresh air and Vitamin D. I admittedly find that folding laundry or cooking while listening to a presentation can help me focus better than being distracted by messages on my computer.
Consider phone calls.
Some days when I have back-to-back video calls, I’ll request to move a one-on-one meeting to a phone call. This will allow me to go for a walk, fold some laundry, or at least pace around the room while conversing. I find that audio-only calls allow me to focus better on the conversation at hand, take away any computer distractions, and give my eyes a break.
Have some fun.
My friend’s team brings their company together through “camera-on Wednesdays,” and “show-and-tell Fridays” where they demonstrate a new recipe, hobby, or activity from the week. They’ve also experimented with meeting in virtual reality using Oculus VR headsets. My company participated in a remote “scavenger hunt” game around the house for a holiday party and competed for creativity with our virtual backgrounds. Keeping your team members on their toes keeps the love of the job––and remote meetings––alive.