11 Ways You Can Combat Virtual Meeting Fatigue

Aug 1, 2022 | Meetings

It’s your third Zoom meeting of the day and you’re already feeling tired, your eyes are dry and you’re feeling stressed as you still have lots of tasks to complete. If this sounds like you, then you are probably suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Read on to discover how to combat virtual meeting fatigue.

Virtual meetings have become the norm since the pandemic, but is Zoom fatigue real? Researchers around the globe agree that it is and that this fatigue isn’t just physical but mentally exhausting too. 

In this article, I’ll cover how you can combat meeting fatigue so you can be more effective and happy at work.

What causes virtual meeting fatigue?

Zoom fatigue, Team Fatigue, Google Meet Fatigue. Whatever platform you are using to host virtual meetings, virtual meeting fatigue and symptoms are the same. Massive amounts of cognitive pressure, online stimuli and external distractions make Zoom fatigue very real. 

With so many more of us having virtual meetings the symptoms of Zoom fatigue have even been analysed by scientists in peer-reviewed papers. 

One of the main reasons we suffer from online meeting fatigue is because these types of meetings force us to stare at screens more which is tiring. It’s harder to look away, or even look down at a notepad because that makes you appear as if you are not paying attention. 

You also have to stare at your colleagues’ faces for a lot longer than is normal. This prolonged eye contact and often at faces much bigger than in real life makes it more intense.

“When someone’s face is that close to ours in real life, our brains interpret it as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or to conflict. What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours is you’re in this hyper-aroused state.”

Stanford News

Couple this with the added psychological pressure of having your own face staring back at you. You are not only having to concentrate on the meeting but are also probably judging your appearance and presentation. Stanford researchers believe there are lots of “negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.”

In an actual meeting, you can look away from the presenter, have whispered side meetings, get up for some water, look down and doodle in your notebook. You have lots of opportunities for your mind and your eyes to take a break in a real meeting. Online, however, is much more challenging. 

You are also processing massive amounts of online stimuli from people’s faces to their backgrounds to your own tabs. This is much more information to process than you would have to in a real-life meeting. 

There is also the added stress of worrying about whether a family member, pet or child may interrupt you. Or the weekly online shopping delivery may come early or the postman will come knocking. These all add an extra level of stress to your meeting.

In virtual meetings, it is also harder to catch nonverbal cues and assess people’s moods. This is made even worse if there is a speed issue or time delay.

People also try to multitask when on zoom calls and lose focus. You check your email, respond to a Slack message, and finish that mundane task you were doing.  All this multitasking breaks your focus and just adds to the stress.

You then get jolted back when someone mentions your name to an action you completely missed! 

What are the physical symptoms of Zoom fatigue?

You become fatigued in virtual meetings because you are staring at a screen. When you look at a screen you blink less which causes dry eyes and headaches. 

You probably don’t have occupational support dropping by your house to check your desk and chair are properly aligned, and this could be causing you back and neck pain.

How can you combat virtual meeting fatigue?

1. Decline meetings

Oftentimes meetings get booked in because people feel they should connect. Steven G. Rogelberg, PhD, author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance automatically declines every meeting in a “pre-meeting” check.

“Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, was passionate about seeking to improve meetings. He once wrote, “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment worth $2,000, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.” A poorly conducted and unnecessary meeting is indeed a form of time theft, a theft that can be prevented.”

Steven G. Rogelberg, The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance

If meetings, both virtual and in real life (IRL)  aren’t thought out properly, then they will be unproductive. Instead of leading to decisions and moving forward, they just cause frustration.

Practice saying ‘no’ to meetings. Here’s why you’d decline:

  1. No agenda 
  2. No purpose/goals
  3. Too many people (are you really needed?)
  4. Does it really need to be you or can someone else attend?

If you do attend, make sure you play an active role, lean in and engage. Or propose that it could be done over the phone or via email or in a virtual collaboration tool, at your own time.

2. Limit recurring meetings

Assess your recurring meetings. Do you need to attend? Does everyone else need to attend?
If you have scheduled a recurring meeting, check regularly they add value (and that you’re needed).

Free up your employees and colleagues and don’t just have meetings to look busy.

3. Set a meeting agenda

Having a meeting agenda will help manage people’s expectations and show that it is a valuable and worthwhile meeting. It will also help keep the pace of the meeting and reduce people just filling the time. 

Ask people beforehand for agenda points so that they know that they will be relevant to them and build their engagement.

Always have a list of actions attached to your meeting invite that people can easily access to see what will be discussed and if they need to attend at all. 

Don’t be afraid to reject a meeting with no agenda.

4. Set some meeting ground rules

Come to a team agreement around when it is acceptable to switch the video on/off. For small meetings video on, for example. But for larger “listening meetings,” like Town Halls, then the video can be off. 

As a meeting organiser, you could encourage other people to blur their background or use a plain background to reduce some of the onscreen stimuli for people.

Try and be present in meetings by switching off notifications and closing tabs. If you are hosting then remind people to turn off Slack notifications and phone notifications for the duration of the meeting. Try and be present and remind others to be present too.

5.  Add multiple time zones to your Calendar

Is your team dispersed across the globe because you’ve gone hybrid or remote as a company? Congratulations on choosing this path to getting the best talent onto your team!

However, it can be hard to stay connected and ensure you’re finding enough overlap time for the team to sync.

Meeting organisers can forget what time zone you are in and schedule in sessions which should be when you should have your downtime.  

There is a workaround to simplify scheduling overlap time by including up to three time zones in your business calendar view.

In Gmail

Settings > Time Zone > Click Display secondary time zone > Click Secondary time zone Down Arrow and then choose your time zone.

In Outlook

File > Options > Calendar Tab > Time Zones > Type a name for the current time zone in the Label box. In the Time zone list, click the time zone that you want to use.

Only you can manage your time and schedule, no one is going to do it for you, not your manager, your team or your clients. Start working smarter not harder.

6. Set all your meetings to be slightly less than 30mins or 1hr 

In a Harvard Business Review article “3 Steps to Better Virtual Meetings” concentration drops dramatically on video calls after 30 minutes. So why not make your meetings shorter! 

Avoid Parkinson’s adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” by changing your meeting duration default settings. 

You can change your default meeting durations directly in your calendar settings. On Google or Outlook, this is very easy to do. If you do this though – make sure you can cover what you need to in the time you have allocated, without stressing everyone out.

In Outlook

File > Options > Calendar > Calendar Options > Default Duration for new appointments and meetings

In Gmail

Settings > General > Event Settings > Default Duration

7. Block out flow time in your calendar

This is a simple one, but massively helpful.

Try blocking out ‘dedicated work’ or flow time in your calendar regularly, so you actually get to work without distractions.

The key here is to align this time well with your team and colleagues so it leaves sufficient space in your calendar for synching, and ad-hoc meetings. 

Some roles will require more of this flow time than others. 

Quite often this is also about picking the right moment – once you’ve had your project kickoff and all goals, tasks, and timelines are clear – the team can collectively decide on their rhythm so that the flow time is in sync across the team and you know that at least half a day per week is dedicated to deep work and flow.

If you are transparent about when these periods are, people can schedule meetings around them.

8. Put a Post-it over your own video image

Looking at yourself constantly can be really draining. Critically analysing your image will not only distract you but also wear you down. 

Being on show virtually means you feel like you need to always be “on” and engaged. In a real meeting you’d be able to look away, but still, look interested by taking notes. Something that’s harder to do virtually. 

Just putting a post-it over your face, breaks that connection and helps you feel like you are in a normal meeting.

9. Inject a little light relief

Spend time at the beginning of virtual meetings getting to know how people are doing on a personal level. Take the temperature of your team and find out how they are doing. 

This gives people a chance to explain if a delivery is due to arrive, or whether children are in the background and takes some of the stress off “performing” during the meeting.

In their HBR article on virtual meetings, Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker create a least of solutions to enable a psychological reset during virtual meetings. 

One of their suggestions was to have a “Zoom jester” who can provide entertainment and call-out meeting monopolisers and meanderers.”

10. Minimize

This is something I do quite regularly and it really helps me to stay focused. Instead of having your meeting take up the whole screen,

Close down other open tabs, but also reduce the video conferencing window, so everyone, including yourself, shows up a little smaller.

You’re still there, it’s just visually reducing the noise – as if you turn down the sound on your sound system – all there, just not quite as bright and in your face.

This also helps you to focus on what is being said, instead of focusing on the people in the room too much.

“A well-conducted meeting should give energy, not deplete it.”

Steven G. Rogelberg

If you have a meeting where you need to switch gears or topics, injecting a little fun interlude can help reinvigorate and boost engagement. 

11. Use virtual collaboration tools

Miro is a highly effective tool to support collaboration, brainstorming and sync for your teams in virtual meetings. It also gives people a break from “face time.”

Miro works well for both asynchronous ways of working and collaborating, as well as for real-time remote collaboration in workshops or working sessions. 

My biggest learning from designing workshops and working sessions remotely and working async as the standard over the past couple of years is to make sure you’re using markers to guide your team through your board. 

Make your Miro boards self-explanatory and easy to follow.

Also, use “homework” i.e. ask the team to prepare around a specific question of your working session in advance – so you can use your collaboration time for exactly that: COLLABORATION.

Need help planning a remotely led workshop? I have years of experience working with global teams to boost collaboration, drive projects and inspire creativity using virtual workshops. 

Or if you are looking at hosting an offsite to improve current processes, develop new designs or just foster better working practices, book me to plan and facilitate your session.