Let’s be honest: after a week of web conferencing at work, how excited are you really about hopping on a social video call Friday afternoon?
If your answer is “not very,” you’re not alone. Virtual meeting fatigue is backed by science. A Microsoft study found that “brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in-person.”
Put simply, remote collaboration is harder than in-person collaboration. These stress patterns were also higher when participating in video meetings compared to writing emails, and high levels of fatigue began setting in about 30-40 minutes into a virtual meeting.
Advantages of Virtual Meetings
Despite the challenges of virtual meetings, they remain a popular solution, especially for remote teams. The advantages of virtual meetings include:
- low cost compared to renting office space
- more environmentally friendly than driving/flying to meetings
- ability to meet while traveling
- higher meeting attendance thanks to easy access
- bigger talent pool when hiring without geographic limitations
- more flexibility for those who benefit from working from home
- staying operational despite social distancing restrictions
However, these advantages come at a cost.
Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings
The disadvantages of virtual meetings include:
- tech difficulties like lagging internet connection or poor audio quality
- having to train attendees to effectively use meeting software
- distractions within attendees’ homes or working space
- limitations of screen and audio interactions compared to in-person meetings
- loss of informal interpersonal connections better made in-person
- accommodating multiple time zones when scheduling meetings
- virtual meeting fatigue
Fortunately, many of these challenges can be overcome with thoughtful planning and flexible virtual meeting guidelines.
Combating Virtual Meeting Fatigue
There are a few things you can do to address and reduce virtual meeting fatigue.
- Keep video web conferences short. As Microsoft’s research suggested, virtual meeting fatigue starts setting in around the 30-minute mark. Make an effort to keep meetings shorter than this. If a meeting must be longer, schedule one or more breaks to allow attendees to step away from their screens.
- Consider the types of virtual meetings you hold. Not everything requires a meeting, and not every meeting has to be a video call. Some issues can be hashed out with a live chat in Slack or a quick, camera-free conference call. These types of virtual meetings reduce the demand on attendees’ visual attention.
- Use screen sharing intelligently. When using screen sharing features, many virtual meeting platforms minimize or hide attendees’ camera feed to the presenter. This makes it hard to use nonverbal cues to gauge attentiveness and understanding. Set up your meetings for success by making sure attendees know how to use reaction features and the chat box to express their understanding and ask for clarification when needed.
- Turn off your camera, or at least self-view. Part of the reason for virtual meeting fatigue is that some of our mental energy goes into seeing ourselves on camera and processing what we look like on the screen. In an in-person meeting, this is rarely a consideration. Set your meeting view up so that you can’t see yourself, or better yet, turn your camera off if permitted. (If you’re a meeting leader, consider letting attendees keep their cameras off when not speaking.)
- Watch the meeting in speaker view. Another reason for virtual meeting fatigue is the work our brains do to process all of the faces and backgrounds in grid views that show multiple attendees. While speaker view can be a bit jarring when it jumps from one speaker to another, you’ll only have one person and background at a time to look at, which is easier on the eyes and brain.
Perhaps most importantly, the final thing you can do to reduce virtual meeting fatigue is to spend less time looking at your screen. Whether this means switching to audio calls and chats when possible or scheduling virtual-meeting-free hours and days into your calendar, do what you can to turn down unnecessary video calls.
Additionally, take time every day to get up from your desk and walk around as you would in an on-premise workplace. Virtual meeting fatigue isn’t just about screen time—being sedentary for long stretches plays a role, as well. Try to work exercise into your day and take breaks to stretch, snack, and tend to personal needs.
Transform Your Web Conferencing To Prevent Fatigue
After a year or more of web conferencing, we’re all a little tired of screen time. With a little boundary-setting, however, it is possible to reclaim your energy. Keep meetings short, and trade video meetings for phone calls or chats whenever possible. Practice using features like screen sharing and speaker view instead of grid view, making sure all attendees are on the same page.
Finally, don’t hesitate to turn off your camera if you need to. Virtual meetings have become a fixture of our professional and personal lives for at least a little while longer. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our energy levels is be realistic about how much time we can reasonably spend on-screen.