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Emma O'Connor


Back to back video meetings are tiring – but why? Emma O’Connor asks why some are suffering from “zoom fatigue” and looks at how we can build resilience at work and improve our meeting momentum?

The little catch-ups and pleasantries at the start of a meeting have been replaced by “we can’t hear you” or “you’re on mute!” being mouthed into a screen.  The tech might let us down and someone freezes in a rather unflattering pose. Someone might be interrupted by a pet, child or delivery.  Since March 2020, online meetings have become the norm as we all strive to retain connectivity with our colleagues.  At first it was novel, and maybe even fun, a little window into the lives of our colleagues, but why – fast forward to December - are they now so exhausting? 

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BBC online magazine Remote has published an article looking at why video meetings are tiring when compared to face to face encounters.  They published the findings of Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University who had looked at the psychology of online meeting fatigue.  

Is video chat harder and if so, why? 

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. When we are in a video call we need to work harder at picking up the facial or social cues.  We need to understand another’s body language which is more difficult when we are all squeezed into a small video pane on a screen gallery.  It can be difficult to “work the room” and drive interaction making group discussions harder.  We miss the general bump into conversations, now small talk has be scheduled in. Fatigue seems more acute when people have back to back video calls.

The technology can help us with breakout rooms or using chat facilities but we have to work harder at the things that would usually come naturally in a face to face setting.  

Another interesting finding in the study is that video calls may cause anxiety as we remember back to being in the office. Petriglieri is quoted as saying “The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be in the workplace together,” he says. “What I'm finding is, we’re all exhausted; it doesn't matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic.”

Silence also is perhaps not “golden”.  On group calls when things go quiet, is it because I have just made a great point and people are pondering its wondrousness? is there a lag in the audio? are people listening? is anybody there…? Petriglieri is quoted as saying: 

“Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology...” 

Sound familiar? 

Is it really all Zoom’s fault*?

There is no doubt that online meetings create efficiencies and have allowed us to maintain connectivity with colleagues, clients and networks. However, online video fatigue is just a part of a complex jigsaw of issues which have collided together at the same time.  Lockdowns, quarantine, the festive season, “Zoomsday” predictions, uncertainty are also adding to fatigue.  As I have often said, this is a marathon and not a sprint but the finishing line often moves.  

Balancing work and home have always been issues for employers and their employees alike but there is now another factor to add to the mix.  Now work/home/school/living or family dynamics are all taking place in the same space and sometimes at the same time.  We need to learn to create a balance to our working day. 

Building Resilience at Work

All is not lost.  Is it possible to take back control of our diaries and day. A helpful piece of advice from Petriglieri and Shuffler is to build periods of transition between meetings to refresh us, this might be stretching, having a drink or doing a bit of exercise.  We might also have to block time in our diaries and make clear that these periods are definitely “do not disturb”.  Creating a “buffer” between work and home life can also help us balance our days.  

Another way would be to focus on our resilience at work.  Building resilience is like any other skill; it has to be honed and practised.  Resilience can help us cope with the uncertainties at both work and at home. Once we understand our personal reactions, we can develop our resilience tools to improve our coping skills - and better bounceback-ability.

Overall, we need to be kinder to ourselves. 

For information about our interactive courses which focus specifically on BUILDING RESILIENCE AT WORK, LEADING AND MANAGING REMOTE TEAMS and CREATING A WORKING BALANCE please get in touch.

To book your please on our online Building Resilience at Work course on 17 December 2020 and find out about group booking discounts, click HERE 

We are working with a number of different organisations helping their leaders and wider employee populations at this time, so get in touch and see how we can help you.

* Zoom has been referred to for ease - other online meeting tools and platforms are available!

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.


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If you have any questions relating to this article or have any employment issues you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team on [email protected]

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