We're a year into the pandemic and science has now confirmed Zoom calls are really, really exhausting, You probably knew that from personal experience by now, but research shows Zoom fatigue is real and pins down its causes (humans, it turns out, are not wired to sit still, maintain eye contact, and stare at video of themselves for hours on end). 

Still, even with the end of the pandemic now in sight, it's unlikely we'll go back to working like we did before. Remote work, at least part of the time, appears here to stay. So how do you manage it without burning your brain to a crisp with endless video calls? 

Best-selling author and computer science professor Cal Newport recently offered a simple but powerful suggestion on his blog

Reverse meetings to the rescue. 

The idea is that instead of sending one another endless Zoom invites, we all adopt virtual office hours and pop in for quick conversations as needed instead. Newport lays out how this would work with three quick bullet points:

  • Everyone maintains regular office hours: set times each week during which they're always available via videoconference, chat, and phone. During these times you can digitally stop by and chat without a prior appointment. 

  • If you have a topic you want to discuss with a group of your colleagues, instead of gathering them all together in a new meeting, you instead visit each of their office hours one-by-one to talk it through.

  • In many cases, these one-on-one conversations should be sufficient for you to reach a resolution on the issue, or at the very least, reduce it down to a very targeted set of questions that can be much more efficiently addressed.

Newport dubs these serial, one-on-one get-togethers reverse meetings and argues they end up being much less of a time suck. He offers the example of an hour-long meeting with six attendees to finalize plans for a marketing campaign -- in total done by Zoom that conversation would use up six hours (360 minutes) worth of participants' productive time. 

"In a reverse meeting scenario, by contrast, I might take only 10 minutes from each colleague, taking up 50 minutes total of my time, and 50 minutes total of their time, for an overall demand of 100 minutes of attention, which is 3.6 times less cost," Newport writes. And voilà, he's just given your team back more than four hours of productive time a week. 

There are of course circumstances where you really do need everyone in the same room (virtual or physical) at one time, but given setting up office hours and giving this idea a try is dead simple, it's probably worth seeing if a few more reverse meetings could save your team from a whole lot of Zoom fatigue. 

You can read more about how to set up office hours in this excerpt from Newport's book