Zoom is an excellent videoconferencing service, and without it and similar services from rivals such as WebEx, our economy would be in even more trouble than it is. The company has opened up new vistas of opportunity for breaking down the wall between work and home.
Still, spending hours a day in Zoom meetings creates Zoom fatigue. It drains energy to lead or participate in hours of often-recorded meetings with a camera on your face and your surroundings.
The energy drain is greater when there are few opportunities to walk around or relax the intense concentration required to keep track of everything happening in your meeting while your boss and peers observe your facial expressions and body language.
Since working from home appears to be here for the foreseeable future--and it may persist after scientists develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19--Zoom fatigue will remain a problem. How so? According to PWC, 83 percent of office workers want to continue to work from home at least a day a week even after Covid-19 isn't a concern
For companies with hybrid teams--consisting of some people who work in the office and others working from home--the solution to preventing "in" and "out" groups of employees was to encourage continual collaboration.
The videoconferences used to facilitate such collaboration exhausted workers. According to Fast Company, peoples' brains must work much harder in such meetings to process all the sounds and images in a videoconference and to "make up for all the nonverbal cues [people are] missing from in-person interactions."
Here are three things leaders can do to ease Zoom fatigue.
1. Replace traditional video meetings with short, agenda-free video meetings.
One idea is to turn on a camera in a conference room at the office for a specific period of time during the day a few times a week. As Fast Company suggested, these meetings should not have detailed agendas, strict time limits, or expectations that people should join or respond.
In this way, a hybrid team can simulate moments of unplanned sharing of valuable ideas while avoiding Zoom fatigue. Since people who participate in such meetings are doing so voluntarily on their own schedules, those who do contribute tend to add more value to the conversation.
2. Reduce self-consciousness and performance anxiety by expecting no responses.
One reason why unstructured videoconferences can generate more creative and effective ideas is that they replace participants' self-consciousness and performance anxiety with deeper listening, greater attention to other participants, and more creative and effective solutions.
Last month, I asked a student in my class what he thinks makes a good team leader. He said a good leader listens to team members and seeks a solution based on a deep understanding of their differing goals and values.
While agenda-driven videoconferences can pit meeting participants against each other to see who can prevail in a contest of ideas, unstructured videoconferences can bring out the leadership qualities of all team members.
3. Teach people to listen rather than focusing on their next response.
Unstructured, optional meetings are most effective if participants are trained to listen, rather than focusing on what they are going to say next.
Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor, has found in her research that in traditional meetings, participants become more anxious when there is a short pause in the meeting. However, when people are trained to listen, the pauses become opportunities to think more deeply about solutions.
What's more, if someone is not required to join a meeting and instead feels that they have the agency to attend or not attend, they feel more in control and are likely to participate more constructively than they would if the meeting was obligatory.
This reminds me of a story from the president of Southwest Airlines, whom I interviewed for my 2004 book, Value Leadership. She told me that Southwest would interview potential employees in groups. The employees who focused solely on their own presentation to the group did not get hired. The ones who cheered on all the other presenters got the edge.
This suggests to me that mandatory, structured Zoom videoconferences suck energy from people because they pit participants against each other. Unstructured meetings, by contrast, bring out the leadership skills in those who choose to participate.