Zoom not zzzzz!

This whole videoconferencing thing is working well.  The whole world seems to have discovered that it’s possible to stay connected and even meet new people via the screen on your laptop, phone, tablet or TV screen. 

It’s meant many businesses can continue functioning, networking is thriving and many work- from-home employees are able to do their jobs effectively. 

In many ways, there’s an increased efficiency.  Less travel, less faff, more productivity.  Kay works from home and I’m seeing all sorts of things creep in through video.  This morning there was a “show and tell” of a new puppy by a work colleague and yesterday the monthly book club session.   

This evening we’re doing a quiz and last week we had a surprise birthday zoom party for my mum. 

Survival of the most adaptable

Humans are nothing if adaptable.  

It never was survival of the fittest.  But survival of the most adaptable.   

“Zooming” is now a thing.  Like Hoovering rather than vacuuming or Sellotape rather than sticky tape and of course, Googling rather than searching the internet.  

Some of us have been Zooming for years.  It’s certainly been a business staple for years and an app that has always been a central piece of the way we do business.  You may well have a Zoom relationship with me from way before C19.  

Like with adapting to any new thing, especially technology, there is a lag between knowing how to use something and our brains ability to catch-up with what we’re doing.  It takes time to adapt and we’ve not given ourselves that time.   

Zoom fatigue…it’s really a thing!

One of the things I’m seeing manifest itself is Zoom fatigue.  I didn’t give it much thought as I’ve probably done 2-3 hours of zoom calls a day for the past 3 years or so.  And so far, 127 hours in the last 25 working days.  For many people, it’s a thing.   

I first noticed it when a Mastermind client said “Will we be Zooming all day?  It makes me really tired after about an hour, I’m not sure I’ll be able to cope” 

Interesting and he’s probably not alone.  

Some observations

So, here’s what I’ve observed: 

Our brains process information in a certain way.   

  • Using video needs a different kind of attention than “real” face to face meetings.  Seeing everyone’s faces at the same time, means a lot of data processing.  It floods the brain with information very quickly and gives it information it struggles to handle simultaneously.

  • The screen itself acts as a mirror for our behaviour and therefore as a conscience. When we’re face to face, we look out of the window, wave at people, sip your coffee but remain focussed.  On video, you can see yourself doing those things and we know it might come across as not listening effectively.  So, we work extra hard to look like we’re paying attention.  We’re always “on”.  This is harder work than normal interactions.
  • The screen creates an environment which forces direct visual contact rather than using peripheral vision.  We can’t pick up cues from people around us.  The subtle nuances are lost so we have to focus on each individual constantly.  This is taxing. 
  • Our brains are taking in the background(s) of each person on the call.  We’re capable of filtering out distractions in real life.  Traffic noise, the waiter walking past etc.  On video calls there’s kids popping in, cats jumping on laps, artwork, messy kitchens and the sun behind them.  Because it’s narrowed in on the screen, we get pulled in.  Our brains must work much harder to filter those distractions. 

  • Our own environments create distractions for us.  Your dog, your kids, the doorbell going.  There is so much competition for attention bandwidth, we end up tired, quickly.  

Fatigue fighting combined with a little bit of etiquette!

So, here’s a few things that I’ve noticed that may help. 

  1. Try not to have meetings back to back.  Allow yourself time to recharge, get out of your chair, get outside, have coffee etc.  In an ideal world aim I’m finding a minimum of 30 minutes works best.
  2. Allow for and ask for breaks in meetings.  In normal meetings, people move around, pop to the bathroom.  Do the same especially in longer meetings.  In fact, schedule breaks in longer meetings.  your attendees will love you!

  3. Look away during meetings.  I know this is counter to the attention point I made earlier but give your eyes a “normal” view of the world.  Make sure you don’t jump to another screen in your breaks between meetings either!

  4. Create boundaries.  If you can’t cope with more than three meetings a day, then stick to that.  You’d put a limit on how far you’ll travel, this is no different.

  5. Do not leave your conference facility “on” all the time.  Kay uses Skype and she’s constantly being pinged with messages.  It’s turned into the new WhatsApp.  Turn it off.

  6. Use the phone occasionally.  We used to use the phone for meetings.  We still can.  Just because we have the video technology, doesn’t mean we have to use it. 

  7. Have a day off of video.  I used to have days of no meetings at all.  Now, I have no Zoom days.

  8. Do your call standing up.  This created a different energy for you and your colleagues.  Especially if you’re leading the meeting.

  9. Wear headphones.  This at least cancels your noise distractions for you which is one less thing to filter. 

  10. Help your colleagues by using a (boring) virtual background.  Keep it simple so you minimise distractions at your end and don’t add more.

  11. Give an agenda.  People like to know what’s gong to happen.  Let attendees know what will happen, in what order and when you will finish.

  12. Finally, mute yourself.  No one needs to ear your dog snoring in the background (or partner) and everyone doesn’t need to be deafened by a smoke alarm going off because their 14-year old forgot to check the cookies in the oven.  Yes, that happened! 

Over all, remember, it’s a tool.  A great tool but one that should be treated as something that adds to our lives rather than taking away.  


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