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Are virtual meeting platforms the new occupational hazard?

Whether it’s one too many virtual happy hours after work – meant to foster coworker camaraderie, or the day-after-day grind of back-to-back virtual meetings – it’s hard to find someone, anyone who hasn’t experienced “Zoom fatigue.”

There are many ways to manage the stress of virtual meeting platforms, and using all the tools available – email, texting, phone calls and Zoom – to communicate with one another is a good place to start.

“We’re trying to create [the personal] connection and Zoom is a tool, not a substitute for live human interaction,” said Dee Yingst, chief human resources officer at Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg.

Yingst said it’s important not to assume every meeting or interaction has to be conducted over Zoom – after all, there’s always email or a telephone call.

“Keep Zoom as part of the kit, rather than the go-to resource for everything. Find those times when you pick up the phone and go old-school,” she said.

Mixing up communications can be a great way to reduce work-related stresses. Using Zoom meetings appropriately, such as for meetings where it makes the most sense, also lessens the potential for virtual meeting fatigue or burnout.

“If a meeting could have been [accomplished in] an email, don’t make it a Zoom meeting because you’re trying to make up for not being in person,” Yingst said.

If hosting a meeting, try not to take the full time you’ve scheduled. Wrapping up a meeting even five minutes before the allotted time, allows attendants to catch their breath and take a short break before the next activity.

“With Zoom meetings we find we can stack them up,” which can become counter-productive, said Kate Arrington, professor of psychology and associate director of the Institute for Data, Intelligent Systems, and Computation at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

While Zoom happy hour events or other casual meet-ups can bring some relief to a workday, Yingst isn’t a fan, especially after a long day of virtual meetings.

“Resist the urge,” she said. “It’s just another meeting with cocktails. It makes the problem worse.”

It’s OK to hide

Aside from reducing the number of meetings per day, using techniques to be engaged but not “on” a virtual call can help alleviate Zoom fatigue.

Arrington suggests selecting “hide myself” once you join a meeting.

This feature allows you to not see yourself on the call, while keeping your video feed available to other meeting participants. They can still see you, but you can’t see yourself.

“Once you’ve checked that your lighting and background is curated, get rid of the self image, it takes away the tendency to watch ourselves, which we would never do in a regular in person meeting,” she said.
This simple act can dramatically reduce Zoom fatigue, as well as anxiety and stress over the common response of feeling “watched,” Arrington said.
“It’s an easy way to save some of the mental effort that goes into Zoom,” she said.

In addition to “hide myself” try switching the screen to speaker view, rather than having a gallery view – to avoid the “Brady Bunch” squares that can crowd a screen and become tiring to participants.

“Zoom fatigue is a new word for us, but fatigue in the workplace is not new,” said Tina Hasselbusch, owner of Social T Marketing & PR in Hellertown. When not hosting a call she will often turn the video camera off entirely when appropriate.

Her caveats include informing the meeting host in advance, and letting call participants know in the chat feature she is there, but opting not to have the video on during the call.

Hasselbusch plans her week and meetings in advance, which makes a big difference in reducing Zoom fatigue.

Avoid multitasking

Arrington said fatigue with any virtual meeting platform boils down to two components. The first is “mind wandering” or having trouble remaining engaged in the call. “The exhaustion after a meeting or a series of meetings is both mental and physical.”

The second component is the tendency to multitask during Zoom calls – whether it’s related to the call or not. Checking email or other digital devices while being on a meeting call can increase the load and demands on memory. Multitasking taxes our intellectual and our mental systems, which can ultimately make our participation less productive or effective.

Fold in the subtle timing delay in transmission processing – so slight it may not be noticeable to the human eye – and Zoom fatigue may become more likely.

“The timing is off. The non-verbal cues may be missing, altered or jittered… because it’s not as smooth as it would normally be,” she said, making the interaction even more tiring.

Hasselbusch said the transition to remote working has been huge, especially in hiring and onboarding new employees where you may not have in person contact to begin the working relationship.