Zoom Fatigue Threatens Workplace Engagement

The solution is to hold better meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused employees all over the world to pack up their desks, transform kitchen tables into home offices, and replace in-person meetings with video calls.

Months upon months of video calls later, employees are feeling the negative impacts of hours spent in front of the camera at work—in a big way.

Zoom fatigue—stress caused by an excess of videoconferencing—is a legitimate threat to workplace productivity and engagement. As videoconferencing has skyrocketed, 55 percent of remote workers feel less connected, 46 percent feel more stressed, and 69 percent are experiencing burnout.

HR departments now are scrambling to keep morale at their companies up while mitigating the potential detrimental effects of Zoom fatigue. To remain productive as a remote business, companies must understand Zoom fatigue’s effects and how they can prevent it moving forward.

Why Does Zoom Fatigue Matter?

On the surface, videoconferencing seems like the obvious solution to doing business in the era of social distancing. But if we simply default to having all internal and external meetings over Zoom, we’re going to get exhausted, and our productivity and engagement will suffer. This is for several reasons:

  • Video is intense. Video calls require more intense focus than in-person meetings. Because it’s harder to decipher body language through a screen, we must compensate by trying to read micro-expressions on faces, and by taking a more active approach to listening and detailed notetaking.
  • We’re distracted. When all meeting participants are visible, we tend to try to pay attention to everyone at once, ultimately resulting in a failure to have a meaningful interaction with anyone on the call. Between that, preoccupation with our own self-view, barking dogs, ringing doorbells, Slack notifications, new e-mails, and the call of the World Wide Web, 26 percent of adults say that even when trying to pay attention during video calls, they usually zone out.
  • Our brains get confused. Videoconferencing causes delays in communication, creates a mass of visual information by having dozens of environments to take in, and requires participants to view themselves and others at such a close distance that it can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
  • Our bodies get tired. Sitting and staring at screens for hours at a time is physically taxing. The more video calls we have, the longer we sit and stare.

Considering the sheer volume of videoconferencing now taking place in business, along with the fact that 47 percent of workers are working more hours in their remote environments, it becomes clear that what was thought to be a simple solution to the loss of in-person interactions is actually having a detrimental impact on businesses and their employees.

Employee engagement was a problem before the pandemic hit (a 2019 Gallup study found that only 35 percent of American workers are engaged with their jobs), and the impacts of videoconferencing clearly threaten to make disengagement worse.

But certainly, abandoning the closest approximation to face-to-face interaction we have during a period of extended isolation isn’t the solution. So what can business leaders do? Hold better meetings.

What Leaders Can Do to Minimize Zoom Fatigue

As an HR professional, make sure to help your leadership team and employees understand the actions they can take to minimize the effects of Zoom fatigue:

  • Minimize distractions. Encourage teams to hide themselves from their gallery and close all unnecessary tabs when they join the meeting. Consider sharing agendas in advance so attendees can come focused and prepared to participate.
  • Set guidelines on when video is necessary, and when it isn’t. While things like one-on-one check-ins probably should remain video calls for the sake of body language cues, leaders should consider making things like team and department-wide meetings phone calls so that participants get a break from the screen—and even get up and walk around!
  • Take breaks, especially between meetings. Leaders should encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day, leaving all technology at their workspace and stretching their legs for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Instead of having a 30-minute meeting, schedule 25 minutes and give employees the remaining five minutes to take a break.
  • Consider the individual. Video calls may be welcome by one employee and feel invasive to another. Understanding the different personality types of employees can help leaders ensure that meetings are always taking place in the most productive format. Leaders shouldn’t shy away from asking their teams for feedback and suggestions—and taking the time to learn their preferences.
  • Get creative. Get creative with suggestions for ways employees can engage with each other and get a break from the usual Zoom format at the same time. Urge everyone to go on a walk while on the phone so they get fresh air, ask an employee who doubles as a yogi to lead the group in a yoga session to help them relax, or split into teams and have a spirited trivia hour. Not every idea will be a home run, so experiment, collect feedback from your team, and adjust your approach as needed.

COVID-19 has forced businesses to adjust to an entirely “new normal.” With this, leaders and HR professionals also are faced with a critical new job function: protecting themselves and their employees from the risks of Zoom fatigue.

By keeping morale up, opening lines of communication, and preventing a tech overdose, leaders can reduce the risk of burnout in remote work—protecting both their productivity and their people.

Heinan Landa is the founder and CEO of Optimal Networks, Inc., a Rockville, MD-based IT company that helps law firms and associations achieve measurable business results by way of thoughtful technology guidance and white-glove support. For nearly three decades, clients have turned to Optimal when they are spending too much time overseeing their IT team, are worried about the security of their data, or are concerned their technology isn’t providing the mobility or flexibility that their employees and clients expect. For more information, visit: www.optimalnetworks.com, call 240.499.7900, or e-mail: info@optimalnetworks.com.