ZOOM AND GLOOM: Why Online Meetings are Hard and What You Can Do About it

ZOOM AND GLOOM: Why Online Meetings are Hard and What You Can Do About it

By Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT County of Santa Barbara, Department of Behavioral Health

People have shared some hilarious stories about their online meeting experiences during the pandemic; everything from participants showing up to “Zoom” in their pajamas and shaving during the meeting, to having a family member walk behind the screen, wearing, well, not much.

Those heads staring back at us for long periods of time can be a bit disconcerting.  And then there is the fatigue that sets in after hour three or four of Zooming.  There is no doubt that working from home during the pandemic has meant a lot of changes to routines. 

For the record, it is not just Zoom. This online meeting fatigue is just as likely with other video conferencing platforms, including Google Hangouts and Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, FaceTime, BlueJeans, Slack, Houseparty, and so on.

If you are one of those working remotely and participating in a plethora of online video meetings, you may wonder why these meetings seem more tiring than in-person meetings.  One reason may be the need to appear constantly in-tune and interested in what is being said. Continued and sustained eye contact is exhausting to say the least.

Also, with in-person meetings, we automatically rely on nonverbal cues such as body language, to make judgements regarding asking questions or providing input. Physical cues such as participants fidgeting and checking their smart phones, help us determine how information is being perceived and the level of attentiveness. With online meetings, we must rely mainly on verbal information to interpret people’s emotions. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy and that gets tiring.

Another reason may be the lack of the usual in-person meeting rituals, such as greetings, handshakes, fetching coffee and water, and general chit chat among meeting participants.  Missing out on these rituals that serve to put people at ease and help build rapport, all make for a less comfortable, more exhausting day “at the office.”  So, what can you do?

  1. Consider whether the online meeting needs to happen at all. In some cases, shared document platforms with detailed comments can reduce the need to meet.
  2. Consider working to limit the number of Zoom meetings in a day, including giving yourself a break in between meetings. You should also consider forgoing the online meeting and instead use email and messaging to get the work done.
  3. Make sure there is an agenda for every one of your video meetings. This way, everyone will know what is expected to be accomplished during the meeting, making the meeting more productive and hopefully shorter.
  4. You may also consider picking up the telephone for one-on-one conversations instead of scheduling an online meeting. By using the phone, we only have to concentrate on voices, and we can move about while talking, which gets us moving and can enhance the thinking process.
  5. Be sure to schedule “screen free” time into your days. By designating some video call-free time, you can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.  Instead, choose some screen-free activities such as exercise or a enjoying a hobby.

Finally, let’s keep in mind some of the good things about Zooming and online meetings.  We don’t have to travel to and from a meeting; we don’t have to dress up from the waist down; we can sit on our favorite chair with a cuddly blanket and fuzzy slippers and no one will be the wiser; we have the choice to mute ourselves and stop video if needed, and for animal lovers, you can Zoom and pet your pet at the time. Sometimes, it really is the little things that matter!

Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, is the County of Santa Barbara’s Chief Quality Care and Strategy Officer and is responsible for leadership of Quality Care and Strategy Management within the Department of Behavioral Wellness.