5 Hacks to Avoid Virtual Meeting Fatigue (#2 is my favorite)

August 10, 2020      By Morag Barrett

Ultimate Takeaway
  • Switching the layout of your video conference to only highlight the current speaker can help limit unnecessary distractions.
  • There are ways to optimize your background - no matter what's in view.
  • Choose 25- or 55-minute meeting blocks to leave room for you and attendees to take short breaks.

With the requirement for many of us to work from home it seems that life as we know it has morphed into one long, never-ending Zoom-Skype-WebEx-Hangout-Meet video fest. During the last few months I’ve attended great virtual meetings and, unfortunately, quite a few that, well to be honest, sucked.

Personally, I’ve gone from zero to hero[ine] regarding Zoom functionality, with multiscreen displays, two camera angles, shared whiteboards, breakout rooms, etc. You name it, my team and I are exploiting technology to ensure our events are interactive, fun, and more importantly impactful. (Message me if you’d like to learn more).

Here are five things I’ve learned when it comes to surviving the Zoom-fest that is our waking lives.

What would you add? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

1. Down With the Brady-Bunch

I grew up in England and didn’t watch the Brady Bunch, however I get the analogy. I used the default gallery view for the first few weeks and couldn’t work out why virtual meetings were leaving me so drained. Turns out there’s just too much going on at once.

When someone moves in their little window our eyes are naturally drawn to them and that nonstop movement is mentally distracting. A colleague of mine shared that when we walk into a live meeting room our amygdala automatically scans the room for threats and primes our fight or flight reactions. Our amygdala does the same when we walk into a virtual meeting. Except having the gallery view on is like walking into nine rooms all at the same time. When we look away and look back it’s similar to leaving and walking back into that same room again.

All of those endless subconscious threat triggers — the checking and rechecking for threats vs settling down and getting comfortable in the meeting — no wonder I was burned out by the end of the day.

My Learning: Switch to Speaker View

  • Instead of seeing the nine or more people in gallery view my attention is now on the one person who is talking, the person I should be listening to. In a live meeting you’d be looking at them and the rest of the attendees would be in your peripheral vision. Speaker view is the closest to that experience and reduces the visual distractions and the mental energy sap that I was experiencing.

2. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

We all do it — when our video headshot is onscreen, we stare at ourselves, we adjust our hair, we fidget in our chairs. We tend to focus on how we look rather than the meeting. We’re not listening effectively to the conversation and business decision at hand.

My Learning: Turn Off the Self-View

  • You don’t carry a mirror into a live meeting and watch yourself, so don’t do it in a virtual meeting. Switch off your self-view and focus on the rest of the team. Maybe your hair, like mine, is a little frizzy but who cares? Chances are no one else notices, they’re too busy looking at their own video-selfie!

3. Careless Whispers and Side-Conversations

The chat function in a virtual meeting is the equivalent of the side-conversations that happen around a live conference table. They’re distracting — trying to talk and read the chat box as it scrolls past is nigh on impossible, and if those chats are off topic or simply banter between colleagues it’s an even more frustrating and futile exercise; and even if connected to the main conversation can appear disrespectful (because you aren’t fully listening).

My Learning: Use Chat Sparingly

  • Provide an opportunity at the start of your virtual meeting for nurturing the sense of team. We’re all craving human contact, a little small talk before you get to the big talk. If you need ideas for how to start these conversations and activities that translate into a distributed environment call me.

4. Green Screens

It wasn’t long ago that our FOMO (fear of missing out) was whatever was happening with ‘the Joneses’ on social media. Now I see a whole new performance anxiety when it comes to green screens, back drops, and a misguided (in my view) implicit expectation that everyone should be ‘business professional’ when online.

Business professional is great if you have the space and technology for a dedicated work area, but kinda sucks for those who have a small corner of the bedroom available. And since webcams and green screens are now rarer than hen’s teeth (and cost about as much) some of us have to make do with what we can improvise.

My Learning: Making Your Workspace Work

  • Green Screens don’t have to be green. A plain wall, a solid-colored sheet or blanket will work as an alternative — just don’t wear clothing the same color as you will blend in. I rotated my desk so that my back is now to a wall. It isn’t pretty coming into the room (my desk is designed to be against a wall). But since no one is coming into the house anyway, who cares?
  • And if you can’t turn your desk or get a fancy green screen, all well and good. Just remember to make your bed!

5. Endless Meetings

When we work from home it can be too easy to simply roll out of bed and start work. Reports indicate that we have added three hours to our working day. We’ve replaced our commute and transition time with more work, and it isn’t healthy for us.

Sitting all day and not moving creates other issues. We all need to make sure we are making time to move, to exercise, to just hang out with the family. I realized that my batteries were being depleted and that I needed to take back control and take personal responsibility for my time.

My Learning: Say No to (Some) Virtual Meetings

  • When working in a distributed team, we need to reset the expectations and redefine the rules of engagement — make the implicit, explicit. Just because we all know we’re at home, doesn’t mean we are all available 24/7.
  • Agree on a time when everyone can step away from their desks, whether it’s to exercise, have time with their family, or simply to stand up. One of our clients recently sent a communication to all employees — no meetings between 11am – 1pm ET, no meetings after 5pm local time. I love this overt message, it gives everyone permission to step away, without guilt.
  • Schedule meetings to allow for the normal passing time and bathroom breaks you would’ve had at work. Most calendar software has the option to schedule 50 mins (instead of an hour) or 25 mins (instead of half-hours). Use it.

There you have it, my five learnings from the last few months. What would you add? Please share your comments below.

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