As remote and hybrid teams find their footing in the post-COVID workplace, the role of videoconferencing deserves re-examination. Zoom fatigue is real, and it should be a factor in your long-term planning. This is a great time to adopt additional collaboration tools that allow teams to work and interact asynchronously.
While video calls and meetings played an essential role in coping with the sudden shift to remote work in early 2020, it’s time to consider asynchronous approaches to collaborating with teammates, managing employees, and maintaining professional and social ties with colleagues.
Building teams—as well as coaching and managing employees—when you’re often or always working in different locations presents new challenges. As a learning and development (L&D) professional or leader, you have a critical role to play in meeting these challenges and shaping your company’s selection and use of tools and platforms.
What is Zoom fatigue?
Conversations on video calls are unnatural in multiple ways:
- When having a conversation in person, we rarely look our conversation partner(s) directly in the face for extended time periods. Yet on calls where everyone’s face is in a small box on the screen, we do tend to look at them straight on—and feel as if they are all staring right at us.
- When interacting with others in person, we cannot see our own faces, yet the default setting on Zoom and other platforms places our own face in a prominent position. While this might help us remember that we’re on camera, it’s also very stressful for many people.
- In an onsite meeting, people look around, take notes, chat with the person next to them, and maybe even get up to walk to a whiteboard; during phone calls, a person might be walking around. But on a video call, we’re generally sitting still, looking straight at our screens.
- Conversation is more difficult on a video call. We miss out on body language cues, and it is difficult to tell when a person is finishing saying her piece and it would be okay to talk … or to know when someone else is also about to say something. This increase in cognitive load is exhausting—and the burden is even heavier for participants with disabilities, such as impaired vision or hearing.
Researcher Jeremy Bailenson calls the combined burden of these differences “nonverbal overload” in a recent paper, “Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue.”
Take steps to reduce Zoom fatigue
Company culture can contribute to—or help alleviate—Zoom fatigue. As L&D professionals or leaders within your organizations, you may be positioned to drive changes in culture and practice that can make a difference. And, as you guide teams to new tools, you can create short training videos or microlearning to ensure that everyone in the organization learns to use them effectively.
Consider adopting and advocating for some (or all) of the strategies below to reduce reliance on synchronous, on-camera meetings in your organization. Bear in mind that some departments or teams may have already started using different tools; you can be instrumental in getting the entire company up to speed on the same tools, which will help support collaboration and eliminate siloes.
Holding synchronous video meetings is a holdover from the in-person work culture: It assumes that everyone is working the same hours, even as it acknowledges geographic dispersion. As hybrid and fully remote teams become more common, adopting tools and practices that embrace asynchronous communication will improve productivity and reduce Zoom fatigue.
This requires a culture shift as well as tool adoption; everyone from executives on down has to accept that they will not receive instant responses to queries and messages, especially if employees are spread across multiple time zones. And it requires significant effort from learning leaders to identify the best tools for the organization and ensure that everyone is comfortable using them.
Adopt additional tools
Dozens of tools can help with the move to asynchronous collaboration, from project planning and tracking tools to tools that allow teams to use a shared whiteboard at the same time—or at different times!
Your organization might already use discussion boards and asynchronous chat apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams, or collaborate on documents using Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Adding tools like Trello and Miro make it easier for teams to keep track of their projects and to share ideas with colleagues without resorting to yet another Zoom meeting.
These tools reinforce the shift to an asynchronous culture by enabling employees to be productive team members while also controlling their own schedule. They might also boost engagement, as team members can contribute their thoughts and ideas at any time, rather than feeling "put on the spot" at a meeting.
Go retro: Pick up the phone
Not all meetings or discussions require video! Consider whether you can use the phone. Voice-only calls avoid some elements of Zoom fatigue by allowing participants to move around while talking and avoid the discomfort of seeing others and being seen on video. These calls are best for conversations with a small number of people and for topics that you can cover in a short conversation.
Turn off the cameras
When a synchronous large-group meeting is unavoidable, alleviate some Zoom fatigue by turning off the cameras, at least part of the time. Most video-based meetings can be effective even without requiring that all participants have their cameras on the whole time.
In some organizations, the norm is to turn off the video, using cameras only for screen sharing or working in a collaborative space like a shared whiteboard. In others, participants begin the meeting with cameras on and spend a few minutes socializing, then turn cameras off when they get down to business. Either way, reducing the amount of time participants feel trapped inside their tiny video boxes will go a long way to reducing fatigue.
When turning off the video is not possible, you can at least hide from yourself. Most platforms, including Zoom, offer the option to hide your own video. Letting everyone at your organization know about this option, and teaching them how to do it, can help everyone reduce their own stress level.
Break up the meeting
Many videoconference and all virtual classroom platforms offer tools that can break the monotony of the gallery of small boxes: breakout rooms, polls, screen sharing, and more. L&D teams can lead the effort to teach everyone in the organization how to use these tools and encourage their use in meetings.
Ensuring that different people lead different parts of a meeting or designating short question periods to solicit participation can help break up the meeting as well.
As with online training, engaging participants in doing something will give the entire experience a different feel from meetings where all they do is passively listen to one person talking.
Lead the cultural shift
Moving to an asynchronous, fully remote or hybrid work environment requires significant cultural changes; it’s not simply a matter of changing company policies to allow or require remote working. That’s why learning leaders can and should play a key role: You’re uniquely positioned to both influence behavior and help select and implement the new tools and technologies that will facilitate a successful transition.
Learning leaders and aspiring leaders who are seeking the strategies and skills required to navigate the needs of today’s ever-changing workplace do not need to figure it all out on their own. Connect with a community of your peers to help you explore and resolve today’s biggest learning leadership challenges.
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