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zoom gloom

How to Reduce Zoom Gloom [Actually Benefit from Meetings]

Why Running Better Meetings Helps Banish Zoom Fatigue

This is a how-to guide to overcome Zoom gloom with five steps to help leaders run better meetings that mitigate Zoom fatigue.

If you want to:

  • Understand why a full day of video conferencing can be so exhausting,
  • Recognize the symptoms of Zoom fatigue in remote and hybrid teams,
  • Run better meetings with Ninety that turn gloom into getting great stuff done,

… then you'll love this guide. Let's get started.

What's Covered in This Guide

Click on each to jump to that section.

What's the Meaning of Zoom Gloom?

How Does Zoom Gloom Affect Remote and Hybrid Teams?

How to Recognize Zoom Fatigue

How Can You Reduce the Effects of Zoom Gloom? [9 Tips]

How to Have Better Meetings and Reduce Zoom Gloom [5 Steps]

What's the Meaning of Zoom Gloom?

"Zoom gloom" is a ubiquitous phrase that refers to the mental and physical exhaustion people experience after a steady stream of online video conferencing sessions.

Scientists have been studying Zoom fatigue since virtual meetings became integral to keeping remote and hybrid teams connected and on the same page. Most agree that video conferencing is more demanding psychologically than meeting face-to-face because it:

  • Requires more concentration.
  • Has an unnatural environment with a screen full of faces that may feel too close for comfort.
  • Can reduce a person's ability to interpret body language and cues, detect humor and irony, and relax into natural conversation with others.
  • Forces too much screen time, which can cause depression and anxiety in adults and children.

Researchers at Stanford University discovered that popular video chat platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, and others can "exhaust the human mind and body." They can cause hidden stressors like:

  • Excessive close-up eye contact.
  • Reduced mobility from sitting in one place for too long.
  • High levels of self-consciousness from seeing yourself constantly during a meeting.
  • Higher cognitive load due to working harder at communicating effectively.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, discovered audio delays inherent in virtual meeting platforms could make people feel a lack of trust among attendees. And recent neurological research from Microsoft finds that stress can rise and accumulate during back-to-back virtual meetings to debilitating levels. The Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) is even developing a Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale (ZEF) to help find solutions for all this gloom.

How Does Zoom Gloom Affect Remote and Hybrid Teams?

Video conferencing is important for remote and hybrid teams to stay connected, often replacing in-person interaction and office "face time." It also helps fill communication gaps among emails, instant messages, and phone calls by providing relevant context.

Most remote workers say they are fine with how much time they spend video conferencing. But about one-in-four say they are worn out by it, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey.

According to another recent study, 63% of remote workers are participating in more meetings online than they would be in the office. Here's what else those remote workers reported about their virtual meetings:

  • 65% think video is better for team engagement, but only 11% of their video meetings are used for this purpose.
  • 61% say all meetings they attend are conducted on video.
  • 49% report a high degree of exhaustion due to too many daily video conferences.
  • 30% spend two to three hours daily meeting on camera.
  • More than 25% feel peer pressure to have their cameras on, even if not required.

The effects of Zoom gloom can give remote and hybrid teams real-time challenges. For starters, imagine that someone you know enters the elevator with you. They stand less than a foot away and stare at you while making conversation. Feels uncomfortable, right? Video conferencing forces you into a similarly awkward space.

The unintended intimacy that happens with video calls is mentally taxing over time, especially with people you know only casually. That's why a solid schedule of Zoom meetings can make you feel drained.

While your meeting performance is probably good in person, video calls can present new challenges:

  • Your interaction in virtual meetings is not entirely in sync with the other attendees.
  • You may not consciously recognize the delay between when someone talks and others respond. But it exists. Your brain has to work harder, which causes fatigue over an entire day.
  • Your brain must also adapt to the size of people's faces on screen.
  • You may be expected to be "on," especially in a home environment. You may always need to be dressed for the office or create a place in your house suitable for work meetings.
  • You may feel embarrassed if aspects of your home life show up during a virtual meeting, even if everyone else is likely dealing with the same things.
  • You have to come to grips with seeing your face on screen and stop constantly evaluating how you look.
  • You'll need to concentrate more to read a person's micro-expressions or energy as they communicate via video.
  • You're also paying attention to multiple stimuli simultaneously — the chat room, people raising their hands, people wanting to enter the room, the mute button, screen sharing, and more. It can affect you as multitasking can at its worst.

Do these added challenges mean that we should switch back to in-person meetings? Not necessarily, no. Keep reading for some powerful tips that can help mitigate Zoom gloom.

How to Recognize Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue acts like work-based burnout. You can recognize this type of exhaustion when you see:

  • Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating among team members.
  • People feeling frustrated or irritable with others and expressing apathy.
  • Maintaining relationships with co-workers and loved ones is difficult.
  • People complaining about physical discomforts like muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia.
  • Decreased work performance.

Symptoms of Zoom fatigue are similar. But it's also a contributor to overall burnout linked to an overuse of virtual meetings. Potential signs of Zoom fatigue turning into Zoom gloom include:

How Can You Reduce the Effects of Zoom Gloom? [9 Tips]

You can reduce the effects of video call fatigue, so you're not fried up and burned out at the end of the day.

  1. Consider if you need a virtual meeting.

Even though seeing everyone in real-time helps support a positive culture and builds trust, not every interaction needs to occur face-to-face over video. Limit video chats to only those that are necessary. If it can be accomplished with video off or via email, text, or a voice call, do so when appropriate.

  1. Don't multitask during meetings.

Even if the conversation veers into an area that doesn't really concern you, don't do it. You're already taxed with multiple details of video conferencing logistics. Adding to the mental load by doing two (or five) things at once may wear you out faster.

  1. Break away from video periodically.

Compassionate leaders understand the mental toll of nonstop video calls. On busy meeting days, try to wrap things up a few minutes early, allowing others to get a small break. For longer sessions, give people a few minutes to step away from the screen every 25 minutes or so to clear their heads. It can make a big difference.

  1. Limit on-screen distractions.

The Harvard Business Review recommends you start by hiding yourself from view. Or choose "speaker view" to focus more on the person speaking while the others stay peripheral. Encourage participants to use simple backgrounds, which helps your brain process all the visual environments easily.

  1. Care for the health of your eyes.

Mayo Clinic recommends the following to reduce the discomfort of too much screen time:

  • Position your screen an arm's length away and a little off to the side instead of straight ahead, so it's at or just below eye level.
  • Blink often to refresh your eyes.
  • Use the 20-20-20 rule: Look away from your screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Reduce bright light and glare that can strain your eyes and make it hard to see objects clearly on the monitor.
  1. Take control of your schedule.

Allow yourself to miss a video conference when you're able. Opt to watch a recording of the meeting later.

  1. Schedule No Meeting Days.

People need large, uninterrupted blocks of time to focus, especially when performing creative Work such as coding, writing, planning, and designing. Even just half a day with no meetings once a week can have an impact. People can recharge, accomplish great things, and come back to the video meetings they need to hold, free of Zoom gloom.

  1. Schedule fun virtual meetings, too.

Use video conferencing for fun if you have negative feelings towards virtual meetings. Take a class with a world-renowned teacher, connect with family and friends, learn a new hobby, or watch a movie or a concert with a friend.

  1. Do a digital detox.

Forbes recommends going analog sometimes, like:

  • Swapping board games for streaming shows, paperbacks or hardcover books for e-books, and card games for video games.
  • Journaling your thoughts and experiences with a pen on paper.
  • Writing letters or messages in cards.
  • Having a screen-free weekend by heading outside, walking, hiking, or even dancing, making time to play, or engaging in a fun activity.

How to Have Better Meetings and Reduce Zoom Gloom [5 Steps]

Since Zoom fatigue proliferates with too many virtual meetings in a row, why not start to mitigate the effects at the source? Why not run better meetings?

Ninety's Meetings tool will help you overcome Zoom gloom in five steps.

Step 1. Select the right type of meeting for your organization.

At Ninety, people meet for five reasons:

  • To get information, opinions, and thought leadership.
  • To give information, opinions, and thought leadership.
  • To solve issues by making decisions and calls to action.
  • To create and work on ideas.
  • To maintain or increase trust.

Decide on which type of meeting to accomplish each of the reasons. Here are a few suggestions.

Essential Meetings
  • Weeklies — Focused on roles and responsibilities.
  • Monthlies — Focused on budgeting and forecast reviews.
  • Quarterlies — Focused on accountability, planning, coaching, teaching, bonding, and problem-solving.
  • Annuals — Also focused on accountability, planning, coaching, teaching, bonding, and problem-solving.
  • State of the Company — Focused on core commitments and outcomes.
  • 1:1s — Focused on feedback between a leader and team member.
  • Whole Company Offsite — Focused on bonding and company culture.
Non-Essential Meetings
  • Dailies (a.k.a. Standups) — Focused on keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Lunch and Learns — Focused on education.
  • Show and Tells — Focused on recent work.
  • Hackathons —  Focused on grass-roots-driven ideas.
  • Board Meetings — Focused on performance versus budget.
Other Types of Meetings
  • Same-Page Meetings — Focused on accountability, problem-solving, and bonding.
  • Clear-the-Air Meetings — Focused on solutions to the root causes of conflict.
  • Personal Issue Solving Sessions — Focused on discussing and solving personal issues.

Step 2. Understand the purpose of each meeting.

Why are you holding a meeting? Some purposes are accountability, Issues solving, giving and getting performance feedback, goal setting, agreements, teaching, coaching, and company culture.

Step 3. Decide on meeting participants.

Choose among options such as team or department members, cross-functional participants, senior leadership, and board of directors.

Step 4. Set a regular meeting cadence and duration.

Generally, meetings are recurring, scheduled for a specific day and time, or reactive ad-hoc meetings.

Every meeting must have a firm start time and a firm duration limit. A firm start time enables the meeting to get on with strong, positive energy. A firm end time energizes participants to start working on outcomes quickly.

Step 5. Write a clear meeting agenda.

A concise agenda gives structure to your time with team members and sets the standard for effective, efficient action. It often includes an objective or intention for what the group wants to accomplish during the meeting.

End Zoom Gloom with Meetings on Ninety

Now that you've learned that running great meetings can effectively end Zoom gloom, it's time to put your knowledge into practice:

Run your meetings on Ninety now.

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