“Hello, can you hear me?”, is our go-to word to start our meetings these days. Since many of us started to work from home from (at least) March thanks to Covid-19, we’re on video calls MUCH MORE than before.

During the early days of our working from home experience, we all get excited, finding it easier and more relaxing since it could help us reduce traveling time and cost. Also, I am not if you had that fake sense as well – the sense that working from home is as efficient as face to face collaboration and I wish I had done that earlier. 

But after spending more than 100 days pretending to smile at your laptop’s camera, do you still feel the same? Or are you overcome by weariness and exhaustion? 

This new phenomenon is called “Zoom Fatigue”. This new term popped out more and more these days in articles, social media, and even as a topic in the virtual talks. Yes after ‘you can hear me’, the next topic is joking about the common misery you are all in now. 

Why are we finding video calls more draining compared to face to face meetings? What exactly is tiring us?

What exactly tiring us

In an interview with BBC, an associate professor at INSEAD Gianpiero Petriglieri said that “Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

OK, I am not sure if you actually got what he means. I think you can think about it as something similar to the dizziness you get while putting on a VR headset (of the current or previous generations). 

Other than that, paused or known as the “awkward silence” also plays its part in video calls. It is much less awkward face to face rather than on the call because you get cues from gestures and body movements. 

They are not impossible to deal with, but they just drain your energy. Especially when you are like me, who can’t sit still (and thus consuming energy much faster than say, my boss). 

I have had a number of cases where we actually spent much longer time discussing a certain topic, with much-reduced outcomes, as compared to face to face meetings. 

The camera also plays a part in adding to the exhaustion, being on video feels like we’ve been watched or feels like we’re on stage. This is different from face to face, where you feel more equal with your counterparty and more at ease with the setting. 

Other “Technical” Issues 

Your sound and screen freeze, there’s a weird echo that distracts your focus, poor connection, your family screaming or talking loudly, or your cat banging the window because she just discovered a lizard outside. 

All these add another layer of stress. The truth is, the tiredness comes without you noticing that – everything looks fine until the exhaustion hits you. You probably even do not know why without going through the factors above. 

How to fix it?

Our teams are widely spread across the globe (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Mexico, etc.), we have done video calls even before Covid-19 started. The cultural differences and sometimes language cues (or the lack of them) made initial efficiency low. 

But like any startup, we figured out way round when there is a challenge,  before Covid-19, so maybe some tips here would be useful for you too: 

    1. Limits the daily call intake and your meeting time.
      Meetings should take no longer than 45-60 minutes. Period. Not enough? Break the agenda into smaller, more digestible chunks. Insert breaks in between meetings. 
    2. Invite only the ones who need to be there.
      Yes everyone needs to be updated for better collaboration – but not everyone needs to be in the discussion phase of everything. You do not really need to know the details of everything. If you do, you are basically the secretary of the organisation.
    3. Share the agenda beforehand, set the goal on what you want to get out from them in the meeting, don’t overrun from the agenda, use it as your anchor.
      And, importantly. Set 15 minutes in the calendar before the meeting for people to be familiar with the agenda.
    4. If you’re lost, ask, don’t try to guess what’s the real message, many tried to guess and the message just got lost. With video conferences, it is less easy for the other party to realise that you are lost. 
    5. Don’t forget the elements of human to human interactions, having chitchats before meeting.

Also, bear in mind, any meeting, if run efficiently, is still way better than an email trail.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].