Don’t Blame Zoom Fatigue for Ineffective Meetings

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Sep 14, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Zoom fatigue. Everyone is talking about it — you know, the exhaustion one feels as a result of constant video meetings. Could that be why your team isn’t engaged enough during your virtual meetings?

Recently, I was invited to speak at a virtual networking event for 20 minutes. However, a few days before the event, I was told that since people are suffering from Zoom fatigue, I was only to speak for five minutes. The underlying premise here is that shorter meetings are the antidote to current frustrations with the virtual meetings culture we’ve developed over the last few months. In other words, the pendulum is swinging from everyone hopping on Zoom as a result of the pandemic to employees trying to stay off of it.

But maybe the real problem isn’t the meetings but how you’re leading those meetings.

For instance, I also recently co-hosted a virtual meeting where we ran into some technical issues. As hard as we tried to fix the issue, nothing worked. Surprisingly, no one left the meeting early. Instead, everyone laughed and had fun with it. We didn’t lose one participant and several even commented, “This is the best meeting ever!” They really enjoyed the “expect the unexpected” vibe. 

All of which is to say that the length of meetings is not the problem. It’s the delivery and attitude of the speaker that has caused Zoom fatigue.

Are You the Problem?

To find out if you’re the reason people are tired of meetings, you need to dig deep and objectively view how you’re leading meetings. Ask yourself: Other than moving to a virtual platform, have you changed the way you lead meetings? If you’ve largely kept the same format, prior to going virtual:

  • Did all attendees get the chance to contribute their thoughts?
  • Were the meetings lively and engaging, with participants feeling energized and focused when they left?
  • Did your team leave with actionable items and someone identified who would follow up to ensure accountability?

If the answer is no, then you’re likely the problem. But there’s good news…

Building More Engaging Virtual Meetings

Meetings can be a powerful tool to connect with individuals on your team and achieve real results — when led properly. Now is not the time to take a lackluster approach to what’s on the meeting agenda while your people are adapting to performing in a new environment and juggling work with their home life. It’s time to reframe your mindset and strategy for conducting virtual meetings.

Virtual meetings require a different approach than in-person ones. A MeetingsNet article explains why: 

“Experts say that it’s simply harder to process verbal information over a video call than in person, where we can benefit from non-verbal communication cues. It could also come from the fact that we feel pressured to more actively show our engagement.”

Consequently, engaging your team on a virtual platform can be challenging, but that just means you’ll need to get creative. But first, you’ll need two foundational elements (which apply to in-person meetings, as well):

  • Get clear on the goal for the meeting. What result are you looking to achieve? Be very clear on what the meeting is for and what it will entail so people can participate accordingly. No one wants to go through the hassle of getting their makeshift home office cleaned up for a mandatory video meeting only to show up and realize that there is no real purpose or anticipated outcome. 
  • Be selective with the invite list. Likewise, no one wants to attend a virtual meeting and ask themselves, “Why am I here?” It is much more respectful to your team to have multiple separate meetings instead of a large one where people have to sit through agenda items that do not pertain to their jobs. Also plan for every attendee to contribute in some way. Go through your invite list and assign roles prior to the meeting. If an individual on the list doesn’t have a role or contribution toward the goal, don’t send the invite. Your meetings will actually be shorter and more efficient this way, which will increase engagement and help fight Zoom Fatigue.

6 Ways to Get Creative

After implementing these foundational meeting elements, it’s time to get creative with your delivery and format. Here are six of my favorite ways I’ve seen leaders (and some I’ve used myself) successfully engage attendees during virtual meetings:

  1. Mix it up. Enlist different people to host each time. Ditch the screen-share PowerPoint presentation; physically stand up and go through the information using an oversized easel notepad. Change always makes things more interesting.
  2. Conduct a poll. This is an easy way to get immediate feedback and allow attendees to voice opinions. You can also have fun with this. During one meeting while everyone was getting settled in, I polled, “French fries or onion rings?” It was a great way to adapt the traditional “icebreaker” to a virtual setting. (Anyone for a combo —  “frings” instead?)
  3. Speed it up. Schedule speed rounds to generate creativity into the agenda and make sure everyone gets a chance to participate. This idea helps with two common meeting challenges of keeping people engaged: pace of meeting and dominant over-sharers.
  4. Infuse your workplace culture. If your office was the type to plan themed dress-up days and potlucks, it’s likely that some of your staff are missing it. You can incorporate such elements into virtual meetings. I work with a client whose weekly team meeting is always themed. Their latest creative idea was “wear something on your head day.” (One participant carefully wore their cat on their head, which gave everyone a great laugh.)
  5. Don’t forget about the food. Just like you would pass around a menu before a meeting, have food delivered to your team. Sharing a meal together, even virtually, can be a bonding experience.
  6. Connect. We all need connection right now. A client of mine starts each meeting by giving space for every single person to check in and share how they’re doing before diving into the main purpose of the meeting. If this feels too personal for your team, make this an opportunity to share any work-related questions or concerns, like, “We’re rolling out this new software program, and I’m wondering how you are feeling about it?”

I challenge you to adapt better to today’s virtual workplace. See the opportunity for exciting growth and change when you hear trends like “Zoom fatigue” pop up. Rise to the challenge. Your people and business will benefit.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.
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