When employers moved to remote work during the pandemic, the use of platforms like Zoom and Teams skyrocketed. Zoom (in the generic sense) conferences and social events like happy hours became a thing so people could still stay in touch. Many of us got to meet each other’s pets and kids, often in unexpected ways. We did the best we could under trying circumstances.
But now that the end of the pandemic is in sight, employers are thinking about how they’ll reconfigure their workplaces for the post-coronavirus world. Here at Full Circle, we went all remote during the pandemic and are maintaining that for the present time. Like many other workplaces, we’re looking at our options for the next phase and may adopt a hybrid workforce model.
Whatever the workplace configuration is in the future, Zoom meetings will still have their place, so it’s a good time to reflect on lessons learned over the past year and apply them to making meetings as productive as possible moving forward. Part of addressing Zoom fatigue is taking steps to reduce Zoom anxiety, which a recent survey of home workers found to be a real phenomenon that can cause significant stress.
As the linked CNET article illustrates, the causes of Zoom anxiety and fatigue range from the funny (fear of pet flatulence being picked up on audio and attributed to the owner rather than the pet) to the serious (concern about appearance, inability to read a room, emotional exhaustion, etc.). Here are some Full Circle secrets we’ve learned over the last year that can help reduce Zoom anxiety and fatigue:
- Don’t look at yourself: Zoom meetings can trigger “mirror anxiety” — a stress-inducing self-consciousness. Studies have found that women are especially prone to this. You can switch off the self-view on your Zoom call if you find it impossible to avoid obsessing about hairstyle malfunctions or background items (though that would leave you unaware should pets, children or significant others intrude into the frame behind you). An alternative is to leave the self-view on while making a conscious effort not to get sucked into the mirror.
- Do prepare in a way that makes you more comfortable: As with in-person meetings, it’s important to make sure you’re fully prepared by reviewing the topic and/or material being discussed. But because you’re attending from home, there may be an extra layer of social anxiety. Remember that the important thing is to be yourself, so find a Zoom-friendly spot in your home that represents who you are, and wear a favorite shirt so you’ll feel at ease.
- Don’t feel obligated to be hyper-attentive: It’s not natural for humans to stare at each other constantly when face to face. We don’t do that during in-person meetings, and yet it has become the norm to stare into the camera during Zoom calls, to nod constantly and to provide other visual cues that we’re listening. Try to break the habit of feeling obligated to convey your attentiveness 100% of the time. It’s okay to take notes or look away from the camera.
- Do audio-only meetings occasionally and/or institute a Zoom-free Friday rule: If you’re managing a team and organizing meetings, you can change things up for employees by allowing people to attend on an audio-only basis as appropriate. If your workload allows, you can also declare a certain day of the week Zoom-free, which will provide some respite for employees who feel stressed out from back-to-back meetings every day.
- Do provide windows between meetings: We’ve all been in a situation where a meeting runs over the allotted time, making us late for the next meeting. You can fix that by scheduling a window in between meetings, e.g., scheduling meetings that are 55 or 25 minutes long instead of an hour or half hour, and enforcing hard stops. This can make meeting-heavy days less stressful and provides participants with more short breaks and time to prepare for the next meeting.
Another tip that improves any meeting, whether face to face or over Zoom: have an agenda prepared in advance, and make sure everyone agrees with the intended direction of the discussion and parameters, such as the time limit. An agenda can clear up misunderstandings before the meeting starts and keep everyone focused. Adhering to an agreed-upon discussion length respects everyone’s time.
Whether your company stays remote, returns to office, or implements a hybrid workforce model, Zoom meetings will likely be a communication tool that you’ll continue to use, but that doesn’t mean Zoom anxiety and fatigue have to come with it. By following these tips, you can help eliminate those stressors from future gatherings and remain successful in maintaining your social and professional interactions.