Hybrid and remote working models come with a host of benefits. They don't "just" allow workers the location and schedule flexibility they crave. More than that, when done right, they also contribute to improved wellbeing, increased income, and higher autonomy.
However, remote work also comes with some serious challenges.
According to the Buffer State of Remote Work Report for 2022, remote workers struggle with finding the time to unplug and relax, loneliness, motivation, collaboration challenges, and a lack of career advancement opportunities.
And that's not all.
Burnout and meeting fatigue have also become a common consequence of remote work over the past couple of years.
So, knowing that a large portion of the hybrid and remote workforce struggle with exhaustion, especially that caused by digital communication, it's not a bad idea to explore the methods which might help them prevent total burnout.
This article explores research and science-backed ways to combat meeting fatigue and suggests strategies to prevent remote work from taking its toll on workers' emotional and physical wellbeing.
Why meeting fatigue happens
Although it may seem like video conference fatigue happens because of spending too much time staring at a screen, a 2020 research paper proposed that that's not the real reason remote workers feel exhaustion after a day filled with virtual meetings.
Instead, meeting fatigue is simply a consequence of the complex nature of processing interpersonal interactions in distorted spatial dynamics.
Simply put, video calls are not the natural way for humans to communicate. They are always there. They stimulate the feeling of having one's personal space invaded. And they make it difficult to read other people's body language.
Moreover, online meetings expose participants to "the constant gaze." And yes, this heightened sense of being observed does drive people to concentrate harder and perform better. But, it also causes them to become fatigued more quickly.
And that's not all when it comes to the characteristics of virtual meetings that exhaust people.
According to a research study published in December 2021, the following four factors further contribute to meeting fatigue:
- The frequency and duration of video meetings creates a sense of overly close proximity, which is normally avoided in face-to-face communication with anyone who's not a close friend or partner.
- Online meetings make it more challenging to communicate nonverbally. This means that participants have to work much harder to receive and send essential signals, resulting in a higher cognitive load.
- Participating in virtual calls exposes people to a mirror image of themselves. This often leads to self-evaluation, which can be a stressful behavior.
- People often learn through movement. However, video meetings force them to sit tight. This restrains people from effectively processing and comprehending the shared information and consequently increases the effort it takes to communicate.
Strategies to prevent & combat meeting fatigue while working remotely
The problem with handling meeting fatigue is that there's no universal solution. After all, most remote workers can't just hop back to the office for a quick face-to-face.
Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that there aren't any science-backed methods for preventing virtual conference exhaustion.
Here are a few that are well worth a try.
"Do not do more today than you can recover from by tomorrow." – Greg McKeown
In his book Effortless, Greg McKeown highlights the importance of rest when organizing the workday.
The author advises readers to break down their work into 90-minute sessions, which is a great way to combine rest with deep concentration. By taking regular breaks, remote workers can have enough time between meetings to prevent becoming overwhelmed. Plus, the practice also allows them to recover from completing taxing assignments, ensuring that they're ready for the next burst of deep work once the time for it arrives.
When it comes to effectively organizing virtual meetings, scheduling regular breaks is an excellent and science-backed strategy to prevent fatigue and boost productivity.
Moreover, having a well-defined meeting agenda allows remote teams to cover all intended topics. Additionally, it stops the conference call from running too long or becoming too pointless to result in any value for the participants.
Know when virtual calls work & when they don't
The key to utilizing virtual meetings productively (and without them leading to exhaustion) comes down to knowing when they work and when they don't.
For example, virtual meeting parties with 30+ participants don't contribute to professional progress. Instead, they force an entire group to sit silently while only one person talks.
However, small group meetings with up to four participants work wonderfully. And, apparently, they're sometimes even preferred by workers as they're easier to manage than live sessions.
So, if you're looking for strategies to help your team become less fatigued from online meetings, consider whether it's essential for everyone to be present in the first place. Yes, getting people involved is crucial in maintaining good team dynamics. But forcing them to stay quiet or fight to talk over each other is anything but healthy.
A solution may be to limit the number of individuals who have to attend video conferences. So, instead of getting everyone on a call to gather insights, consider alternative communication methods. The remote team from Optimal Workshop, for example, suggests using collaboration software such as MURAL, Trello, InVision, and Google Drive, all of which are powerful enough to handle intensive group assignments like UX testing and design.
Use biology to come up with the best meeting schedule
A traditional work schedule, for most people, means performing consistently well anytime between 9 am and 5 pm. But, according to science, this isn't exactly possible.
Human energy levels go through highs and lows due to a natural process called the circadian rhythm. This process causes physical, mental, and behavioral changes and is usually tied to a 24-hour cycle.
So, what does the circadian rhythm have to do with virtual meeting fatigue?
Well, it turns out that, for most people, peak alert times happen between 9 am and 11 am and 7 pm and 9 pm. And, seeing that participating in online meetings requires high alertness and a lot of effort, one excellent strategy to prevent fatigue would be to find methods to manage your energy for higher productivity.
Something as simple as avoiding video calls after lunch can be of great help in preventing meeting fatigue. If it allows everyone to think more clearly and participate a bit more enthusiastically, it won't just combat exhaustion. On top of that, it may even contribute to new professional breakthroughs for your remote team.
Try to include face-to-face communication opportunities
Finally, as you look for ways to combat meeting fatigue while working remotely, understand that virtual conversations, despite their many benefits, still don't hold a candle to face-to-face communication.
So, see whether there's any chance of your dispersed team coming together, at least from time to time, to brainstorm, share experiences, and simply grow closer in a way that will drive better collaboration.
One excellent way to make face-to-face meetings happen is to schedule an annual team retreat, which can be a superb team-building opportunity. A team getaway doesn't just promote collaboration and communication; it also helps remote workers escape the daily grind of virtual meetings and gives them a welcome change of scenery.
Of course, for bigger teams, getting away may require a hefty budget. However, there are some excellent resources on finding cheap flights, booking affordable accommodation, and doing more with less money.
Online meetings are an irreplaceable part of running a business in today's world. And they're here to stay.
But, seeing that they can lead to fatigue (and sometimes even burnout), remote team managers must find effective ways to make virtual calls more productive, enjoyable, and less detrimental to remote workers' health.
The strategies we've talked about in this article are all excellent tactics to try. When implementing them, remember that every professional team (and every individual that's part of that team) has its own unique needs.
So, instead of trying to apply formulas, look for ways you can make the tips above your own. Yes, best practices may take some trial-and-error until you land on the best solution. But investing in your team's wellbeing is always worth the extra effort in the end.
About The Author
Natasha is a lady of a keyboard and one hell of a geek. She has been working for, and collaborating with, individual clients and companies of all sizes for more than a decade. Natasha specializes in writing about design, branding, digital marketing, and business growth. She is also addicted to art in all its forms and grilled tofu.