The availability and ease of Zoom and other virtual technology has been one of the bright sides of this past year. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to see our colleagues and friends while working safely at home, continuing education opportunities would be minimal, grandparents may not see their grandchildren whether it be a few miles or thousands of miles away, and those sick in the hospital may not be able to see their family. One of my favorite things about virtual calls during Covid is being able to see full faces instead of masked ones. But, according to a recent study done by Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, being in these virtual meetings throughout your day can lead to exhaustion and may even increase stress.
The Mercury News summarizes the findings and suggestions from Professor Bailenson’s study, which addresses Zoom Fatigue from a technical and physical perspective. Here I share three additional ways we can minimize this stress and exhaustion from the standpoint of planning and productivity.
Be Intentional About Holding a Virtual Meeting
If you are the one initiating the meeting, determine whether the meeting is absolutely necessary and if so, if virtual is the most appropriate format. Would a phone call or conference call work just as well? Or is the topic something that could be handled quickly over email or chat?
If you have been invited to a virtual meeting or webinar, determine whether it is necessary for you to attend. What value will you receive? What will you add to the meeting? Be intentional about your choices.
Block “Meeting Days” and Add Breaks
If you have been intentional about the meetings you attend and it is still necessary for you to have several meetings a week, try to hold meetings on the same day as much as possible. While you may still have some Zoom fatigue at the end of that day, the benefits of one or two meeting-free days are great. You will be able to focus for longer periods of time with fewer interruptions and without the nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you need to remember to log in at a certain time. You’ll also save a little time on those days you don’t have to be “Zoom ready.”
When you schedule several meetings on the same day, be sure to leave a little time between them – I suggest 30 minutes. This allows a cushion in case the meeting runs over and also gives you time to review your notes, clarify and schedule next actions, and reset before the next meeting. Be sure to leave a few minutes to get up, move around, and refill your water.
Meeting Standards Don’t Change in a Virtual Setting
Standards and guidelines for a video meeting should be the same as an in-person meeting (except that sweatpants or leggings and a quiet pet in the background is perfectly acceptable). Someone should be responsible for the agenda, make sure that everyone has the materials they need ahead of time, and assign a leader to keep the meeting on track. Also, don’t end the meeting without full clarity regarding next actions and who is responsible. Learn the 5 key steps to an effective meeting.
I also recommend allowing a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to check in with everyone. It’s been a tough year, and we could all use a little reassurance, support, and reminder that we’re all in this together.
A recent survey by management software developer AtTask and market research firm Harris Interactive asked 2000 office workers how they spend their time each day. Results showed that 7% of our time at work is spent in wasteful meetings. In fact, 45% of those surveyed feel time spent in wasteful meetings is the largest contributor to lost productivity. Meetings are necessary for communication and collaboration, but how do we ensure that the time spent is not wasted?
Before the Meeting: Never schedule a meeting without a thoughtful agenda. In fact, businesses and teams should have an agenda template that is used for all meetings. The template should obviously include logistics like date, start and end time, and location. The agenda should also assign a meeting leader and list others invited. Attendees should include only those that will benefit from or provide value to the meeting. The agenda should state an objective for the meeting to ensure the meeting has a clear purpose and expected outcome.
Finally, the agenda should list the topics for presentation, review, and/or discussion. Times for each meeting topic should also be determined and shared to allow attendees to prepare based on the amount of time devoted to each. If an attendee needs more time for a certain topic, this can be adjusted prior to the meeting. @JamiePrip suggests limiting the number of items on your agenda to big-picture topics for the organization. In addition, he warns meetings that are open-ended tend to go longer than they need to.
Agenda templates can be built in a document program such as Microsoft Word, in your email/calendar program, or use a pre-built agenda in an application such as Do for Apple products or cloud-based tools Worklife and Minute. Agendas should be shared with meeting attendees several days prior to the meeting to allow for sufficient preparation (jamieprip.com).
During the Meeting: The meeting leader’s responsibilities are to ensure the meeting starts and ends on time and to keep the meeting on track. If a topic is going longer than planned, table it for a future meeting in order to get through your agenda on time. If a topic is going off-track, pull it back to focus. A timer, such as The Time Timer, can provide a visual reminder. Have someone assigned to take notes during the meeting, including top points of resolution or non-resolution and any future action items. The applications mentioned above (Do, Worklife and Minute) include features to assign and track tasks resulting from the meeting. Before adjourning, summarize results and next steps. Time for this should be built into the agenda.
As an attendee, you may also take notes during the meeting. These notes are likely more personal to your responsibilities and actions. Circle, highlight, or star actionable items so that they are easy to pull from your notes after the meeting.
After the Meeting: Meeting notes and next actions should be stored in a central location and shared with attendees and others as appropriate. Any “next steps” should be clear and include target dates and names. Individual tasks from the full meeting notes, as well as any highlighted in personal notes, should immediately be added to your project and/or task management system.
In summary, there are 5 key steps to an effective meeting:
1. Have a Clear Objective
2. Create a Thoughtful Agenda
3. Assign a Meeting Leader
4. Assign a Note Taker / Task Manager
5. Summarize Results and Next Steps
If you are missing even one of these steps, your meeting can quickly turn from productive to wasteful.