How to Overcome Video Call Fatigue
By Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights
We’re using video calling more than ever. This should be win-win for everyone, right? Wrong. Many people find that working remotely is actually more tiring than face-to-face working, especially when it comes to video calls. So what’s going on?
Video calls are meant to reduce the time spent travelling to offices and, in turn, personal exhaustion but it turns out people can feel just as drained (if not more so). If you dig a bit deeper there are a few things going on that are hindering us, rather than helping us.
The problem with video calls
It might feel like a decent substitute for face-to-face communication but when was the last time you experienced echo noises, frozen faces and awkward delays in responses to straight-forward questions when you sat in a meeting room?
Managing a meeting and navigating your way through those technical challenges at the same time is draining. It requires more focus and attention just to keep a natural flow of conversation going. It means that we’re always ‘on’.
Silence is another challenge. There will always be a short delay between when the speaker talks and when the listeners hear the words. Silence is a very natural part of conversation in real life, but when you are on a video call those silences / delays can make you feel uncomfortable or even anxious. There have even been studies that suggest short delays can make people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.
Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face conversation. As already alluded to, silences / delays mean you have to work harder to keep following what’s going on.
We also have to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions – which ordinarily we would interpret quite easily. This has an impact on trust because we need non-verbal clues to help us to connect with others.
Virtual meetings create social pressure. In a face-to-face meeting you would feel comfortable to leave the room for a toilet break or to shift your gaze to look out of the window for a few moments to reflect on a comment. You might even strike up a side-conversation with a colleague.
Video calls create a very artificial environment where we are all starting at a head and shoulders shot of our colleagues and even ourselves! You might not realise it but this very intimidating and draining. It’s not what you would see if you were in a face-to-face environment. It makes video calls much more nerve wracking and you put yourself under more pressure to ‘perform’ and not allowing yourself to leave your screen.
The work environment is now creeping into our homes. So where is the dividing line between work and play?
The different environments within our life (home, office, gym etc.) enable us to perform our different social roles appropriately. When those contexts are removed things get complicated and we find it harder to switch into our different roles.
Italian management expert Gianpiero Petriglieri told the BBC: ‘Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That's what we're doing now… We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window.’
How to reduce video call fatigue
Do you need a meeting?
Consider whether the call really needs to happen. Video calling can actually make us lazy because it’s human nature that when something is on tap it becomes less precious to us. This means we end up setting up countless video calls, just because we can.
Is there another way the information could be exchanged e.g. through online document share / task management software?
Don’t have a meeting unless you really need to.
Be selective about who you invite
If you decide a meeting is essential then be selective about who you invite.
The RITE acronym can help give you a steer:
- Responsible – invite people who can be responsible for taking action, as well as being able to contribute to the conversation
- Informed – individuals who only need to be informed do not need to be at the meeting, those people can read the minutes
- Timely – people need to turn up on time, make timely decisions and take action in a timely manner
- Eight people – limit the meeting size to eight people
Having a meeting strategy
The key to working smarter, especially when you’re working remotely, is to have a meeting strategy for your team.
Have a daily virtual huddle. This is a short meeting (20 minutes) for everyone to share what’s coming up over the next 24 hours. View them as a daily check-in and energiser.
Next, the team should agree on a suitable day to set aside for meetings each week. By doing so you’ll create a rhythm to the working week. Everyone can set their mind to meeting with people on one specific day, while the remaining days can be spent working independently.
Following this strategy will reduce the number of meetings, the time spent in meetings and the time spent coordinating the set up of meetings.
Manage the meeting
The meeting host needs to be in control at all times:
- Be clear at the start of the meeting how much time you will spend together and stick to it.
- Minimise silences by asking questions to specific people, rather than addressing the whole group.
- At the start or at the end of the meeting check in with people to make sure they are feeling ok, thank them for their contribution and find out if their weekend went ok. By doing so you’ll foster feelings of trust and help to create genuine feelings of connection. Humans are social creatures after all.
- Build in breaks during meetings. In a face-to-face setting it’s often natural for people get up and take a rest break. This can get overlooked during video calls as we feel the pressure to be chained to our screen and ‘perform’. Adding in rest breaks during a video call gives everyone permission to down tools and refresh.
Barriers and boundaries help us to transition from our work persona to our private one. Whilst it might feel tempting to work from home in your pyjamas, by doing so you’re not setting the right expectation in your head.
Avoid the overlap between work and pleasure by creating a clear structure for each one. For example get dressed and ‘ready for work’, allowing yourself to change clothes and room location when your workday has ended.