Combatting virtual meeting fatigue

Published by Richenda Sabine on

woman sat on yoga ball, stecthing, sat behind a desk set up with multiple screens

Combatting virtual meeting fatigue

“Oh NO, not another Zoom meeting!”

Since the pandemic, virtual meeting fatigue has become a real thing, as the number of virtual meetings has increased significantly with the shift to remote or hybrid work. Add to this, working with people in different time zones – as we do with our international clients at BAD – and the result is more onscreen time outside our normal working hours.

According to research by Cisco Webex, 95% of workers experience video fatigue and 93% spend at least two hours in video meetings each day! This is because we’re not designed to spend multiple hours a day speaking to people on a screen using enormous amounts of energy to stay focused.

But what is the psychology and physiology behind it, and what can you do to combat this kind of fatigue? Check out the two main culprits cognitive overload and decision fatigue.

woman strecthing at desk behind laptop looking tired

Cognitive overload.

Developed by educational psychologist John Sweller, Cognitive Load Theory relates to the amount of information working memory can hold at one time. It’s a state of mental exhaustion caused by being presented with too much information at one time, leading to confusion, decreased concentration, and lower productivity.

Sweller stated that, because working memory has a limited capacity, “instructional methods should avoid overloading it with additional activities that don’t directly contribute to learning”. [Sweller, 1988].

Decision fatigue.

“Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex. It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed …”. [Baumeiser, Roy F, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, 2003].
The term ‘decision fatigue’ was first documented by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister to describe the mental and emotional strain resulting from making choices. A fitting example is Barack Obama claiming to have worn the same coloured suits every day when he was President – to limit the number of decisions he had to make! Obama understood decision fatigue and its effect on the quality of his choices. So, the more decisions we make throughout the day, the harder each decision becomes. Eventually, the brain looks for shortcuts to avoid decision fatigue which leads to poor decision-making.

What else is happening?

Other factors at play during virtual meetings include:

  • Screen fatigue. This can cause headaches, sore eyes and difficulty concentrating.
  • Technical difficulties. According to recent research, 49% of employees say at least two of the virtual meetings they attend each week are disrupted due to technical issues, adding to cognitive overload. [Beezy 2021 Workplace Report]
  • Lack of body language. Between 60% and 70%of human communication happens via body language and is registered mostly unconsciously [Mehrabian, 1981]. In virtual meetings, more cognitive ‘processing power’ is needed to pick up on the nuances of communication that would normally be conveyed through body language.
  • It’s harder to concentrate during online meetings, due to increased distractions from the home or workplace environment. Research reveals that 12% of workers even said that distractions at home were their biggest issue on a day-to-day basis. [Buffer 2022 State of Remote Work].
  • Social isolation. Although some of us have introverted personality traits, we are social animals by nature. Being alone in your home office, socialising in ‘virtual water coolers’ isn’t the best way to feel part of something. People who feel disconnected from their work environment start to feel unmotivated about their work in general, which again leads to a decrease in productivity and increased levels of fatigue.

BeSci to the rescue.

At BAD we use behavioural science to support our design process, by reducing superfluous content and breaking it into smaller digestible chunks. This minimises cognitive overload and makes the learning experience more enjoyable, the content easier to retain.

woman sat on yoga ball, stecthing, sat behind a desk set up with multiple screens

Top 10 tips for reducing virtual meeting fatigue.

Fortunately, there are ways to conduct productive and engaging virtual meetings and strategies to improve both your productivity and well-being. Research conducted by Microsoft states that fatigue begins within 30-40 minutes of a virtual meeting.

While it might not be possible for every team to eliminate virtual meeting fatigue, there are ways to reduce it:

  1. Use video calls only when necessary. This might not always be possible, but if you can, try to limit the number of video calls you’re making. Also, you might be surprised how much can be accomplished over email or on an instant messaging platform like Slack.
  2. Record virtual meetings for those who missed it. Make sure to invite the most important stakeholders. You can always invite others as ‘optional’ if you’re not sure whether they need to be there or not.
  3. Create a meeting agenda and share it in advance and only invite essential people. Having specific goals and objectives is more likely to keep people on track and prevent the meeting from going on too long. To fight against meeting fatigue, share a list of easy-to-read takeaways.
  4. Schedule breaks between video calls. If you do need to be on a lot of video calls, schedule breaks in between. Get up and walk around, grab a snack, or just give yourself a few minutes to relax and reset.
  5. Streamline your appointment times. For example, why not book a 45-minute meeting instead of one hour, or a 20-minute one instead of 30 minutes. This minor shift will not only give you back 10-15 minutes a day but will also help combat screen fatigue symptoms.
  6. Turn off your video. If you’re not required to have your video on, don’t be afraid to switch it off. This can help reduce the mental load of having to constantly monitor your own facial expressions and body language.
  7. Don’t feel like you need to be ‘on’ all the time. Just because you’re on a video call doesn’t mean you need to be actively engaged for the entire duration. Relax in your seat, look away from your screen, and stretch.
  8. The Pomodoro Technique is your friend. It stops you from procrastinating or getting distracted, so you can just get things done. This popular time-management method is about recording how you utilise your time and works because it is portable and easy to learn.
  9. AI can help with meeting fatigue and overload. Conversation intelligence is artificial intelligence that analyses conversations. This technology pulls out all kinds of helpful insights, and it’s now available on some video conferencing platforms.
  10. Make time to play and socialise outside meetings. If possible, plan activities outside the office or set up virtual coffee breaks or lunches with colleagues to connect in a more casual way.

Virtual Presence: Using technologies to create connections and experiences.

Virtual meetings are here to stay, whether we like it or not, and meetings have increased by 12.9% since 2020. The key to avoiding fatigue and overload is improving the quality of our meetings using the tools and techniques described earlier, and the good news is that 7 in 10 of us believe virtual meetings are less stressful than regular ones.

If you can’t resist the urge to wave at the end of calls, you’re not alone. The ‘virtual wave’ provides social connections when many of us are missing them. It also sends a clear yet polite signal that the meeting is over, as opposed to just clicking away. “If we weren’t waving at the beginning of Zoom calls, and especially at the end, I would be worried for humankind”, says body language expert Patti Wood.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how we use behavioural science to create effective digital experiences, please get in touch.

Categories: Best Practice