Zoom Fatigue | More Meetings, Less Productivity

Zoom Fatigue

Let’s take a trip back to March of 2020.

The realities of the Covid-19 pandemic were just beginning to set in. Across the world, companies were closing down their offices and sending employees home to transition to remote working positions for an uncertain amount of time.

Although unnerving, the health crisis accelerated the world several years into the future by forcing the global workforce to adopt what many were already predicting: distributed workforces operated by advanced technology.

However, as professionals became settled into this new way of working, a new stressor began to emerge from the shadows: Zoom fatigue.

Initially, new remote workers were enticed and even excited about their new arrangements. No longer would they have to spend hours of their morning getting dressed in office clothes and making their long commutes through traffic.

But all good things must come to an end.

Companies who were unprepared for the sudden transition to remote working soon turned to back-to-back virtual meetings to keep a sharp eye on employees.

That’s where Zoom fatigue began to take hold of the new population of remote workers.


What Is Zoom Fatigue?

What Is Zoom Fatigue?

The definition of Zoom fatigue is relatively self-explanatory —  it refers to the stress and exhaustion associated with several virtual meetings that are often required to be attended.

Unfortunately over time, these mandatory meetings become much harder to mentally process, especially when you and your colleagues are working from your homes in the midst of the health crisis.

Picture this:

You’re working 40 hours (maybe more) every week, in the same corner of your home five days straight. The majority of this time is spent staring into a webcam with your microphone on mute until you patiently wait for your name to be called so you can give a five-minute update on projects you are currently working on.

And then there are still 55 minutes left in the meeting.

Because of the convenience of Zoom meetings, many employees feel that they cannot say no to attending, even if that means their work takes a hit.

However, the overuse of virtual meetings is having a clear impact on the way employees function. Not only is it increasing feelings of performance anxiety, but having to “be on” during these meetings is harmful to the mental health of workers.


Causes Of Zoom Fatigue

Causes Of Zoom Fatigue

Similar to other work-related stressors, Zoom fatigue can be caused by a variety of external factors.

Due to the exhaustion and saturation that multiple virtual meetings each day can have, workers often feel like they cannot achieve a seamless workflow that is essential for productivity.

Instead of being able to focus on a specific task at hand for an hour or two at a time, this flow is interrupted by having to attend a meeting that most likely could have been an email.

Because of these constant meetings, employees often feel like they always have to perform in order to stand out and make progress in their careers. However, this sense of always being on leaves little room for true, personal, and authentic connections with colleagues.

Another important factor that can contribute to Zoom fatigue is the stress of managing new software. While some employees may have the connectivity and know-how when dealing with new technologies, others may not be equipped with the tools and resources that make virtual meetings pleasant.

Yes, technological mishaps happen all the time. But if you’re a worker who is frequently dealing with microphone static, poor Wi-Fi connection, or outdated devices, attending a virtual meeting can quickly go from annoying to outright frustrating.

Lastly, although some workers may have felt that they would be able to escape the clutches of their micromanager when working from home, remote arrangements may have actually worsened this problem.

How can you tell if your boss has entered micromanagement territory? Think about the following. Is your boss:

  • More focused on employees rather than customers?
  • Holding frequent performance reviews?
  • Requiring employees to install tracking software onto their work devices?
  • Causing projects to bottleneck because of constant meetings and gatekeeping?
  • Instilling fear into employees to share their true opinions?

If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, you are probably feeling the pressure of a micromanaged workforce.

In a distributed work environment, these actions tend to be magnified. Because micromanagers cannot physically look over your shoulder to see the progress you’ve made on a specific project, they substitute this by holding incessant meetings that, in reality, are superficially beneficial to them.

This trait is particularly evident among companies who are adopting remote working positions for the first time and have little to no experience in executing this arrangement in an optimal way.

These methods of management are not only disadvantageous to a company’s bottom line, employees often feel like their privacy is being impeded on.

And it’s clear that employees are taking note of what these technologies imply.

Research from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that 73% of employees feel that workplace monitoring software could damage trust between workers and their managers.

Even more, 80% to 93% stated that this kind of technology has done nothing to improve their business performance.

So what’s the point?

While it’s easy to overlook this type of manager-employee relationship, it can be quite toxic to the entire workforce.

In fact, a survey by IT support company Trinity Solutions revealed that 79% of respondents have experienced micromanagement. Even more, 69% stated that they considered changing jobs due to micromanagement, and 36% actually did.

The findings research also showed that 71% said that having this type of relationship with their manager directly impacted their job performance, while 85% stated their morale was negatively affected.

Let’s be clear — this method of managing is less about productivity and more about a power trip.

More importantly, the overall lack of trust and increased stress in the workplace can have detrimental effects on business.


Impact Of Zoom Fatigue

Impact Of Zoom Fatigue

It comes as no surprise that  Zoom fatigue and other managerial failures can have a significant negative impact on a remote workforce.

For starters, time spent on Zoom means time spent away from actively working on projects.

Distracting from tasks at hand just to sit quietly behind your computer’s webcam means you’re constantly playing catch up. Decreased productivity means decreased job satisfaction, which does not benefit employees nor business leaders at the end of the day.

Beyond pay, what would keep an employee on at their jobs if they were not able to exercise their best skills because they had back-to-back virtual meetings?

Not only does this method of business operations impede on productivity, it also has a direct impact on how creative employees are. Zoom fatigue means less time to flourish, and because of this, the patience of job dissatisfaction tends to grow thin.

Ask yourself this:

Have you ever been in the midst of a workflow only to have it interrupted? The frustration can completely interfere with the quality of your work.

Now imagine consistent interruptions that extend by over an hour, multiple times each day. 

Along with the clear annoyance this causes employees, it also means that deadlines are missed, projects are bottlenecked, and workloads pile up. This forces workers to put in longer hours, which again, often leads to burnout.

If you think you are on the cusp of burnout, it’s important to identify the symptoms, such as:

  • Cynicism about your job
  • Dragging yourself to work
  • Irritability with colleagues and clients
  • Lacking energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Using alcohol, food, or drugs to numb feelings of work-related distress
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Chronic health ailments like headaches, stomach problems, etc.

It’s evident that the impact of burnout goes beyond feeling bummed.

There is a simultaneous mental health crisis happening alongside the pandemic, and Zoom fatigue is a huge contributor.

Pew Research shows that workers who are experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 13% less confident in their performance, and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.

Even more, Stanford Graduate School of Business finds that workplace burnout can cost companies between $125 billion to $190 billion each year in additional healthcare spending.

The financial expense isn’t the only thing that should be of concern to employers — it’s the difference between having healthy employees, and seeing workers abandon their posts due to declining physical and mental health.

Workplace stress is normal, there’s no doubt about it.

But finding yourself dreading your day from the moment you wake up is not.

The anxiety and stress of work can quickly pile up and begin to impact both your work performance and your home life, especially when working remotely.

Feelings of having to constantly perform during virtual meetings and have an open schedule for even more meetings means that the pent up negative emotions of the work day will likely seep into your work-life balance.

And what is the benefit of remote working if there is no work-life balance?

The common belief that you should pull yourself up by the bootstraps is not applicable to today’s workforce. Zoom fatigue is real.


Avoiding Zoom Fatigue

Avoiding Zoom Fatigue

If you’ve ultimately realized that Zoom fatigue has caught up with you and want to find ways to change the path you’re going down, it’s not too late.

Whether you’re a business leader or an employee, there are many tips and tricks that can help mitigate any additional work-related stress. 

The most impactful change can start with simply asking the question: “Is this meeting necessary?”

Once you’ve established the necessity of each meeting, future meetings will enable even more productivity and engagement since there is a rejuvenated sense of purpose when team members come together.

However!

If you do feel like there is messaging or an announcement that needs to get to all employees or specific teams, you can introduce new forms of communication that make it easier to reach out to everyone without dragging them on Zoom.

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This can range from:

  • Instant messaging (Slack, Google Teams, etc.)
  • Emailing
  • Quick phone call
  • One-on-one meetups

Not only is this a great method of getting any important or relevant announcements to everyone, it opens the door for people to contribute more meaningfully without fear of talking over coworkers on Zoom.

Another ideal strategy to avoid Zoom fatigue is banning meetings from being held on specific days or times. This preference for this type of policy may differ across each employee, so think about giving them a say in when they can have a Zoomless day during their week.

Some companies have already committed to Zoom-free Fridays. For instance, Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser recently told staff that she would be banning internal video calls on Fridays, as well as instituting a company-wide holiday called Citi Reset Day on Friday, May 28.

Fraser stated that by implementing this policy, she hopes that workers will be able to achieve a better work-life balance and mitigate any risk of fatigue that has been widespread across the workforce. 

She expressed that remote working often causes the lines between home and work to blur, which prevents workers “from recharging fully, and that isn’t good for you nor, ultimately, for Citi.” 

Fraser has a point. The stats don’t lie.

Citigroup also revealed their post-pandemic strategies, which for most employees will be a hybrid arrangement that allows them to spend three days in the office and two days at home or an alternative workspace.

Hybrid models have skyrocketed in popularity as companies plan for pre-pandemic strategies, and utilizing this arrangement may actually help your company address the impact of Zoom fatigue.

For instance, Allwork.space features numerous affiliates that offer virtual office and flex space rentals. 

By incorporating these space solutions into your company’s operations, employees who may normally be stuck at home can have an alternative, creative work environment that can boost their creativity and productivity. 

Even if they have to attend a virtual meeting, they can do so in an environment with high-speed connectivity, work-related amenities, and no distractions so they can actually have a successful work day.

It’s still important to note the Zoom meetings do hold value if used appropriately. 

So if you feel that you need to talk to employees over video chat, try adopting person check-ins instead of group meetings. 

Doing so allows other workers more time to concentrate on their own tasks, works better with their schedules, and also sends the message that you want to hear from your employees on a more personal level.

Personal check-ins can occur monthly and cover a variety of topics including:

  • Personal lives and hobbies
  • Work performance
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Areas of improvement
  • Suggestions for improvements on both ends

Having one-on-one discussions is essential for a healthy workforce, and by shifting to them, staff members get the sense that you want them to have an optimal work experience.

One of the most important lessons to take away from the past year is to start receiving more feedback from employees. 

These personal check-ins are a great time to let staffers to express any desires or issues they may be having, whether professional or personal, and work with them so they feel supported in whatever experience they are having. 


The Ethical Use Of Tracking Analytics

The Ethical Use Of Tracking Analytics

There is often a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of incorporating tracking software within a distributed workforce, and understandably so.

But if you are still concerned about how to keep track of work performance, there are less invasive ways to adopt tracking analytics software that can take the place of checking in via Zoom.

Before you decide to incorporate this type of tool, understand your purpose in needing this technology and don’t abuse it.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you trying to improve overall productivity?
  • Are you attempting to enhance the remote working experience?
  • Are you applying greater pressure to make sure remote working policies are not abused?

The end goal must emphasize a healthy employee experience, because without it, your business ultimately fails.

Be wholly transparent about why you want to use this software. 

This includes ensuring there are safeguards in place to prevent any abuse of these tools and addressing any discrimination that could occur as a result of this software.

Yes, tracking technology has been found to be inherently discriminatory. So be ready to assume that employees’ initial reaction won’t be pleasant. 

For instance, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that are used by over 90% of employers have been found to be discriminatory based on the methods it uses to eliminate specific job applications.

ATS takes applications, reviews them, and does away with ones depending on specific keywords it looks for, what the applicant has listed as their past salary or salary expectations, education level, gaps in their work experience, and other factors. 

Doing so closes the door on many highly-qualified candidates, decreases the opportunity to diversify the workforce, and emphasizes hiring tropes that are outdated.

This is especially problematic since women are historically paid less than their male counterparts. Using these hiring methods could force a candidate to settle for less pay, furthering the gender wage gap that has long plagued the country.

So, while it seems safe to assume that technology would be void of inherent bias, it’s not out of the question to assume that tracking software may target specific employees.

However, workers may be much more receptive to the adoption of this software if they have an understanding that these tools are:

  • Being utilized ethically
  • Will not impede on their privacy
  • Could actually improve their own remote working conditions

Take the time to receive employee feedback before implementing tracking tools, this way you can see which approach will be beneficial for all work styles and the company as a whole.

The overall theme here is: Let employees have a say. 

They know firsthand what is best for their workload, and their opinions should be valued during every business-related decision. Listening to staffers not only shows that their input is valued, but that the company’s first priority is to accommodate the employee experience.

The best method of incorporating tracking software is to avoid adopting tools that monitor the employees physical activity. For instance, some tracking software will actually take photos of workers every few minutes to ensure they are sitting at their home computer and present.

Historically, presenteeism has done little to improve productivity.

In fact, the World Economic Forum has found that presenteeism is more harmful than absences, and is estimated to cost U.S. organizations up to $226 billion each year.

The impact that presenteeism has on the workplace is similar to that of Zoom fatigue. Workers often express feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and inevitably burnout.

Luckily, some of this tracking software gives you more noninvasive options, so employees don’t feel the pressure of constantly being monitored, eliminating the sense that their privacy is being violated. 

At the same time, you can reap the benefits of this technology and have access to workplace insights, such as projects, tasks, and some communication, and alter certain operations to ensure that the company is running as seamlessly as possible.

Both employees and business leaders must come to terms with the fact that remote working is here to stay for much of the world. With that comes the responsibility of holding staff to a high standard.

But this doesn’t mean relinquishing all trust that had been built pre-pandemic.

Communication will be key during this transition, so create a culture of of openness and transparency by:

  • Being open about new modifications to workplace operations
    • This should include the adoption of new software, work policies, overall expectations, etc. 
  • Receive feedback from employees
    • Use monthly employee surveys to hear out concerns, suggestions, or other opinions that could be valuable to the company
  • Take note of what will ultimately benefit the employee experience

Overall, if you’re able to be honest and willing to receive employee feedback, your company has the ability to nurture healthy workers who not only produce good work, but want to be a contributing member of the team.


Conclusion

Experts will look back on the past year as one of the most unprecedented, challenging, and opportunistic eras in worldwide history. 

While there was an obvious health crisis that devastated the globe at a staggering pace, the mental health impact also transformed society and the landscape of the workplace.

Data has already solidified that reports of depressive disorders grew nearly four times during the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.

Although there is no turning back the clock to prevent this historical era for the human psyche, there is a chance to alter the rate in which mental health issues burden the workforce.

This starts with identifying the root of why so many remote workers are expressing feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety.

In reality, this shouldn’t take much sleuthing.

Research has consistently shown that Zoom fatigue is taking over the newly distributed workforce. Spending hours attending virtual meetings, along with the constant pressure to always “be on” has worn down once productive workers.

However, it’s important to note that Zoom is a great tool when used properly and has done wonders to help society transition into this uncertain point in time.

But overuse is hurting workers’ ability to achieve the work-life balance that remote working once promised due to working longer hours. 

If business leaders effectively balance virtual meetings, policies that nurture workers’ mental health, employee feedback, as well as flex space and virtual offices, companies are guaranteed to mitigate any risk of Zoom fatigue and build a workplace culture that is unmatched.


FAQ

  1. What is Zoom fatigue?
    • Zoom fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion and stress that comes with attending multiple virtual meetings within the workday and can lead to decreased productivity and job dissatisfaction.
  2. Is Zoom fatigue real?
    • Yes, reports of Zoom fatigue have soared across the workforce in the past year as more companies adopt remote working policies for the first time, and have little to no experience about how to properly manage a distributed team.
  3. What are the symptoms of Zoom fatigue?
    • Symptoms of Zoom fatigue can range from increased stress, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, low energy, poor sleeping habits, drug and/or alcohol reliance, job cynicism, and more.
  4. How can I avoid Zoom fatigue?
    • Zoom fatigue can be avoided by establishing which meetings are absolutely necessary for teams to attend. If it can be done over instant messaging or an email, do so. Additionally, incorporating “Zoom-less” days that ban virtual meetings on specific work days can help alleviate the pressure of back-to-back meetings.
  5. Why does Zoom fatigue happen?
    • This type of exhaustion occurs when leaders (particularly micromanagers) do not trust employees to complete their tasks and feel the need to monitor remote employees. Because of this, workers often feel that their work is not being appreciated and that they must work overtime to prove their worth within the company.
  6. Are Zoom meetings more stressful?
    • Yes and no. If Zoom meetings are executed right, they can be short, pleasant, and to the point. However, if workers have to dedicate hours each day to Zoom meetings, work can easily pile up and lead to increased feelings of stress.
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