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I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings

With incessant videoconferencing, the opportunity to recharge and rest your eyes between meetings is increasingly important.

I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings
[Photo: Prostock-Studio/iStock]

I knew that working from home would be a massive shift, especially as spouses and kids became new “coworkers” for many individuals.

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A problem I didn’t anticipate, which is coming up frequently for my time management clients with heavy meeting schedules, is Zoom fatigue.

Individuals that could make it through a day of in-person meetings with minimal issues have found themselves incredibly drained by a full docket of video calls. Many of us have been problem-solving for solutions to reduce the fatigue  that can hit hard at the end of the day. Here are some of the most common culprits of the remote-work energy drain, as well as ways you can combat it.

A “zero break” schedule

Even if it felt like you had no breaks between meetings before the coronavirus—you did. In order to get from one room to another, you had at least a few minutes of physical movement and a quick mental break. Now, with videoconferencing, you literally have no time between meetings and to go from one call to the next.

This marginless schedule saps your mental batteries. To avoid this issue, schedule your meetings with some short gaps in between, or make it a rule to wrap up one call 5-10 minutes before the next one begins. This gives your brain a short span of time to process the meeting’s substance, make note of next steps, and prepare for the next conversation.

One position for one screen

Another reason that video calls can be exceptionally tiring is that you need to physically hold yourself in one position. In an in-person meeting, you’d likely shift from side to side, tilt back in your chair, swivel from looking one way to another depending on who is speaking, and lean over to take notes. Unfortunately in a video call, you’re stuck in one place trying to stay in the center of the screen, and moving in any other direction can cause your face to become awkwardly cropped. Furthermore, if you move backward and have a virtual background on Zoom, your face will literally disappear into the ether.

There aren’t a whole lot of ways you can overcome this challenge during your calls unless you shut off your camera for a while. But you can work on intentionally moving your body more. One small shift is to alternate between standing and sitting during your video calls. You can do this using a standing desk or simply place your computer on a bureau to elevate it. Also in between calls, walk around and do some gentle stretching of your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. This will get your blood flowing and reduce mental fatigue caused by the physical fatigue of your muscles.

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Eyestrain increase

With the shift to virtual, you’re all of a sudden receiving a double dose of time in front of the computer. Not only are your work meetings shifted to all virtual meetings, but your personal time may be filled with video calls, as well.

Research says we blink half as often when we watch things on screens as we normally would with face-to-face interactions. This means our eyes have a higher probability of getting dry, irritated, and tired. A few suggestions seem to help. One is to practice the “20-20-20” rule where every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. Another recommended tip is to take a break every two hours for 15 minutes so your eyes can have a rest.

Visual overload from constant staring (even at yourself)

Unless you’re watching a panel discussion, it’s usually impossible to look at everyone in a group during in-person interactions. Typically, your gaze rests on the one main speaker and then everyone else is in the periphery or even behind you. But thanks to the glories (and more concerning attributes) of Zoom, you can see everyone all at once, along with one person you never usually observe—yourself.

This creates visual overload because when we look at a screen, whether it’s a computer or a TV screen, our minds are accustomed to processing what is in front of us as a unified whole. But a Zoom meeting in gallery view isn’t one unified whole. It’s the equivalent of trying to watch 5, 10, 20, or more different TV shows, side-by-side, meanwhile checking a mirror to see how you look. This is incredibly exhausting.

To overcome this visual fatigue, you can start by putting your Zoom into speaker view instead of gallery view. That way you’ll have the more “natural” sensation of having your focus on one main person at a time.

Another step you can take, depending on the meeting and your role within in it, is to stop your video camera for part or all of the call. This can give you the ability to change position in your chair like you normally would in a meeting and reduce the visual overload from looking in a tiny mirror throughout the call.

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Finally, if it’s possible, do a phone call. When you’re looking to connect, video calls help a great deal. But when you just need to work through some practical items, oftentimes a phone call suffices and takes much less energy. With a phone call, you automatically eliminate three of these four issues. You’re not stuck in one place; instead you can at least shift in your chair or at times walk around the room while you talk. You don’t need to look at a screen. Most importantly, you don’t need to take in anything visually.

Until we can go back to in-person interactions, the increased fatigue from video calls won’t be fully eliminated. But by paying attention to these top drains to our reserves and appropriately addressing them, you can end your day on a higher, more productive energy level.

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