Much has been written in the past several months about the humble Zoom meeting (or Skype, or Google Hangout, or Houseparty call). If you’re like many, you may be realizing that back-to-back video calls—while often necessary—can leave you feeling slowly worn down.
The unabating screen time plus the need to gracefully make up for the inherent awkwardness of virtual communication can be a uniquely energy-sapping combination.
Even leaders who are accustomed to a full schedule of in-person meetings are wilting under the weight of an unending stream of Zoom calls.
Sarah Greenberg, a licensed psychotherapist and coach at BetterUp, a training and career coaching platform, says that although virtual meetings are necessary for checking in, they shouldn’t get in the way of making tangible progress on projects. “We need consistent, regular connection, but we also need and deserve time in the workday to get work done,” she says.
Video meetings also overstimulate attendees, since they require our whole attention, the whole time. Moreover, if too many virtual sessions begin to wear people down, they can create negative associations with the practice and its moderators: “If we continuously feel drained during interactions with our colleagues, we may begin to associate our colleagues with the experience,” she says. “The association doesn’t have to be true for our brains to make this kind of unconscious shortcut.”
To combat these consequences, here are some alternatives to scheduling yet another video meeting:
1. Try the old-fashioned phone call
Get back to basics by using your phone for its original purpose: making calls. Phone calls allow you a break from your laptop, and you can multitask by taking a walk at the same time.
Greenberg says to set the expectations beforehand by letting your coworkers in on your plan. Look at your schedule and see when it would make the most sense to try a phone call and give your colleagues advance notice. “It’s nice to give your colleagues an invitation to join you,” she says. “I often send over a quick Slack message or email saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to join this meeting by phone. Please feel free to do the same!'”
If you’re connecting with someone outside your company, you might use this script: “[Try] ‘I’m looking forward to connecting with you. I’d love to get a break from staring at a screen. Would it be okay if I called into our meeting? Or will I need to see the screen?'” As long as you’re transparent about your state of mind, your call partner should be understanding.
2. Opt for an asynchronous conversation
Prezi CEO Peter Arvai says un-synced meetings can save time by cutting the number and length of video sessions in your day, which also reduces chances of burnout. “We’ve been prioritizing asynchronous meetings and implementing them whenever possible. They give our employees more flexibility, as schedules don’t need to be aligned as they normally would, and everyone can review and respond on their own time,” says Arvai.
Asynchronous meetings are effective if you only have a short window to communicate, and can serve as a helpful way to update everyone on your team. “These meetings are quick—around five minutes at Prezi—and . . . [they] can be used for status updates, check-ins, brainstorm follow-ups, or meeting preparations.”
3. Stagger video attendance
Taking a day off from virtual meetings can go a long way to fight burnout—even if it doesn’t reduce the total number of meetings you take. Look at your calendar and assess which days might work. If you’re a manager, give your employees the option to stay off video calls on certain days, as well.
4. Rethink your scheduling
Nissa Whittle, founder of professional coaching company Talkologie, says leaders should limit the length of virtual meetings. Instead of 30-60 minutes, schedule them in 25-minute windows.
Moreover, try to avoid scheduling conferences back-to-back. “Allow yourself time to breathe, stretch, and get some water,” says Whittle.
5. Test another collaboration tool
Sometimes a different tool may be more appropriate. Greenberg says this analysis is akin to a “litmus test of meeting type,” or identifying your communication’s purpose.
Get in the habit pausing before sending that meeting invite and ask yourself if this meeting could actually just be an email. Or see if you can streamline video time by using the breakout function in Zoom, discussing your idea over Slack, or relaying intended feedback with annotation tools in a Google Doc or Microsoft Word document.
The thing you want to keep in mind is avoiding souring an originally great thing. “Videoconferencing is a powerful and positive technology if used in appropriate doses. When we overdo it, we not only see diminishing returns, but it can actually become harmful,” Greenberg says. “Similar to eating too many cookies, two are a delightful treat, a third may be neutral, but a fourth will give you a bellyache.”