As more meetings, classes, and family gatherings are being held online, those of us participating in multiple virtual meetings per day are finding that coming together online feels more mentally and physically exhausting than meeting in person. In a world where doing anything online is often touted as “easier” or more “convenient,” these feelings of exhaustion have come as a surprise to many. It turns out, experts agree with those sentiments and have provided some insight as to why virtual meetings drain our energy.
The BBC recently interviewed leading workplace studies expert, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD). BBC asked him what makes video chatting different compared to meeting face-to-face. Petriglieri indicated that participating in a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face meeting. We have to concentrate harder on processing non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, a person’s tone, and body language, and this type of focus takes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” Petriglieri states.
In addition to dissonance, silence, as well as the feeling of being watched, creates further challenges. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you become anxious about the technology.” Silence can also make people uncomfortable, which leads to heightened stress and anxiety. And, if dissonance and silence didn’t create enough challenges, do you ever think to yourself, “I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me!” (We’ll pause while you sing.). If you haven’t felt that way before, we bet you are feeling it during video conferences now. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and stressful.”
With the realization that we will likely continue with enhanced use of video conferencing technology for the foreseeable future, you may be wondering how you’ll make it through without feeling completely drained at the end of each day. Well, we have some good news. We’ve compiled a few tips to help you overcome those feelings of exhaustion and find balance within our new virtual reality.
Tip 1. Take a minute or two to center yourself and organize your space before you begin. Take a deep breath and make sure you have a glass of water. Ensure you are sitting in a comfortable, yet supportive chair that allows you to maintain good posture.
Tip 2. Greet meeting participants just as you would if you were in person. Say hello, smile, and ask them how they are doing. It is perfectly ok to spend a few moments connecting as humans before getting down to business. If you are having trouble knowing what to say or beginning the conversation, feel free to comment on something of visual interest in the room with a participant. Instead of “I love your shoes! Where did you get them?” you can try, “That’s a great clock on the wall behind you! Where is that from?”
Tip 3. Choose a view that allows you to focus on the speaker, if that’s an option. For example, Zoom offers both a “Speaker” and “Gallery” View with Speaker View focusing on the one who is speaking while others are in your peripheral view. People who prefer this view equate it to feeling more like gathering around a conference table where we know everyone is there, but our attention is on the person who is speaking. Attempting to focus on multiple people on the screen, especially in large meetings, can drain you mentally and cause eyestrain.
Tip 4. Avoid multi-tasking. We know, we know — this is a tough one. We are all so busy with countless responsibilities. Video conference calls can be exhausting enough without adding the additional challenge of multitasking. Plus, you don’t want to get caught not paying attention during an important discussion. Instead of giving in to the urge of multitasking, soften your focus for a few seconds by looking out a window or at something of interest in the room, take a sip of water, or even reposition yourself in your chair.
Tip 5. Take breaks between video conferencing sessions. When scheduling your day, try to give yourself regular pauses between video conferencing sessions that allow you to use the restroom, enjoy a snack or beverage, answer emails, take notes, etc. If your meetings are scheduled back-to-back without breaks, it will be challenging for you to maintain your focus throughout the day. Self-care is critical, and it’s important to ensure you give yourself a brief mental timeout several times throughout the day.
Video conference technology is a wonderful thing that allows us to connect in ways never thought possible. It is here to stay, and it is up to us to embrace it and manage how we use it. We hope you found these tips helpful as you look for ways to mitigate virtual exhaustion.