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3 Ways Remote Managers Can Fight Zoom Fatigue

February 23, 2021

Zoom fatigue is an unfortunate reality of remote work. We’ve compiled three solutions to tackle this issue without jeopardizing your workflow.

Corine Tan & Annie Yan
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6 min
Zoom fatigue is an unfortunate reality of remote work. We’ve compiled three solutions to tackle this issue without jeopardizing your workflow.

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Remote work is here to stay. Some of the biggest tech companies have moved to a remote-first model. They’re transforming campuses into co-working spaces, offering location-independent benefits, and expanding hiring pools across timezones. With Salesforce, Facebook, and Microsoft announcing plans for indefinite work-from-home, it’s only a matter of time that most companies follow suit.

If remote transition fills you with dread, you’re not alone. For many, “remote work” translates to Zoom fatigue, blurred work-life boundaries, and cyclical burnout. The stress of pandemic work-from-home has created a major shift: fully remote workers are now experiencing more burnout than on-site workers. This psychological fatigue has health consequences. High levels of employee burnout correlate with 63% more sick days and a 23% increase in emergency room visits. We physically can’t keep working like this.

Of course, the culprit isn’t remote work itself. It’s how we’re working remotely. Our camera-on work styles promote Zoom fatigue and accelerate burnout. To survive long-term work-from-home, organizations need to collaborate sustainably.

An infographic on Zoom fatigue, its exhaustive effects and remote work solutions.

What is Zoom fatigue?

If you’ve worked remotely during COVID-19, chances are you’re sick of Zoom. Zoom fatigue is that familiar feeling of exhaustion and confinement when meetings are back-to-back with no end in sight. It’s the soreness of constantly smiling for coworkers, an apathy for aimless discussions, and the dread that every day has another wall of meetings to overcome. One study of over 1,100 remote employees showed that a week of virtual meetings left 38% of employees feeling exhausted and 30% stressed. It’s a miracle that we’ve lasted a whole year like this.

Zoom fatigue stems from our discomfort with information overload and virtual social cues. The presence of a full-screen speaker and grids of faces force us to focus intently on attendee behavior in addition to what’s being said. Additionally, the intense context-switching of back-to-back meetings requires intense adjustment and focus. Throw in background noise, connectivity issues, and late attendees, and you’ve got a recipe for emotional exhaustion.

At the same time, remote leaders often feel they have little choice when it comes to meetings. Face-to-face time is seen as the solution to remote work isolation and a must-have for better conversations. When it comes to Zoom fatigue, companies reach a paradox: how can we promote human connection without burning out on Zoom?

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3 Solutions for Zoom Fatigue

We hated the solutions that we found online. Most articles encouraged teammates to schedule frequent breaks, give themselves eye massages, and avoid multitasking while on a call. However, these fail to address the main issue: teams have too many meetings and most companies don’t know how to reduce them.

In an ideal world, we could tell every company to go asynchronous. This means eliminating meetings, throwing away the expectation of instant replies, and freeing up cross-timezone collaboration with documentation. This phrase has become a must-have for remote-first organizations like GitLab and Hubstaff, who hire across the globe and can’t rely on synchronous meetings at all. However, asynchronous work can’t be achieved in a day and requires concerted, organization-wide restructuring. Today’s remote teams need a lighter solution that tackles the main issue.

The fight against Zoom fatigue boils down to the manager and their definition of remote productivity. Here are three solutions that remote managers need to know to prevent and remedy meeting overload:

A man in white and his dog look at a laptop. He looks focused on his Zoom meetings.

#1 - Make every meeting intentional

The best managers remove blockers, especially those that give teammates grief. That’s why it’s so stunning that studies show “too many meetings” are workers’ number one source of frustration and wasted time. If anything, most senior managers are creating additional blockers every day; 70% of these managers admit their meetings are unproductive. The easiest way to trim the fat off of everyone’s calendar is to make these meetings intentional and remove useless gatherings.

Stephen Rogelberg, an organizational psychologist and meeting expert, shares a helpful framework for more effective meetings. There are four topics to consider when planning a meeting:

  • Duration: The meeting default in Google Calendar is an hour, but that’s not always how long a meeting should last.  Reflecting whether items can be covered in 15, 30, or 45-minutes allows for more intentional timekeeping. A few minutes shaved off a meeting can give attendees essential time back.
  • Purpose: We often run into trouble with defining a meeting’s purpose, especially when the meeting is a recurring 1:1 or sales pipeline discussion. However, every meeting should have a realistic and attainable goal. Otherwise, it can be done over Slack.
  • Agenda: Remote-first companies like GitLab make it a requirement to share an agenda before every meeting. This allows teammates to know exactly what they’re stepping into and how they can contribute. Instead of recycling templates, pre-meeting agendas should be well-thought-out and clear. (That means taking time in advance to prepare for the meeting!)
  • Attendees: As Zoom meetings swell beyond five people, you often get teammates that fade into the background. Sometimes this is necessary for a team-wide retro, but more often it’s a result of mindless invitations. Every person that’s invited should be able to prioritize the meeting’s agenda and effectively contribute. Otherwise, there’s no shame in having a meeting get recorded or documented for those that miss out.

Rogelberg’s framework is simple. If you can’t define all four aspects before the meeting begins, there shouldn’t be a meeting at all.

A man gestures to his remote teammates on a Microsoft Teams meeting.

#2 - Change your Zoom etiquette

If you’re going to have an effective meeting, then we need to talk about Zoom etiquette and the exhausting lengths we go to show that we’re paying attention. Whether it’s irritated eyes from that constant Zoom gaze or the emotional fatigue of being watched by everyone, these actions do less for productivity than we think. Managers can redefine Zoom etiquette for their teams and take a step towards healthier meeting habits.

Here are some of our favorite tips from our 500+ interviews with remote managers:

  • Start with a check-in: Some of the biggest complaints we got described transactional meetings. Too many meetings are business-centric and give little time to bond or build relationships. That’s why we recommend starting every meeting with a Red-Yellow-Green check-in and some context about your day.
  • Allocate a designated notetaker: Whether someone can’t attend or there are points to cover later, every meeting should have a designated notetaker. This allows teammates to be present for what’s being said.
  • Record as a default: In addition to written documentation, every meeting should be recorded. Not only does this add a layer of accountability to each meeting, but it also allows folks to revisit topics and leave early.
  • Make it okay to leave: You heard correctly! Every teammate should be allowed to leave without it coming off as rude. Teammates are responsible for being productive with their time and should be allowed to leave if a meeting isn’t adding value for them. With notetakers and recordings available, they can catch up if it’s relevant.
  • Go camera off: The biggest relief comes from turning your camera off. You can have equally productive discussions with voice and still rely on sharing your screen. With this, you can also do walking meetings over the phone or simply relax during the call.
  • Normalize multi-tasking: Requiring teammates to appear engaged on camera doesn’t always reflect engagement, so why do we expect it? Make it easier on teammates by normalizing looking away and even multi-tasking. This requires trust and can go a long way for team building.

If you’re going to have meetings with your team, review Zoom expectations for teammates can show up as their best selves and end their day refreshed.

A darkened man looks out his sliding door to nature. He is tired of his Zoom meetings.

#3 - Create meeting-free days

Our favorite and final tip is about creating an oasis of meeting-free bliss. These blocks or days allow folks to get their work done without interruption. It’s also a chance to rest, which plays a crucial role for long-term remote resiliency. These meeting-free days are popular at Shopify, Facebook, and Asana, but require team-wide coordination.

In order to make this work, your team needs to:

  1. Agree on a particular day. Some of the best remote-friendly companies make this a recurring day of the week. This cadence allows teammates to prepare for their meeting-free days and plan accordingly.
  2. Notify adjacent teams. It’s best to notify your leaders, cross-team collaborators, and department that you’re planning on a meeting-free day. To fight crucial issues like burnout, it’s highly encouraged that chunks of the company participate as well.
  3. Define exceptions to the rule. Many companies allow only incredibly urgent meetings to slip through. Before you begin your first meeting-free day, figure out what an exception looks like and when it’s necessary.
  4. Create a meeting-free check-in. The main barrier to meeting-free days is often the fear of lost accountability or a dip in bonding without face-to-face meet-ups. However, know that you can trust your team and that you can bond without talking over Zoom.


The best way to kick Zoom fatigue is to go without meetings. Give yourself a rest, your productivity and team will thank you for it.

Conclusion

We can learn to enjoy remote work once we learn how to tame our meetings. For many, Zoom fatigue is an unfortunate reality of COVID-era work-from-home with dire consequences for health and sanity. Instead of telling teammates to relax or go completely async, we’ve compiled three solutions to help managers tackle this issue without jeopardizing their workflow. With more intentional and forgiving meetings, managers can start reclaiming their teammates’ time and make Zoom effective again.

Learn more about how Kona can help you bond with teammates without adding another Zoom meeting to your calendar:

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Meet the Author(s)

Corine Tan

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Corine is Co-Founder of Kona. She writes regularly on emotional intelligence and empathetic remote leadership. Her work has been featured by Yahoo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business School, Forbes, and more. She’s a speaker at remote work conferences like GitLab Commit 2021 and she’s advised Fortune 10 companies on remote strategy.

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