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How to combat virtual meeting fatigue?

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During my time in Cpl working from home has always been available and people throughout the business were availing of it from time to time.

Some worked from home one or two days a week and for some it became a necessity if they couldn’t get into the office for a prolonged period of time.

Personally, I never availed of it. I didn’t think it would suit me, I enjoyed the office environment and working with others so to be thrown into working from home was very alien to me. I didn’t know what to expect and how we’d keep in touch as a team.

From seeing other teams have people work from home I knew they used video calls once a week to hold meetings, but these seemed to be cancelled a lot or not work all that well. I was curious to see how we would handle it as a large team of 20 or so people.

Why is video conferencing so exhausting?

Straightaway when we all started working from home, we quickly got to grips with Microsoft teams and video calls. We had a video call twice a day for the first few weeks, one in the morning with our direct manager and team and one in the evening with our wider team.

This quickly became exhausting and it was clear it wasn’t a productive use of time. As with everything new, we weren’t sure how best to conduct things.

Remote working was new to a most of the team, but two daily calls was too much, especially combined with regular video calls outside of work including team quizzes or poker with a few drinks.

It’s a brilliant way to get everyone together and if anything has brought us closer, but at the same time there is something uniquely tiring about a video call and continuous virtual appointments.

According to an article and study by the BBC, video calls can be more exhausting than a face to face or regular phone interaction. Why is this? “Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.”

Psychologists have also spoke about the impact of continuous partial attention, where our brains are being forced to multitask on group video calls and where the comfort of body language is largely removed.

There’s also more of an assumption of availability. In an office setting turning down a meeting or suggesting a later date was acceptable but working from home there’s the extra pressure to be available and suit other’s schedules. What else could you be doing after all?

Making video conferencing work

The above effects we’re becoming clear within our team and protocol soon moved to once a day in the morning with our direct manager and eventually just 3 times a week in total.

It was trial and error at the start, but we have now have it down to a tee, striking the balance of efficiency and keeping our team company culture alive.

Some tips for a good conference call include:

  • Include some non-work chat, time to have a nice chat is crucial in keeping team spirit up

  • Have a plan – know what the meeting is about and think about it beforehand. If you don’t have a plan, maybe an email or regular phone call would work just as good

  • Encourage collaboration – if you notice a team member rarely speaks up ask them a question or assign different people each week to “chair” the meeting

  • Have bi-weekly video calls with the whole team – we have calls with the wider team every Monday & Friday. These are used to discuss weekly plans, and chat about how our weekend was. Our Friday call is then used to have a quick catch up on our week and talk about weekend plans.

The key here is spreading out the calls. This limits the risk of fatigue and makes the calls less forced. They are now more about a friendly catch up, which answers the questions and concerns I had around how we would stay in touch remotely.

If you’re finding regular video calls too much don’t forget about the option of a regular phone call too.

Like most teams within Cpl, we have a close-knit team and keeping up with each other is key to how we work. Combined with video calls with other teams we over-communicate if anything which I believe is so important.

Connecting the wider Group – effective leadership communication

Microsoft Teams and other applications such as Zoom have made virtual meetings and working from home in such a connected way possible. In a way, we are lucky this pandemic happened when it did when technology is at such an advanced stage where it allows us to continue our lives business as usual.

Another area where video conferencing has played its part has been our fortnightly CEO updates. Our CEO Anne Heraty now conducts a bi-monthly live video conference via Microsoft Teams where she gives updates on our business and where we are in coming back to the office.

It has been an informative outlet where she addresses what many are thinking, when will we be back in the office, how are Cpl doing, what measures we are taking to ensure safety and our own roadmap to reopening.

She has also taken this as an opportunity to conduct a live Q&A in every conference where employees across the business are given the opportunity to ask questions.

This was an intuitive step in keeping in close contact with employees and keeping everyone informed and one which has been viewed favourably by everyone. In many ways, we are all now more informed than ever before as a Group.

All in all, after a few weeks of tweaking video calls and virtual meetings have worked effectively during the lockdown. Find the balance that works for your team, be conscious of too much interaction and include time for both work and non-work catch-ups to boost team morale and maintain a sense of culture.

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