Zoom fatigue is real. Here’s how engineering teams can prevent it.

Shelter-in-place policies quickly—and significantly—changed the way we live and work. Now that our workday has traded cubicles and conference rooms for eight solo hours at the computer, we’re spending more time than ever on screens. It doesn’t help that our after-work activities often involve more screens, from video chat socializing to Netflix. Cue eye strain, sore neck muscles, and a host of other side effects from this sedentary lifestyle.
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Weeks into self-isolation, engineering teams have adapted by optimizing their remote meetings. And while those tips still ring true, something new is happening: we’re experiencing total “Zoom fatigue.” A day of back-to-back meetings was tiring in the office, but those days also included social conversations and walking around. Now, we’re staying in the same spot, with less stimulation.

Refresh your remote meetings with these tips to combat Zoom fatigue.

Space out the day’s meetings

Whether attending physically or digitally, no one likes to rush from one meeting to the next. Give your team time to stretch and reflect in between video calls. Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings—at the very least, create a 10-minute buffer by scheduling 25 or 50-minute meetings. Then, ensure meetings end on time.

Embrace old-fashioned phone calls

Video certainly serves as a helpful substitute for face-to-face time, but we’re finding that it requires a certain level of attention we’re not used to. There is a time and place for video, but audio-only calls can be just as productive. Make it clear to the team when you expect people to be on video and when it’s optional. This gives people the ability to listen attentively, without having to stare straight at the screen all day long. If you’re opting for audio, try doing a few stretches as you’re listening, or walk around your house to get some movement. When video is necessary, remember that you can still hit pause for a minute whenever you need to refill your water or investigate that screeching volume coming from the kids’ room.

Experiment with new customs or communication styles

In meetings with dozens of attendees, it’s hard to know when to talk. Leverage the text chat for sharing less-pressing thoughts or relevant links, and consider the “thumbs up” reaction to signal your agreement with the conversation. Troubleshoot as a team to invent new customs, like a metaphorical talking stick. This eases the stress of trying to find a “natural” pause among many voices speaking (made even more difficult with a minor lag, depending on your internet connection).

Try walking meetings

For 1:1 meetings that don’t require a screen share, suggest that you and your meeting buddy both head out on a walk. Walking meetings are a win-win in ensuring some midday exercise and a deeper focus on the call, compared to the inevitable multitasking that can happen while you’re at the computer on Zoom. Two of our data scientists have been holding their 1:1s while both getting their dogs outside. Win-win.

Try out asynchronous meetings

Switch up meetings completely by trying “asynchronous meetings,” a favorite of Uplevel advisor and world meeting expert Steven Rogelberg, PhD. This works well for “working meetings” where you want to accomplish something as a group. Start the virtual meeting by quickly and efficiently setting the stage, then allow for meaningful work to take place in the meeting intervals, using the time between meetings for asynchronous work on a shared document. You can also use the “breakout room” feature of Zoom meetings and create smaller working groups to brainstorm and then all return to the larger meeting to recap at the end. While in your breakouts or individual work time, our favorite tool is Miro, which allows everyone to contribute to virtual boards with sticky notes. We’ve also leveraged the in-app voting capabilities for product planning.

Get your multitasking in check

We’re constantly studying new ways to stop multitasking. If you’re already experiencing Zoom fatigue, the addition of answering emails and Slack messages on the side is only going to accelerate that fatigue. Opt for Do Not Disturb and full-screen mode to avoid distractions, and just focus on the task at hand.

Make it fun

This is a complicated time, so make room for a little relaxation. Set aside the first five minutes for the banter that used to begin in-person office meetings. Connect over WFH life, from what you’re cooking to how you’re enjoying the weekends. You can also add fun elements by competing for the best custom Zoom background or setting a theme for the day’s outfits. Being physically distant doesn’t have to translate to being emotionally distant.

Establish a meeting-free day

If possible, allow for one day a week (or, say, two afternoons a week) without any meetings. This lets your team enjoy the perks of working from home, like blasting your favorite music out loud, or wearing whatever feels comfortable. With so much time devoted to the screen, we quickly benefit from time off-camera—allowing us to actually focus when we do have to return to Zoom.