Rethinking how we manage our work time to prevent 'Zoom fatigue'

David Reyero

Zoom fatigue”: the disruption caused by COVID in our work habits has its contradictory effects, like any other transformation.

The emergence of new videoconferencing tools (Zoom, Teams, Meet, etc.) was hailed as a “blessing” in 2020 to maintain our personal and professional connections. A window on the world and on our nearest and dearest, to share fears and hopes, help each other and try to keep our mood up in those difficult months of lockdown.

However, today we are also increasingly aware of their adverse effects. “Zoom fatigue”, the mental burnout caused by too many video calls, is sweeping through the business world. It is a meeting format that is more tiring than traditional face-to-face meetings, according to the findings of several studies.

“Zoom fatigue”, the mental burnout caused by too many video calls, is sweeping through the business world

Tools such as Spot, a platform that encourages its users to walk during meetings in order to combat the weariness and physical inactivity that characterises these times, have appeared in an attempt to tackle this problem.

Today it seems to me to be more pressing than ever to rethink how we manage our work time in order to combine intelligently the necessary productivity with sustainable habits and routines that encourage creativity and happiness at work.

Creation, connection and contribution are three complementary times that bring us closer to excellence at work. Handling them properly is fundamental to advance as a sustainable high-performance organisation.

Creation, connection and contribution are three complementary times that bring us closer to excellence at work

Creation is a fundamental time and entails stopping, thinking and designing the future. It is a time for sharing ideas on a blank slate. For discussing, challenging ourselves, recognising ourselves without deadlines or the need for concrete results. A time for quality brainstorming and dreaming out loud before passing these ideas through the filter of realism and our scant resources. By way of example, Jeffrey Immelt (former CEO of GE) tried to devote 20% of his time to stopping, thinking and redefining the company’s future.

Connection is the necessary time for “virtual coffee breaks” and socialising with colleagues. Laughing, sharing trivia and disconnecting from day-to-day pressures. How important, and yet at the same time seemingly simple and trivial.

It is a valuable time for getting to know each other on a more personal level, enhancing our relationships and using a key tool of happy people: a sense of humour. Good moments if we manage to get the “social animal”, inherent in our human genetics, to come out into the open. Shared quality time, even though we still miss the rough and tumble of our unforgettable face-to-face coffee breaks.

There are some ideas that might mitigate 'Zoom fatigue', although each company must “find its pitch” to play

Contribution is logically the longest time, and is devoted to essential tasks: monitoring, implementation and “pure productivity”, either individually or in coordination with colleagues or people in other organisations.

They require different paces and energies, with the aim of strengthening synergies in teams, well-being at work and the quality of our results and decision-making. Dynamics that lighten the burden of these long months of pandemic, disruption and uncertainty that can bring us to the point of “remote burnout” if we neglect our habits.

In my experience “Zoom fatigue” has several explanations: replicating our on-site operating model in teleworking mode without sufficient adjustment, an excessive percentage of time devoted to contribution, at the expense of connection time and above all the necessary creation, an excess of meetings that in many cases are avoidable…

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There are some ideas that might mitigate this manifestly deficient situation, although each company must “find its pitch” to play as a more finely tuned orchestra: increase delegation, reduce the length, number of participants and number of meetings, encourage agile thinking in day-to-day matters, and so on.

Today we can live in various modes: in an insufferable “Groundhog Day”, to recall the famous film starring Bill Murray. Or on the contrary, we can make an effort to nurse our mood and apply ourselves in a healthier and more positive routine. A working day that, with its natural ups and downs, can provide spaces and times to “flow” and enjoy our work.

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