The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed how we live, work, and interact with each other. Throughout the past year, we’ve grown accustomed to ordering groceries online, working from makeshift offices throughout our homes, and communicating with friends and colleagues over Zoom, FaceTime, and other video conferencing platforms.
These were new experiences for many people — but for those of us who have worked remotely for years, it has been mostly business as usual. And to some degree, it’s been nice knowing that others finally understand what it’s like.
Before the pandemic, I used to beg my colleagues to turn on their cameras, knowing firsthand the benefits it can bring. For starters, it helps you to truly connect and build relationships with others — if not over casual conversation, then at least over the shared experience of being on Zoom. After a year of remote work, life’s interruptions (dogs and doorbells, babies and background noises) have suddenly become less annoying; video conferencing levels the playing field and establishes that common ground.
It also allows us to communicate better. Whether we’re in a recurring meeting, catching up with a customer, or having a difficult conversation with a team member, being on camera can soften or magnify the message behind our words. Posture, hand gestures, and facial expressions all convey how you feel, and it’s important for others to be able to see that.
Of course, that isn’t to say that video conferencing doesn’t have its challenges. “Zoom fatigue,” the burnout associated with overusing digital communication platforms, is real — and many of us are feeling it as we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With that in mind, here’s my best advice for making sure your next video call is more engaging than it is exhausting.
Think Twice Before Sending an Invite
Since in-person interactions have been dramatically reduced, we no longer have the ability to solve issues on the fly (say, in the hallway or while grabbing lunch with a colleague). Now, it’s all about coordinating meetings days, if not weeks, in advance. And for whatever reason, scheduling video calls make us more inclusive than necessary. This is nice in theory but can often result in employees attending 5+ meetings in a day — and being silent for all of them.
It’s why, whenever I’m booking a Zoom meeting, my mind always goes to the RACI matrix. ”Accountable” parties likely only need to attend milestone meetings, and you should never invite those that just need to be “Informed” — simply ensure you inform them post-call by sending a quick summary over email or instant message. Challenge yourself to think through who really needs to be in a meeting before blocking time in their calendar.
Establish Which Meetings Require Video
Not knowing when cameras should be on or off is confusing, to say the least. In some cases, it may even make colleagues feel uncomfortable or pressured because of the stigma associated with being off-camera, which ranges from being skeptical that a person is actually “at work” to thinking that individuals lack commitment.
While not every interaction warrants being on camera, it’s helpful to let your colleagues know when you do expect to see them on screen. Meetings with executives or clients, for example, can benefit greatly from face-to-face interactions — as can 1:1 conversations and calls that require everyone to participate in making decisions. Whatever the case, if you’re booking a meeting, let attendees know in advance whether they should be camera-ready.
Be Mindful of Others’ Time
You may have an hour scheduled, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Make an agenda to ensure efficiency, allow people to drop off after essential information has been shared, and encourage attendees to have follow-up or breakout conversations if things go off-topic (these can be enabled directly in Zoom).
If you really want to streamline video calls, try adjusting your calendar app settings so that meetings are automatically booked for “odd” lengths of time (e.g., 25 minutes instead of the default 30 minutes). It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you’re trying to stick to a tighter schedule.
Follow the Rules
To make sure everyone gets the break from the video that they need, many executives have established a “No Video Day” and broader guidelines around camera use — such as being off video during lunch hours. I think we can all agree that there’s nothing worse than people chewing on camera.
If your organization has set these boundaries, it’s important that you respect them — for your and your colleagues’ sake. If even one person goes on camera during these times, it will defeat the purpose. This does require some extra planning and discipline on your part, but it’s well worth it if it means everyone is less likely to suffer from Zoom fatigue.
The World of Work has changed dramatically in the past year. And since we can’t say for sure when things will return to normal (or what that new normal will look like, exactly), it’s critical that we take steps to ensure no one feels burnt out from being on camera. Setting expectations, being mindful of others’ time, and giving colleagues some flexibility when it comes to video conferencing will help you strike the perfect balance.