How to Combat Meeting Fatigue in 2021

The surge of remote working that defined the workplace in 2020, looks set to follow us into the new working year. Although many workers have adjusted well to remote working studies show that fatigue has set in, particularly when it comes to virtual meetings.

The author of this page: Brianna Bracken
Brianna Bracken, Marketing Assistant Jan 06, 2021

According to Microsoft research, virtual meetings, presentations, and conversations require a higher level of sustained concentration than in-person interactions. During virtual interactions, we focus on other speakers, their surroundings, and our appearance on the webcam, which amounts to an intense focus on a digital screen. Further, the study found that brainwave markers associated with stress and overwork were more prominent in video meetings than other work like writing emails or reports.

There are several other factors that lead to fatigue during remote working, such as the increased screen time strain in our eyes and the difficulty in picking up on communication cues. In virtual meetings, certain things like background noise muffled audio and delays can ruin communication flow. Finally, another significant factor is the feeling that our work and personal life have collided, with most of our time during and outside of working hours spent looking at screens it's harder to ‘turn off’ at the end of the day.

With remote working here to stay, let's look at some tips to help improve meeting fatigue as we move into a new year;

1. Create an Agenda Before Every Meeting

Meetings that run on from topic to topic can be draining in person as well as online. Creating an agenda beforehand listing important topics to be discussed and meeting goals can help keep the meeting on track. Sharing this with attendees beforehand can keep everyone focused, and keep meetings short minimising fatigue.

2. Shorten Meeting Duration

Consider setting 30 minutes as the default time for meetings and try to keep to it. Microsoft research has suggested that meeting fatigue begins to set in around 30 minutes into a virtual meeting due to higher levels of concentration. Sharing updates, slides, or asking for feedback on something before a meeting can allow attendees to come prepared and meetings can be more productive with time spent on discussion and idea-sharing rather than just updating peers.

3. Take Breaks More Often

Attempting to power through fatigue doesn’t lead to productivity; it just leads to burnout. There are many techniques to advise how long you should work and how long of a break you should take, but once you dedicate a certain amount of time to focus and have deliberate breaks, you can become more productive.

4. Socialise with Work Colleagues Outside of Meetings

With many still working remotely, it may seem like the only time you can catch up with colleagues is during virtual meetings which can cause them to drag on. However, it's important to schedule some time to socialise outside of meetings. Another tip is to use different video conferencing software for social events and calls, for example, if you use MS Teams for work, use Zoom to socialise.

5. Establish ‘No Meeting’ Time

Since the only means of checking people’s availability remotely is often checking colleague's calendars rather than popping to their desk to discuss a time, it's important to populate your calendar to best suit your needs. Adding in a block to keep a certain amount of your day meeting-free allows you to always have some time set aside for deep work and concentration.

6. Have a Designated Meeting-Free Day

If you and your co-workers are all experiencing meeting fatigue to some degree, it may be suitable to nominate a day per week where there are no meetings. This idea is more effective when your whole team is on-board, allowing everyone a day to catch up on non-meeting work without distraction.

7. Schedule Screen-Free Time

Although this can be tricky during your workday when completing your work requires the use of screens, it's important to schedule some screen-free time whenever you can, whether it be during your break or after work to destress, choose what time suits you best.

Due to many employees working remotely for a long period of time, meeting fatigue while it can be reduced will impact us from time to time. As we all continue to navigate the remote working lifestyle, technology vendors are continuing to improve the technology so essential to our daily working lives. Over the coming weeks, we will explore the new features that have been released to help combat remote working fatigue.

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