Video Conference exhaustion

The not-so-new normal we need to adapt to.
Stratos Pavlis, National Senior Industrial & Development Officer. Professionals Australia

One element of the new normal is the rapid development of video conferencing as a part of our daily working lives. Many of us have adapted well to this new technology and in many cases it has saved travel time, put faces to names and made meetings more functional.

Australian professionals are amongst the world’s leading meet-aholics (just invented a new word) and COVID-19 has made us fluent with the Zoom/Teams/WebEx ‘ding’ on our devices. Statistics are of course only in their infancy on this but they show we are having more meetings now that video conferencing is more accessible than ever before. However are we now developing a sense of fatigue with this particular form of meeting?

Work/Life Balance
Our homes are now our workplaces as well. The line began blurring when smart phones and other devices entered our lives but it seems now video conferencing and working from home has for many made the line almost impossible to see.

It has also blurred the line between home and social occasions. As soon as you complete a workday with video conferencing you might switch to ‘zooming’ with your parents, with siblings, with children or friends. There’s a lot to be said for the convenience of virtual connection with loved ones but after a full workday you may appear flat and disengaged to your loved ones after the 5th video call/conference.

If this is affecting you, then you maybe it’s time to revive an ancient technology. The email or phone call. May well suffice for a quick exchange. Don’t treat video conferencing as a replacement for other connection options. Try to also build in transition periods in between video meetings to help refresh. We need to create boundaries which allow us to put one identity aside and then go to another as we move between work and private life.

The value of connection
Covid-19 is already causing global upheaval in peoples personal and working lives. For millions it dominating every waking moment of life. So it seems logical that people have found some form of connection over these video chatting services during this crisis. People can socialise, game, see a performance, study and do business with these services. They are a very real way to manage the isolation of working and studying from home, however there may be an underlying disconnect occurring that we as professionals need to address.

Gianpiero Petriglieri (@gpetriglieri) an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD (Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires) stated on UK television in recent weeks:

“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. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,”

Reading the room is an important skill to develop for some meetings. It is vital in negotiations, in decision-making and in getting your point across. Focusing in this context may be hard when you find yourself distracted by looking at a Brady Bunch style (look it up if you’re not a boomer or Gen X) grid of faces whilst e figuring out whether to stare into the persons eyes or their football paraphernalia in corner of the screen.

Technical problems
I’ve got no evidence to back this up but I think the most used phrase in video conferencing is “I think you’re on mute”. Technical problems can push a 30-minute meeting to over an hour. Add Wi-Fi and bandwidth issues from any participant, frozen screens, out of sync audio and you may find that the meeting is now distracted by technical problems as opposed to its original purpose. When one person has issues it is human nature for others to offer support. These distractions can add more stress to your workday.

Are trackies the new black?
As you are working from home there’s no need to look professional. Or do you? We very quickly found out that you can’t get away with the quarantine-chic look at least from the waist up. Seeing at yourself on the device camera while knowing several other people looking at you adds more pressure on your appearance rather than the meeting.

Should appearances be something you need to worry about while you are stuck at home? This is a question especially relevant for working parents who may have to home-school, take care of the house and keep up with their 9 to 5 work schedule. During all this we also have to set up the perfect backdrop that says to others in the meeting we are organised, educated and stylish... I tend to angle the camera to hide the lack of chic furniture and abundance of mess.

Communication styles
In conversation, the brain focuses partly on the words being spoken, but it also derives additional meaning from dozens of non-verbal cues. Body language is vita; such as whether someone is fidgeting while you talk, or if they inhale quickly in preparation to interrupt. It all creates a holistic picture of what is being conveyed.

Video conferences/calls seem to impair our ability to get the whole picture. We switch as a result to focusing on the words spoken, the tone and almost the only visual cue we have is eye contact. For some people, the brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find. That’s why a traditional phone call may be less taxing on the brain.

The fatigue we feel at times may even abate as we learn to manage video conferencing. It is no longer poor etiquette to turn off your camera as we seem to subconsciously accept some of us are not comfortable with the camera. On the whole, video chatting has allowed our connections to thrive in ways that would have been impossible a few years ago. These tools enable us to maintain long-distance relationships, connect workrooms remotely, and even now, in spite of the mental exhaustion they can generate, foster some sense of togetherness during a pandemic. Take charge of how you engage with this new normal and make it work for you both at home and at work.