Culture and Leadership | Hybrid | Remote Work

Zoom Fatigue Is Real. But There Are Upsides to Platforms, Too.

This is an image depicting employees having a discussion using a remote conferencing platform, demonstrating how we tend to connect in the Hybrid world. The image serves as an example for the NeuroLeadership Institute's point of view on platform-first cultures.

Once hailed as the surefire way for businesses to survive the pandemic, video-conference platforms like Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams now appear to be falling out of favor. Research shows that “Zoom fatigue” is real, and it’s worse among women and new employees. 

Neurological reasons for such fatigue include the lack of non-verbal cues, sustained eye contact that increases the intensity of interaction, and a gallery view that challenges the brain’s central vision, making it difficult to focus. There’s also the cognitive overload that comes with watching yourself on camera all the time. 

But even as we bemoan these factors, Zoom’s 300 million daily-meeting participants are most likely not going anywhere. Logistically, video-conference platforms enable collaboration at-scale and at-cost — two elements that are very attractive to decision-makers. There’s also the fact that everyone on a video call is a better option than “mixed meetings,” with some people in a room and others on camera. What’s more, you can alleviate some of that fatigue by switching off self view, and block off your calendar to follow a “three-times” rule in which after three video meetings you take a break to tackle your own work.  

Putting all that aside, there are other non-obvious upsides. Here’s how to embrace video conferencing a little more.  

Connect with anyone, anywhere

One of the best parts of meeting platforms is that you can bring colleagues together that would normally interact in person once or twice a year. Customers can come together with R&D experts and marketers, and you can create rapid-fire events to iterate on product needs. Previously, these might take months to plan; with virtual platforms, it could take a week. Even annual, global leadership events that cost millions of dollars can now happen quarterly for a fraction of the cost. 

These rapid connections to anyone, anywhere can also shift your approach to hiring. Neuroleadership Institute spent over a decade based in New York, with everyone from rank-and-file to senior leaders living within 40 minutes of Manhattan. Now, we have senior leaders in North Carolina, Los Angeles, and the Midwest. It’s created a diversity of leadership perspectives that we couldn’t start scaling until we embraced virtual platforms.

Meet briefly and frequently

Another upside of virtual platforms is the ability to implement shorter meetings, replacing the standard 30-minute ones with 25 or 15-minute meetings.  This allows people more breaks and focus time. 

Because it is much easier to gather people for short times on platforms than in person, you can experiment with different ways to meet. Many organizations have seen they can gather leaders on a weekly basis and host town halls monthly instead of quarterly to keep everyone connected to the vision and strategy of the business.

This approach works well in onboarding, too. Usually a complete brain dump inside companies, with leaders jamming everything you could possibly need to know into a 48-hour time period, onboarding is overwhelming to our brains. But on Zoom and the like, small groups of new employees can meet for 15 minutes on a Monday with one department, and come back together with other internal subject matter experts on Wednesday and Friday. What’s more, video conferencing allows new employees to learn from the person best at the role, instead of the person who happens to live in the same city, ensuring your best performers multiply themselves far more quickly.

Our data shows that breaking a three-hour workshop into three shorter blocks over three weeks can increase actions people take by six times. That’s because the brain creates long-term memories through a spacing approach. So using virtual platforms to make onboarding a longer process broken into little chunks will only bolster an employee’s first year.

Embrace parallel processing

Not everyone is a fan of parallel processing, which involves people simultaneously working in a document. But it can work wonderfully on virtual platforms because it creates efficiencies; instead of asking everyone to think on a problem and come back with ideas, that problem-solving happens in real-time. Here’s how it works: put a single document with the meeting intent into the chat, and let everyone review it for five to seven minutes. Then come back together and have the facilitator ask for questions, comments, and feedback. 

You can use the Socratic method and call on people, or encourage employees to drop comments in the chat. This process of bringing everyone together in the same document, and cuing them for reaction afterward, ends up creating a more inclusive, efficient environment than a standard in-person meeting. Whereas in-person meetings often get dominated by one or two “big voices,” platform-based meetings can elicit multiple perspectives.

Try the magic of four

We’ve thought about this question for years: what’s the optimal number of people around a table for an effective decision to be made? You want to retain the one-on-one element of focus, but also get an inclusive array of ideas. We think the optimal number is four.  

Four people allows you to maximize attention, gather a good diversity of inputs and still have a personal touch. Research suggests that we have a cognitive capacity limit of three or four chunks of information that we can store and recall in our short-term as well as working memory. When there are only four faces in a virtual meeting, our brains are able to perceive each person distinctly and form sequential thoughts that help with learning and collaboration.   

So the next time you see your calendar full of colorful virtual meeting blocks, reframe your mindset around those meetings and embrace the upsides of a platform world.

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