Zoom Fatigue is a Joke: How Virtual Meetings can Actually be Less Draining

I said what I said. The idea that you can get more tired from attending a meeting over Zoom in lieu of in person is just silly, in my opinion. What’s not a joke, to me at least, is that Zoom has created the opportunity for more meetings – and the fatigue that results from more meetings certainly makes sense.

For the hyper-efficient, Zoom meant the ability to fit more things into the day and those more ‘things’ often meant meetings as people yearned to make up for the water-cooler chats and random pop-ins that remote work-life didn’t afford. For people at the top of the organization, including my boss (the Chief Legal Officer or “CLO”), that meant a ton of meetings. And, so, he asked that I put my MBA hat on (wherever that is…) to figure out how our Legal Department can (1) cut-down the amount of meetings intra-department and (2) more effectively collaborate.

First, my answer: another meeting! Kidding, sort of. To cut-down the amount of meetings, I suggested that we meet every-other week for a longer period of time as a full team. At present, the CLO meets individually with the General Counsel, the Deputy General Counsel, me – the Senior Law Clerk/Legal Specialist, and the Legal Intern. He also met weekly with the GC and Deputy GC (while I was away at a law firm this summer). And I met individually with the GC. And the Deputy GC met with the Legal Intern. Chaos! These new bi-weekly group meetings would largely take place of that weekly CLO, GC, and DGC meeting. They would also allow for each team member to meet on the opposite bi-weekly schedule, if they so choose. For example, I am not meeting with the GC bi-weekly, but on the weeks that we don’t have our full team meeting. However, I am still meeting weekly with the CLO.

Meeting via Teams is in-and-of-itself a digital transformation for my Team. While I’d been working with the GC, who’s based out of NY, since I joined the company in 2019, we only ‘saw’ each other when videoconferencing became the norm back in March 2020. Continuing to incorporate the videoconferencing function of Teams allows my team to better stay in-touch and communicate. Meetings also serve an important function, as stated by Antony Jay in HBR:

I cannot deny that meetings fulfill a deep human need. Man is a social species. In every organization and every human culture of which we have record, people come together in small groups at regular and frequent intervals, and in larger “tribal” gatherings from time to time. If there are no meetings in the places where they work, people’s attachment to the organizations they work for will be small, and they will meet in regular formal or informal gatherings in associations, societies, teams, clubs, or pubs when work is over.

https://hbr.org/1976/03/how-to-run-a-meeting

Next, to allow the Legal Department to more effectively collaborate and function, the new bi-weekly meetings will have a formal structure that’s broken into three parts: (1) a general update, (2) a shared learning opportunity, and (3) a work-distribution period. To also promote collaboration, we’re incorporating a weekly update without a meeting.

The problem with the CLO, GC, and DGC meetings was that they were becoming repetitive.

To avoid this common issue, Slack suggested both the use of a formal structure, or an agenda, and also providing status updates. While I love the idea of posting updates in a Teams channel, that was a little too high-tech for our slightly older generation team. So, we’re going to have a template that each member has to fill out:

This template will live on Teams so it’s a live document that both lives in the cloud and doesn’t need to be sent over email. And although it’s not as digitally transformative as Slack’s suggested status updates, it is a huge step up from what was in place before. Believe it or not, ahead of those summer meetings among the CLO, GC, and DGC, they were emailing a Word document agenda back and forth and then the CLO would compile and share his screen during the meeting.

The important takeaway here, I think, is that we’re in a generation that operates quite comfortably with technology, but we’ll be joining organizations run by some people who are not as digitally equipped. Or, actually, they’re digitally equipped but not comfortable with the technology. Our job, I think, is to ease those less comfortable with technology into more efficient operations that utilize technology. And, I think, we need to be very careful about easing them in. If we make something too complicated (even if simply posting a status update as if it were a chat doesn’t seem to be too complicated), and forget to collect feedback in the early stages of development of a new workflow, we’ll fail to gain buy-in from our counterparts and our operation will fail.

In short, meetings are important. Too many meetings are point-less. Technology is good. Too much technology too quickly will fail.

9 comments

  1. @lexgetdigital I like what you’re doing here, very technology fallacy-y with looking at the culture as being a key driver of making digital change. To your point, tools like Teams are only effective to the extent that people actually use them effectively, and it sounds like this is a great way to make some incremental improvements. That all being said, I have heard and seen other approaches work to make virtual meetings less draining: I’ve been a part of projects that had daily 5-minute standup meetings first thing in the am, via Zoom, which allowed for seeing people’s faces, describing updates in better detail than a written one could, and ensuring everyone was aligned for the day. Could be another option if you’re on a tight schedule for something later on – short and to the point!

  2. I stand on the opposite side of the spectrum, but I definitely see both the upsides and the downsides of virtual meetings, especially when trying to conduct them multiple times throughout the week inter-organization and outer-organization. I began my MBA journey August of last year pushing my workload and school workload all to finish in one complete year, and I could honestly write a book about zoom fatigue. It’s not a matter of me not being tech savvy or comfortable with meetings online, it was–believe it or not–back to back meetings from 8am to sometimes 9:30pm. These telecommunication apps have opened up the doors for so many more opportunities globally and have led to company savings in a variety of areas, there’s no denying that. I truly believe that we will live in a hybrid workplace environment from now and for the rest of time, but as for your seniors at your job–I empathize with them 10000000%! Loved reading this piece and in particular enjoyed the last picture.

  3. Very much agreed. I think that employers look at pointless meeting as having team building value and perhaps there is a tiny bit of truth to that. But in addition to the streamlining of the meeting process, I would like to see a movement terms better efficiency in terms of shorter and less frequent meetings in my own work setting.

    1. I have definitely heard that sentiment towards viewing any meetings as “team building” and therefore not a waste of time, regardless of the actual effectiveness of the call. I disagree with that perspective, and completely agree with you that efficiency and time blocking should be the objective of any zoom call. If employers are that concerned with team building, they should have specific zoom calls or something of the sort set up that promote camaraderie, instead of assuming that being on a pointless call together is productive. My team at work has been holding 30-60 minute “game time” calls with everyone, where we just forget about work and play Jackbox games. It’s been incredibly productive in terms of getting everyone more comfortable with each other.

  4. I am interested to see what the newest crop of undergrads will bring into the workforce — will they want to maintain the virtual options or will they be desperate to maintain their in-person experience they missed out in for the last year? I am working with students transitioning back to in person now and they are exhausted. Thanks for sharing your meeting structure and hope that your team finds a good balance!

  5. I think you did a perfect job highlighting that the people using that phrase are most likely the problem themselves, I couldn’t agree more. Zoom is just new technology and it’s up to the people using it to leverage its value-adding capabilities as they see fit. I think a big problem with the Zoom meetings is that most of the time like you said, there’s no need for a full meeting. People feel the need to discuss something so they just block some time instead of making a quick phone call. The weekly recurring meetings are the worst because they’re usually just a half-hour of time that someone feels the need to fill so they can “check the box” and say they caught up regularly. That leads me to another glaring problem I see on my end…every meeting is either a half-hour or an hour. Why?! There need to be more 5,10 and 15-minute meetings, not sure if this is something you experience at your firm as well. The very best part of my job when I started was overhearing all the conversations between people sitting near my desk and I hope that Zoom does not become the “new normal” but rather a nice productivity tool to use when appropriate.

  6. Really great post. Poor meetings are killers no matter the channel they are on. I think you are right about the source of Zoom fatigue. With the relatively high startup costs of meetings, you can only space them so closely. As people move in and out of meetings, there is the chance to get water, stretch, use the restroom, etc. With Zoom you can stack meetings one on top of another with mere seconds between them. With more spacing, I find Zoom meetings quite amenable.

  7. I think you’re absolutely right about the source of Zoom fatigue (as many have pointed out). I had a similar experience over the summer with my internship where there were days when I had back to back zoom meetings and no time to grab water or a quick snack in between. By the end of the day I’d be completely exhausted and needed to go for a walk outside to clear my head and relax. Sitting down all day gets really tiring and while remote work/school makes the day more efficient since you don’t have to account for commute time or casual chit chat, it definitely makes it more chaotic!

    I agree with @profkane, if we don’t schedule back to back meetings perhaps Zoom meeting will become more favorable to all.

  8. Lexie! Insightful as usual! I remember a while back you and I both were talking about how much we were looking forward to getting back to an in-person schedule and life. Now it seems like all we want is a return to our once completely virtual lives! I think you hit the nail on the head with this piece though. Life is about content! Content is about delivery 80% of the time. Lets ask for better presenters instead of blaming participants for their tiredness.

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