Working from home has its perks – we can feel more productive, less distracted and we get to wear Ugg boots to work. For many of us, working remotely has been challenging too –the disconnection from others can be tough, home and work-life boundaries are blurred, and we feel exhausted from the barrage of back-to-back virtual meetings.
Zoom fatigue as it’s colloquially known actually encompasses all of the screens you use and the myriad of virtual meeting solutions (Skype, Teams, Hangout etc) that have helped us stay connected and collaborate while working remotely. Back-to-back virtual meetings and the fact that many of us spending more time in front of screens than in a room with people can leave us feeling depleted at the end of the day. This results in lower levels of productivity and energy and can negatively impact our wellbeing.
There is science behind how our brain works, how we communicate and therefore why we’re feeling this fatigue. We’re missing out on the all-important non-verbal cues that we get when we’re speaking in person. Our brains also become overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli (like multiple faces to look at including your own) while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find. We also feel like we have to make more emotional effort to appear interested. Meetings in person are good ways to create rituals and build company culture. We’re also missing out on vital ‘water-cooler chats’ for idea generation and information exchange.
Plus, we are much more accepting of silence in a real-life conversation as we have an opportunity to read other non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures, posture, and the distance between the communicators. On a video call, we have to work harder to find these and this saps our energy. If there’s silence on a video call, it makes us anxious and worried about the technology or we have an awkward exchange while we try to fill a gap.
To help protect you from becoming Zoombie, you can start with asking yourself these 5 questions about your daily screen consumption. These prompts offer practical tips that you can implement to help avoid screen fatigue and build your resilience during this time.
At the start of each week, review your calendar and assess how long you’re spending in front of your screen. Can you schedule in regular breaks, or set recurring blocks of time where you are not available to be booked on a video call? Reducing the duration of meetings and blocking out time to focus on one task at a time also helps with productivity. Multi-tasking has been shown to take up to 40% more time than focusing on one task. You might also like to schedule meeting start times to commence five minutes after the hour to allow time for breaks between any back-to-back meetings.
Where possible, opt for audio meetings or phone calls so you can get up and walk around as you talk, changing your focus and getting your body moving. It’s OK to ask for a phone/audio only meeting. It might help you focus as it will reduce the number of stimuli your brain is taking in via video. If that’s not possible, the next best option is to stand up in virtual meetings and stretch and encourage your peers to do that same. Just 20-minutes of physical activity can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
This practical tip goes hand-in-glove with the ‘walk and talk’ tip. Fresh air can invigorate and energise us. So, if you have a phone meeting why not walk around the block, you can always bring a pen and a note pad just in case you need to make a note. If this isn’t possible, open a window or door, plus add a pot plant or two in your space to bring a touch of nature to your working environment. Adding plants not only adds improves air quality, it can also enhance your mental and emotional health.
One in four Aussies aren't getting enough sleep. Sleep is essential for effective brain function, among many other benefits. What's your sleep hygiene like? A few great ways to improve your sleep hygiene include having tech-free time at least 2 hours prior to bed, having a pen and paper near your bed to jot down any thoughts that may keep you awake at night, plus only using your bed for sleep and intimacy.
Self-care strategies build your levels of energy and your resilience. Self-care strategies will be different for everyone - maybe it’s calling a friend, going for a run or taking the dog for a walk, playing a game, going for a walk in nature or cooking a great meal. Find strategies that work for you and build your resilience – you may need to schedule these in your diary to avoid being booked for another virtual meeting! When you are working with a shared calendar system, you might like to book a meeting with yourself for self-care so you don’t let it slip.
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions and made some changes to support your own wellbeing, you might also like to think of others who could do the same. Individuals can influence a company culture as positive emotions are contagious. If you’re looking after your own wellbeing, not only will you feel good, you’re also more likely to have a positive influence on others and build a culture of wellbeing in your organisation. This is especially important if you have a leadership role and you’re managing other people – these 5 questions may support improved team performance. Shorter meetings, walking and talking, getting active and having good sleep – these simple things that can make a significant difference to everyone’s wellbeing and productivity.
The Oranges Toolkit offers a range of resources to support wellbeing leadership – contact us to find out more.
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