The Work from Home Survival Kit: Mastering Remote Meetings

In this last instalment of the Work from Home Survival Kit series, we tackle one of the aspects of remote work that many of us continue to struggle with: online meetings. 


Screen Fatigue  

We’ve all been there. Silence and delays on the other end of the line. The screen freezing and the sound being off. The persistent awareness of being watched, compounded by the possibility of interruptions by those we share our home space with. Not to mention, the stress of an ongoing pandemic itself. These are only some of the reasons why, one year into the pandemic, more and more of us are experiencing what the internet calls “Zoom fatigue”, the feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm that accompanies many of our remote team meetings today. 

“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”, writes the BBC in an article titled The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. “Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy”. A recent study by Microsoft, The future of work—the good, the challenging & the unknown, reported a similar finding: “brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails.” The reason? We simply didn’t evolve to interact for hours at a time in a virtual setting, and many of us are also struggling to find a balance between life and work.

It’s not all lost, though. The same report by Microsoft found that gaining a peek at the intimate settings of our co-workers, especially ones balancing childcare with remote work, may change how we feel about our teammates in the long-term. According to the study, “62% of people we surveyed said they feel more empathetic toward their colleagues now that they have a better view of life at home.” 

In the next section, we offer some strategies for amplifying connection and wellbeing during remote meetings, complemented by some effective yet little-known tech tools to help your meetings become more efficient and engaging. 


Tips for Fostering Connection and Wellbeing 

 

Does it have to be a meeting?

One obvious way to start reducing screen fatigue and boosting wellbeing is to ask yourself: does this really need to be a meeting, or can it be an email, a quick Slack message or something saved for a later time? Working remotely gives us the impression that if we’re not video-calling every time we need to discuss something, then something is not right. In reality, we have lots of options at our disposal––some that may also save us time and energy and give our eyes a break from the screen. 

In addition to traditional options, consider a tool like Loom, which lets you pre-record yourself talking on video to a background of your choosing, often slides. This gives your co-worker the option of absorbing important updates and announcements at their own pace, and it’s a great option for sending messages when calendars don’t align. 


 

Keep It Short & Sweet

As you may have heard already, the recommended length for online meetings is 30 minutes. That’s because fatigue tends to set in after 30-40 minutes of sustained concentration via a screen. So set yourself up for success by circulating an agenda ahead of time, being clear about protocols for joining a meeting (e.g., everybody’s mic is muted, you have a strategy for sharing questions and feedback, etc.), and make sure you have a back-up ready in case your tech is not working properly. 

If your meeting requires multiple updates or presentations by team members, you may also experiment with a format known as PechaKucha, which is guaranteed to make you a master of effective public speaking!

PechaKucha means "chit chat" in Japanese, and it’s presentation format began as nighttime get-togethers in Tokyo in 2003 by two renowned architects. Since then, millions of people have attended PechaKucha events around the world, and many more have adopted its signature ‘20x20’ format for their presentations. What 20x20 means is that you show 20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds. In other words, you have 6.5 minutes to tell your story, with visuals guiding the way. 

You could adapt this idea to a meeting format by removing the imperative for slides (or that many slides) but committing to sticking to a 5-6 minute update. While it sounds daunting, we promise it can be really fun. (Think of it as a slightly expanded Twitter equivalent for meetings––you eventually know to pick only the really important stuff to convey!)
 

Make It Engaging 

One common recommendation for keeping meetings engaging, especially during longer ones, is to provide frequent breaks, incorporating multimedia (think: videos, photos, sound clips, etc.), and introducing different speakers.  

If your meeting is intended to gather feedback, get together for a brainstorming session, or develop new strategies, consider Miro, the “online collaborative whiteboard platform”. As a tool it is visually appealing, easy to use, and it integrates with common services like Dropbox, Box, Google Suite, Slack and many others. They also offer a very helpful guide, 16 secrets of engaging remote meetings, that is chock-full of great ideas for making your meetings more interactive and relevant. 

 

 

Try Breakout or ‘Together’ Rooms

As with the recommendations above, if you are meeting for longer than 30 minutes or your meeting is intended for collective brainstorming, try using features like Zoom’s breakout room.

If you’re a Microsoft Teams user, you could also try their recently launched Together Mode, a new experience that uses artificial intelligence to digitally place meeting participants in a shared room. This feature is more than just a background––it’s designed to make you feel like you’re sitting in the same room as everyone else in the meeting...whether that’s a classroom, a coffee shop, an auditorium or someplace else entirely. Find out how it works in this video: 

 


 

Try Not to Multitask… Or, Actually, Take a Walk!

When our focus falters or meetings lose steam, it’s very tempting to check out by scrolling our social media feeds or attempting to squeeze in an extra work task during a remote session. But that only increases our cognitive load, leading to greater fatigue in the long-run. So resist the urge to multitask… or ask to connect to a meeting via phone so you can go out for a walk while your session is on––let’s call this a healthier kind of multitasking! 

If you are unable to leave your home during a meeting, consider switching your camera off and moving your body indoors. Canadian author Louise Penny, for example, has taken up running inside her condo during the pandemic, and now runs 5k/day simply by running loops around her kitchen island. Incredible!

You don’t have to be as extreme as Penny, though. You’d be surprised how many steps you can clock simply by gently moving around your home during calls. And there are other advantages, too. As the team at Well + Good reminds us, “mobilizing your meetings lead to improved sleep at night, and research supports that the action can yield more creative thinking and effective brainstorming sessions.”

If turning video off is not an option, remember to stretch and stay hydrated instead. 

 

Pick Your Platform 

If you are curious about which remote meeting platform is best for you, check out TechRadar’s review of the best video conferring software in 2021. TechSoup Canada members, you may be eligible for options such as Callbridge and Zoom through our tech donations program. Check out our product catalogue to learn more! 

 

Further Reading 

  • COVID-19: How Nonprofits Can Faciliate Inclusive Online Gatherings (TechSoup Canada - that's us!) 
  • COVID-19: How Nonprofits Can Establish Effective Telecommunting Practices (TechSoup Canada - us again!) 
  • The Future of Work: The Good, the Challenging & the Unknown (Microsoft report) 
  • The Ultimate Guide to Remote Meetings (Slack)
  • Remote Work Toolkit (GoToMeeting)