Do we have video fatigue or are we just tired of meetings?

working from home
(Image credit: / Master1305)

It’s been dubbed the ‘Panniversary’ - the one-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown. Although the pandemic has certainly boosted the video conferencing market, the considerable media coverage lately about video fatigue is a cause for concern. A recent survey by DigitalOcean found that 77% of remote workers in the UK reported feeling fatigued.

A panel of business leaders addressed this at the recent UCX “Tech Predictions” Mini Summit. One possibility is that video fatigue is setting in because people are fed up with meetings full stop.

This chimes with research carried out just before the pandemic in which respondents described a third of meetings as a waste of time. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed rated their company’s meeting culture as neutral or bad. It’s an important reminder of how widespread ‘normal’ meeting fatigue was pre-March 2020.

About the author

Paul Scholey is SVP International and GM at BlueJeans by Verizon

This past year home workers have fit online meetings in with parenting, schooling, caring, cooking, dog-walking, racing to collect Amazon parcels, and myriad other responsibilities and interruptions - all against a backdrop of general unease and vigilance. Since video demands full concentration on top of all this, it’s no wonder it ends up being linked with fatigue.

Kelcey Stratton, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Michigan Medicine whose training focuses on stress, trauma and resilience, believes “it’s harder now to compartmentalise our lives — work versus personal."

“When you work from home, your attention’s split — your dog’s barking, your partner might be working next to you, your children are running around — your concentration demands more emotional energy,” he added. 

This of course begs the question: why on earth are people going to so many meetings? The answer is ‘meeting FOMO’ and an inefficient meetings culture. As they did pre-pandemic, people over-attend meetings because they are worried about missing out on vital nuggets of information. Crucially, meeting FOMO was amplified this past year as workers felt disconnected from their colleagues and feared not being seen. In extreme cases this flavour of ‘presenteeism’ causes many people to continue working and join meetings, even when experiencing physical or mental illness.

Intelligent technology to improve meetings

One route out of this situation, which was discussed at length in the UCX conference, is to mature our use of meeting technology. Often in meetings nobody captures actions and there is little effective follow-up. With videoconferencing software, AI and bots can transcribe and translate meetings, capture actions, and share the minutes. This way, technology can improve meeting culture. If actions and deliverables are shared, it reduces the number of meetings people feel they must attend.

Another thing that happens regularly: follow up meetings to discuss the outcome of a meeting! An efficient meeting with live translation, breakout rooms with key project teams working together, whiteboarding capturing notes and then follow-up action tracking, can cut down on this type of thing.

Fine-tune and humanize the user experience

With back-to-back video meetings and little opportunity for downtime, it is no surprise that certain ‘teething problems’ have become talking points. “You’re on mute” became the buzzphrase of 2020, followed closely by “Can you hear me?” The good news is that video conferencing platforms are evolving to remove the niggles, showing users more clearly when they are on mute and when others can see their screen sharing, for example.

Battling video fatigue, however, also demands a human response. Creating meeting-free days or ringfencing a meeting-free hour over lunchtime are simple but effective steps. Many people working from home say what they miss most about going into work is the interaction with colleagues and the social side. Video conferencing platforms are doing more to foster and recreate informal dialogue, for example flagging up when someone is available for a chat.

Of course there are many genuine, scientific reasons behind video fatigue that shouldn’t be dismissed. Business and IT leaders should keep a close eye on technology innovations that will address these and allow them to make videoconferencing experiences more engaging and productive.

However, to build a more sustainable approach to meetings and employee wellness, it’s important to address the underlying meeting culture. This is not all about technology – the best way forward is to combine a human and technological approach to video fatigue.

Paul Scholey is SVP International and GM at BlueJeans by Verizon