How to Survive and Thrive in the New Virtual World, Part 1


We have been thrust into a virtual work world with little or no warning. Most of us have been at it now long enough to either suffer from Zoom fatigue or Zoom fear. The term Zoom is now being used to describe the dramatic increase in virtual meetings generically. Whether you suffer from Zoom fatigue, fear, or neither, I want to give you quick tips to help you navigate or avoid these conditions. In this two-part series, I want to first start with challenges associated with Zoom fatigue. In the second article, I will address the fears that many people have about participating in virtual meetings.

Zoom fatigue is an emerging term that describes the adverse effects that the dramatic increase in virtual meetings is having on many people. Some of the causes include:

· Staring at a screen for prolonged periods. This taxes the human brain and can cause over-stimulus of the processing part of the brain. The brain needs visual breaks to “reset” and repair. Practice active note-taking during calls to force yourself to look away from the screen while writing. This will also enable you to remain focused and avoid multi-tasking. If you are running the meeting, think about how you can incorporate frequent breaks into your agenda. I set the default on my Outlook calendar to schedule 50-minute meetings so that there is a 10 minute recovery time whenever possible between meetings.

· Staring at yourself for prolonged periods. Many of us will leave our images up on the screen over the course of the meeting. This can lead to over-arousal of the brain. We tend to critique every detail of our appearance. Look for a way to go to “speaker view” on your virtual platform so that only the person speaking will dominate the screen. After you determine that your image is appropriately positioned, look for a way to minimize seeing yourself.

· Staring at screens can promote loneliness. Virtual meetings have eliminated many of the social reinforcements we used to enjoy in face-to-face meetings. These sometimes-non-verbal cues are part of a reward system that the human brain craves. A smile, a nod, or even a fist-pump are indicators of social acceptance and enjoyment about being in each other’s presence. Researchers tell us that even our physical work environment contributes to our psychological well-being. With that reward source mostly eliminated during virtual meetings, I would encourage you to schedule virtual “coffee calls” with your colleagues. Balance your virtual meeting with more individualized phone calls to stay connected. Recently, I was asked to host a few virtual team meetings. Last week, when attendees logged into the meeting, they were greeted with a popular song from the 1980s. Throughout the meeting, we would pause to do “right-brain” activities that drove engagement and enjoyment. They were designed to specifically activate reward centers of the brain. The participants are now asking for this meeting format to be the standard for their future team meetings.

The 2020 increase in virtual meetings is setting a standard that will continue into our future. Yale Professor Laurie Santos reminds us that there are many benefits from seeing each other during this pandemic, especially as a way to stay connected. I want to help you master your online presence and reduce negative impacts as best as you can. To learn more about our upcoming free webinar on virtual presentations, register here.


Tell us what your experiences have been with virtual meetings this year.


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