The reason Video calls drain your energy

Video chat is helping us stay employed and connected. But what makes it so tiring – and how can we reduce ‘Video fatigue’?

Your screen freezes. There’s a weird echo. A dozen heads stare at you. There are the work huddles, the one-on-one meetings and then, once you’re done for the day, the hangouts with friends and family.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we’re on video calls more than ever before – and many are finding it exhausting.

But what, exactly, is tiring us out? BBC Worklife spoke to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness, to hear their views.

Is video chat harder? What’s different compared to face-to-face communication?

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. 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; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says.

Delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused

Silence is another challenge, he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable. One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.

An added factor, says Shuffler, is that if we are physically on camera, we are very aware of being watched. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen, or not to be conscious of how they behave in front of the camera.

How are the current circumstances contributing?

Yet if video chats come with extra stressors, our Zoom fatigue can’t be attributed solely to that. Our current circumstances – whether lockdown, quarantine, working from home or otherwise – are also feeding in.

Petriglieri believes that fact we feel forced into these calls may be a contributory factor. “The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be in the workplace together,” he says. “What I’m finding is, we’re all exhausted; It doesn’t matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic.”

Then there’s the fact that aspects of our lives that used to be separate – work, friends, family – are all now happening in the same space. The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects – context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy, says Petriglieri. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings.

Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now – Gianpiero Petriglieri

“Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed,” says Petriglieri. “Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now… We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window.”

Shuffler says a lack of downtime after we’ve fulfilled work and family commitments may be another factor in our tiredness, while some of us may be putting higher expectations on ourselves due to worries over the economy, furloughs and job losses. “There’s also that heightened sense of ‘I need to be performing at my top level in a situation’… Some of us are kind of over-performing to secure our jobs.”

But when I’m Zooming my friends, for example, shouldn’t that relax me?

Lots of us are doing big group chats for the first time, whether it’s cooking and eating a virtual Easter dinner, attending a university catch-up or holding a birthday party for a friend. If the call is meant to be fun, why might it feel tiring?

Part of it, says Shuffler, is whether you’re joining in because you want to or because you feel you ought to – like a virtual happy hour with colleagues from work. If you see it as an obligation, that means more time that you’re ‘on’ as opposed to getting a break. A proper chat with friends will feel more social and there will be less ‘Zoom fatigue’ from conversations where you’ve had a chance to be yourself.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work – Gianpiero Petriglieri

Big group calls can feel particularly performative, Petriglieri warns. People like watching television because you can allow your mind to wander – but a large video call “is like you’re watching television and television is watching you”. Large group chats can also feel depersonalising, he adds, because your power as an individual is diminished. And despite the branding, it may not feel like leisure time. “It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work.”

So how can we alleviate Zoom fatigue? 

Both experts suggest limiting video calls to those that are necessary. Turning on the camera should be optional and in general there should be more understanding that cameras do not always have to be on throughout each meeting. Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings, says Petriglieri. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room, so may be less tiring.

In some cases it’s worth considering if video chats are really the most efficient option. When it comes to work, Shuffler suggests shared files with clear notes can be a better option that avoids information overload. She also suggests taking time during meetings to catch up before diving into business. “Spend some time to actually check into people’s wellbeing,” she urges. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.”

Building transition periods in between video meetings can also help refresh us – try stretching, having a drink or doing a bit of exercise, our experts say. Boundaries and transitions are important; we need to create buffers which allow us to put one identity aside and then go to another as we move between work and private personas.

And maybe, says Petriglieri, if you want to reach out, go old-school. “Write a letter to someone instead of meeting them on Zoom. Tell them you really care about them.”

This post was originally posted on BBC.

Being late for meetings reveals more than we think

One of the metrics that Meeting.info tracks is attendance quality. How many people are late for meetings and how many leave early.

In this blog post we want to dive deeper into this metric, because there’s more to unpack around unpunctuality, from the point of employee wellbeing, besides our annoyance with it.

Several studies around lateness have been done over the years. And they reveal a more complex picture that managers might not be aware off.

Digging into the psychology of lateness reveals interesting possibilities about why people are late. It can indicate poor self-control, procrastination or the failure to set realistic goals. It can also be a sign of lack of focus or deeper-seated problems such as stress and anxiety.

Diana DeLonzer, the author of Never Be Late, conducted a study at San Francisco State University involving chronic lateness and found that of the two-hundred and twenty-five people in the study, 17% were chronically late.

The 17% chronically late, had trouble with self-control (were more prone to habits like overeating, drinking too much, gambling and impulse shopping), showed an affinity for thrill-seeking and displayed ADD-like symptoms like restlessness, trouble focusing and attention issues.

Secondly Pauline Wallin a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA, has found that people who are chronically late often wrestle with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence, or other internal psychological states.

Habitual lateness may be part of that very hard to deal with phenomenon of passive aggression where someone is resistant, often in a way that is hard to put your finger on, that undermines progress and makes people feel uncomfortable because the aggression is there but unspoken.

While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as a manager who cares about team wellbeing (especially during forced work from home situations), keeping track of attendance is less about being a headmaster, and more about spotting potential deeper issues based on a behavioural signal.

Leading Remotely: What Managers Need to Keep Teams Engaged

Managing remotely can be complicated. Add a dash of national emergency, and it becomes even more challenging to engage employees. As organizations across the world transition to a partial or fully work-from-home environment in response to COVID-19, understanding what managers need to lead remotely is a must.PULSE SURVEYUse the COVID-19 Pulse Survey TodayConnect with a Gallup representative to gain access for using Gallup surveys today.

Of course, not all managers view remote work the same way, especially when it’s driven by circumstance rather than choice. Some managers will embrace a little separation from their teams — they may even see it as an opportunity to get some uninterrupted work in. Others get energy and focus from their people and will feel isolated and less in a position to help their teams and their organization when they aren’t in the office every day. So while some managers are busy decorating their home office and celebrating not having to commute, others will resent forced isolation and feeling disconnected from their people.

And because 70% of an individual’s engagement is driven by their manager, it’s crucial that leaders individualize to best support them.

Where Remote Managers May Struggle

There are three things that managers have to do perfectly to create the right level of engagement for their people. All managers are likely to struggle in some of these categories at one time or another, even without the added strain of managing through substantial distractions.

  1. Individualization. When people are in the office, it’s easier to have one set of rules for everyone. But when many employees are working from home without a dedicated office, when children are not in school or daycare, and when neighborhood broadband connections are stressed to capacity — individualization is king.

Managers have to figure out where structure is required (e.g., no crying children during client calls) and where it is flexible — like shortening meetings by five or 10 minutes to allow people to transition between calls and reset an activity for a child at home.

There may be a need to accommodate flexibility to hours worked (e.g., shortened schedules), available hours (e.g., schedule all meetings in the afternoon when a child is napping), or the meaning of “close of business” (COB) to mean midnight or even 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Managers need everyone to be able to give their best and they need to create a space so their employees can do so.

  1. Communication. While many managers are effective communicators, taking that show on the road — or more specifically, home — means that the only method of communication is what your managers are providing. If an email tone is too harsh, there is no facial expression to soften the sting. If your question during a phone conference feels abrupt, there might not be video that shows you literally leaning into the conversation in interest instead of a perceived attack. For this reason, videoconferencing may be ideal and should be encouraged.

Much of our language is nonverbal. When managers are forced to limit the nonverbal cues available to their direct reports, they increase the chance for miscommunication, defensiveness and conflict. Managers need to communicate with their teams in multiple ways and through multiple mediums to keep expectations clear, to reinforce priorities, and to help understand and address barriers to maximizing their team’s work while they are away from the office.

Managers need everyone to be able to give their best and positively impact the organization, and they need to create a space so their employees can do so.

Managers should ask how employees prefer to be contacted. Are text messages OK for urgent issues, or is that an invasion of privacy or stressful? Do they have everything they need to videoconference comfortably? Managers should also proactively schedule weekly check-ins with their teams, replacing the informal office conversations that relationships are made of.

  1. Accountability. When everyone is physically present, it tends to be easier to evaluate the level of effort people are putting in and the output your team is generating. The reason most remote employees can work remotely is that they’re doing the type of work that may be harder to count or measure productivity against. That is no reason to neglect accountability.

Managers must create or improve upon their systems for holding their teams accountable when everyone is working remotely. This is based in communication but includes tools for measuring timelines and deliverables, check-ins, and evaluation of submitted work.

It’s important that everyone understands the quality of work expected from them while working remotely — and that your managers are prepared to assess and hold team members accountable for their continued performance.

For example, managers can use online task or project management tools so that everyone has visibility on what’s important now. Managers can also proactively set check-in meetings for certain projects to encourage progress on specific pieces of work. It also doesn’t hurt to ask helpful coaching questions such as, “What challenges might you face in getting this done?” Get the invisible gorilla or elephant into the conversation.

Where Remote Managers Thrive

In times of crisis, it’s worth remembering the benefits of remote work. Managing remotely allows individuals to get creative, leverage their strengths, and engage with their teams in different and meaningful ways.

Your managers are in the best position to minimize any negative effects of working from home. They are also best positioned to create new methods and processes for getting things done. Here is how you can set your managers up for success:

  1. Trust them. Give them latitude to embrace acceptable risk in trying new things. Managers are going to have to get creative on everything, from creating an engaged work team to meeting clients’ needs in a very uncertain time. Managing remotely will include taking some risks. Whether it is taking a videoconference outside, creating new documentation procedures or sending care packages, let your managers innovate on the best ways to connect their teams and get work done.
  1. Be open to discovery. Be open to finding out things about your business that might surprise you. You may have a team or role that you didn’t think could be effective remotely — or inversely, a team that you were confident in that ends up struggling. Be open to learning lessons from this experience and even having some of your thinking about your work, your organization and your customers turned upside down as a massive field experiment in remote work is currently underway.

Managing remotely allows individuals to get creative, leverage their strengths, and engage with their teams in different and meaningful ways.

Ask your managers what they are finding and learning, and think about how that evidence supports or rejects your perceptions of remote work for your organization.

  1. Evolve your culture. As humans, we tend to empathize best with situations we have personally experienced. There is a huge opportunity for us to experience remote work firsthand that we would otherwise not encounter. This can make our overall work culture more inclusive and more friendly to a variety of workers, including those who will work from home long after COVID-19 subsides. This allows us to think more strategically about when, why and how remote work should be approached in the long run.

What Remote Managers Need

Once your managers are equipped with the tools they need to manage their teams and keep your organization moving forward, what they need next is your support to do all the right things — perfect communication, accountability and individualization — which you can provide in three specific ways:

  1. Listen. Ask your managers what they need, and listen to their answers. Each manager will have their own perspective on the situation — good, bad or otherwise. And depending on their approach, they may need different things from you. It’s best not to assume how the situation is affecting them; let them share their experience and needs so you can tailor your approach to supporting them.
  1. Communicate frequently. Strong leadership inspires everyone. Ask your managers to find out what people need to hear from their local managers and what they want to hear from the top. Position your support around areas like accountability and quality, and encourage efforts to keep everyone engaged and connected while remote.
  1. Expand technology support. Even your most tech-savvy manager will be dealing with a variety of technical difficulties if they are not used to working remotely. Ensure your technology team is ready to assist managers and their teams. Open all available resources to keep work occurring from anywhere and everywhere.

Although many managers are leading their teams from a distance for the first time, they can succeed if they keep the fundamentals of excellent management in mind — and if they have the support from you, their leader. A positive mindset, a listening ear and greater flexibility can make all the difference in a time of crisis.

This Article First appeared on Gallup

5 Things Leaders Never Do In A Zoom Meeting

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many professionals to work from home and utilize online conferencing technology like Zoom. Zoom’s daily active users increased from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months. Digital tools like Zoom are a great way to maintain communication when you cannot have a physical meeting, but there are certain issues to consider when using this technology. Here are five things leaders avoid doing in Zoom meetings.

1.     Looking unkept.

Get dressed; don’t wear your pajamas. If you are participating in a Zoom meeting for professional reasons, wear what you would wear if you were physically at the meeting with other people. If there is any chance you might stand up, whether that is to grab something at the far end of your desk or to stretch, make sure to wear the type of pants or shoes you would wear at work. Leaders always look the part, so show the people on the video conference that you respect them to take the time to look nice for them.

2.     Talking too much.

Just as if you were in the same physical space as the other meeting participants, don’t hog the meeting. Leaders speak when they have something to say and can communicate their idea in a relatively concise way. Be mindful how much you speak so that others on the conference call can add value. 

When using digital communication platforms like Zoom, you may not recognize the subtle, physical cues that help people to know when they can begin talking without talking over someone. Pause for a couple of seconds to let participants know that you have finished your thought or your slide. Leaders are aware of some of the limitations of digital communications and ensure others are heard. 

3.     Keeping their microphone on.

No one needs to hear you clear your throat, gulp a drink or release any other bodily noises. No one needs to hear your dog barking. Unlike with physical meetings, this is your opportunity to mute these sounds and spare others the distraction and you the embarrassment. 

Leaders minimize distractions. When you are listening to others speak, put yourself on mute. Still stay actively engaged by looking at your screen, but there is no need to keep your sound on, particularly if there are many people participating. If a colleague is presenting, consider turning off your video so the focus is on the presenter.

4.     Having a busy background.

Another distraction to others can be what they see behind you when you are on a Zoom call. Are you taking the meeting with a provocative painting behind you? Are you in the kitchen with other family members walking around?

Take the Zoom meeting in a quiet room. Set yourself up in front of a calming backdrop. While Zoom allows you to choose certain “wallpapers” as a backdrop, make sure they don’t detract from your presence. Leaders put themselves in a position in which people will focus on them and what they have to say.

5.     Inviting too many people to the meeting. 

Leaders value their time and your time. They call purposeful meetings, with the goal of inviting only those individuals they believe will add value to the discussion and be able to move the agenda forward. Because it may be easier for more people to participate in a Zoom meeting than attend an in-person meeting, it may be tempting to invite a lot of people. But too many people can render the discussion ineffective. Leaders know that successful and productive calls require every individual to be engaged, and having too many people on a video call can make this challenging.

Be smart about how you engage in Zoom meetings. To demonstrate your leadership remotely, look professional, don’t ramble, be cognizant of the noises and images that might distract other participants and invite only the people that need to participate in the conversation.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

Companies scrambled to set up virtual workspaces. Is this the future?

Remote-only organizations pose complex management challenges. Two scholars share their thoughts on how to navigate our sudden new reality.

Has the future of work, the all-remote workforce and even the virtual organization, arrived in full force? Though online technologies have made remote work increasingly common, most companies and organizations are still run out of brick-and-mortar facilities. Now they are scrambling to stand up virtual workspaces overnight.

Melissa Valentine, assistant professor of management science and engineering, has spent years studying these issues. Jen Rhymer, who is about to join Valentine as a postdoctoral fellow, has closely studied software companies that operate entirely independently of a physical headquarters.

The big lesson, they say, is that remote-only organizations pose complex new management challenges. The biggest ones: developing trust, collaboration and information-sharing among people who never meet in person and who may be on opposite sides of the world.

Here are some of their thoughts:

Getting the technology right. It takes more than a laptop, an internet connection and apps like Slack or Zoom. The technology for remote work and virtual teams is straightforward and keeps getting better. The bigger challenge is addressing the human issues. If workers are suddenly working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many will be juggling childcare, noise and a slew of other disruptions.

That is guaranteed to cause a drop in productivity, but it will also reduce the intangible benefits of working in the same location. Think here of the informal brainstorming over coffee or the casual exchanges of information. But the issues go deeper: How do you build trust and social ties, which are crucial for creative collaboration?

Being forced by a crisis to embrace remote-only work is different from creating a remote-only workforce at the start. Companies that structure themselves as location-independent have developed norms and practices that bridge the emotional and logistical distances. The same is true for their workers. For such companies, remote-only work can reduce costs, expand the talent pool and boost productivity.

By contrast, being forced by a crisis to work remotely is likely to be disruptive and frustrating. It may be better than shutting down, but it will likely lead to a big drop in productivity.

Building trust and collaboration. All companies need to establish a culture of shared priorities and accepted practices for working together. It’s easier for traditional companies, where people see each other and interact informally.

Remote-only companies often try to fill the void with organized social efforts, from online happy hours to retreats and discussion groups. The topics don’t have to be relevant to the business. The goal is to build ties and a sense of community. However, cautions Rhymer, these efforts won’t work unless CEOs and senior managers participate as well — as equals, not as bosses.

Executives should also display their own trust by refraining from monitoring their employees on a minute-by-minute basis. They shouldn’t eavesdrop on employee emails or chart their keystrokes per minute. The focus should be on the ultimate output, not on a worker’s specific activities.

Creating a rich public decision trail. At companies with employees spread across many time zones, real-time conversations and written exchanges aren’t often feasible. But people still need to understand the background for how and why decisions were made.

With a rich decision trail, all the discussions and debates that lead up to a decision are documented and codified so that people can go back and understand why those decisions were made.

Opening a single source of truth. Workers need access to the big picture about an organization’s strategy and priorities, and perhaps even about work in progress that may not be directly relevant to them. It’s a repository of information that is clear, uncontested and accepted as true at that time, and then maintained so that it is always current. This is especially true for asynchronous companies, in which people collaborate across all time zones and can’t easily discuss issues in real time.

Breaking down the barriers to sharing work. You want workers to post work as it’s underway — even when it’s rough, incomplete, imperfect. That requires a different mindset, though one that’s increasingly common in asynchronous companies. In traditional companies, people often hesitate to circulate projects or proposals that aren’t polished, pretty and bullet-proofed. It’s a natural reflex, especially when people are disconnected from each other and don’t communicate casually.

But it can lead to long delays, especially on projects in which each participant’s progress depends on the progress and feedback of others. Location-independent companies need a culture in which people recognize that a work-in-progress is likely to have gaps and flaws and don’t criticize each other for them. This is an issue of norms, not tools.

Preparing for the future. The experience of cobbling together a remote-only system on the fly is likely to be chaotic and unpleasant for many people. Technology makes it easier than ever to be location-independent, but unless companies focus on creating an effective remote-work experience, don’t count on workers falling in love with it after the pandemic. Is remote work the wave of the future? It depends on how organizations respond today.

This article first appeared on Stanford.edu