Everybody is using Zoom and other remote meeting apps these days as employees, managers, customers, clients, and others are dispersed across multiple locations—some still in the workplace and some not. But, while these apps have definitely offered some benefit and opportunity to make connections during the pandemic, Zoom fatigue is certainly setting in.
What best practices should we be using to get the most out of these apps and reduce fatigue? What, if any, training or guidelines should be provided to employees?
We asked learning and development (L&D), HR, and other experts to weigh in with best practices and do’s and don’ts for leveraging technology for connecting remotely.
Look Good, Feel Good
Constantly staring into multiple, close-up faces, including your own, can be uncomfortable, says Frances Gain, Workplace Strategist at Global Design Firm M Moser Associates. Instead, she suggests:
- Look good—feel good. Find the right screen angle, Gain says. “My camera is at the bottom of my laptop so I need to stack it on books to avoid a double chin gaze. Set up a background plant or use filters to blur dismal surroundings,” she adds.
- Look at the full crew; don’t get stuck looking at yourself, one person, or no one. If this feels strange, she suggests zooming out. “Or, remember, they are probably looking at themselves.”
- Use screen share. “Pull up example images, documents, sketches—ideally, use interactive files like PDF viewer or online Excel. Open files before the meeting and get familiar with screen share options—especially if you have two screens.”
Replicate ‘Watercooler Moments’
Lee Gimpel, Founder and Principal at Better Meetings, likes Zoom’s breakout rooms as a means of replicating “the watercooler moments” that happen in a physical space. He recommends starting meetings by breaking larger groups into smaller groups of two to three people.
Give each person a few minutes to talk in those small groups at the start of the meeting. “It’s especially helpful if not everyone in the room knows each other,” Gimpel says. Even when they do know each other, though, “it’s a good opportunity for people to catch up.”
- “Slides and visuals can be helpful, but don’t forget to show your face and actually make it a meeting between real people who are interacting.” Other humans are typically more interesting for us to look at than presentations and slides, he says.
- Use custom backgrounds or green screen images to present information behind the presenter, like a weather person, so both the speaker and the information are visible together.
- Allow yourself to go low-tech, even when using high-tech conferencing software. “Sometimes using a whiteboard, holding up a printed page, or displaying a model can be much faster, easier and more effective than trying to get additional online meeting tools to sync documents or virtual screens. Don’t let online meeting technology dominate when it may only complicate.”
Require Video for Meetings
Require the use of video! “Before the stay-at-home order, employees had the option to utilize audio or video,” says Miles Kelly, EVP of Marketing and Communications at Skedulo. “But we’ve recognized that face-to-face, or rather screen-to-screen, helps to further break down all barriers.”
- Extend all internal meetings by 15 minutes to allow for extra check-in time, Kelly suggests. “This is for the purpose of genuine, human-to-human interaction.” This extra time isn’t for business-related or company matters, Kelly says, “but rather to stay connected. Employees have really appreciated that time to share how they’re doing and what’s going on in their lives.”
- Start conversations with: “How is everyone feeling?” Now is the time for empathy and understanding, Kelly adds. “Even if you’re not personally affected by COVID-19, there is widespread concern and anxiety. It’s important to support one another and listen.”
- Schedule virtual get-togethers that are purely social. “Every week we host a global happy hour for everyone to grab a drink and have a laugh,” Kelly says. “It occurs Friday afternoon for our west coast employees and Saturday morning for our Australian colleagues. We’ve had great success and it’s been a fun way to get to know people you wouldn’t normally work with.”
Managers and Zoom
Managers, in particular, need to pay attention to how their participation on Zoom and other similar apps can impact their personal brand. Rosina Racioppi, President and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, recommends that managers:
- Pick up on clues on how others are perceiving them. “Are they paying attention, multi-tasking while you are talking—you may need to change up your talk.”
- Be careful with their tone.
- Be careful managing the personal parts of their lives—like when kids pop up on the video. Showing how you can manage work/life balance supports your ability to manage in general, she says. “Don’t freak out if your child walks in front of the camera.”
- Take care of how you look on the camera. “Be groomed, don’t show up in a sweatshirt and look the camera in the eye—not at yourself.”
Ben Reynolds, CEO and Founder of Sure Dividend, shares these additional tips:
- Have your agenda planned out ahead of time. “This way you won’t drift too far off topic and everything important will be covered,” Reynolds says.
- Know your team. “Some groups might love adding games of ‘I Spy’ or a theme meeting where everyone wears their favorite hat. Others will feel insulted you’re wasting their time and they’ll want to keep everything professional.”
- Ask your workers for their ideas. “This is one of the best ways to help them feel involved.”
- Take an occasional break from routine. For instance, Reynolds suggests, “Send all your workers a bottle of wine and have an online tasting. Or send out Starbucks gift cards so everyone can show up with their favorite Grande.”
One Last, Extremely Useful Tip
Finally, here’s some advice from Kristen Brown, owner and CEO of Hoot Design Company: “We realized that one reason Zoom is so exhausting is that it forces you to look at yourself way more than usual,” she says.
“Think about it—you never stare at yourself throughout in-person client or team meetings! One woman on our team taught the rest of us how to actually hide our own images during Zoom meetings [from yourself, not other participants], which was a total game changer for many of us. This one, simple technique can eliminate some of the anxiety that often prefaces video calls.”