Zoom fatigue – It’s a thing, and here’s how to fight it

The world’s new “staff meeting room”

The challenges of working from home are many, from trying to keep yourself motivated to the many distractions around you. We have covered some of these challenges and how to overcome them in an earlier post. And now that you have figured out how to overcome some of these challenges, you are hit with something new – Zoom fatigue.  

A recent study by global staffing firm Robert Half shows that:

  • 44% of workers say they’ve experienced video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic
  • 22% noted that the practicality and novelty of video conferencing has worn off over the past eight months
  • 15% confirmed they find virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting and prefer to communicate via other channels, like email or phone

This apathy towards video conferencing has led many researchers to name this phenomenon “Zoom fatigue”. Though I must say that this is unfair to Zoom, as Zoom is just one of the tools used for video conferencing. So, when I say Zoom meetings, I mean all the video conferencing tools and applications. 

Fatigue/stress can manifest from many different sources

So, why is Zoom fatiguing?

To answer this question, let us first understand fatigue. I hope I won’t lose any of you here as this part will get a bit technical (I kind of dozed off researching this bit as well). According to Doctor Jena Lee, MD, a psychiatrist with UCLA Health, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center – a basic understanding of fatigue, neurologically, is through our Reward Pathway, otherwise known as mesolimbic pathway, a dopaminergic pathway in the brain. This is the part of the brain that is concerned with activating our body to counteract fatigue.

Mesolimbic Pathway, otherwise known as Reward Pathway

In our brain, rewards increase alertness, energy, and motivation, which reduces fatigue. Every decision we make, even unconsciously, tries to maximise rewards over cost. For example, if you are deciding on a book to read, the cost is the time and effort you spend reading, and the reward is the enjoyment of the book. So, our brain ensures we pick something good to read. 

What is the difference between reading a book all day or binge-watching a show and Zoom meetings? Why do you feel fatigued after a day of Zoom meetings and not from the others? The simple answer is, most often than not, our mind does not perceive a reward at the end of a Zoom meeting. Our minds are not made that way. When there is a personal social interaction, our mind perceives it as a reward, but not in the case of a Zoom social interaction. 

Personal social interaction is perceived as a reward

In the case of personal social interaction, the reward is not from what is being said but from the body language, energy, environment, and other non-verbal cues. We don’t see much of these cues on video, hence putting in more effort. If you look at a video conference, most of the time, each individual will be doing his/her thing, just put the call on mute and only respond when prompted, and not to mention the number of technical difficulties and slow internet connections. No wonder that people lose interest. And after all this, there is still no reward at the end of it; you just have to attend more meetings and get more work to be done. It can all get so tiring!  

Another drawback of working from home is that you are glued to the chair (bed) all day. There is very minimal movement, no circulation. Our body is basically asleep. 

How do we fix this?

  • Make our interactions more personal, not just work, work, work. Ask how the other person is? Share what is stressing you out. The thing about Zoom calls is they end immediately after the meeting. We have stopped building relations with our co-workers. Remember how life was when there used to be a personal meeting; people used to break for lunch or coffee or even just a smoke break and talk to each other. 
  • If you have a day full of meetings, do something physical and non-work-related between Zoom calls. Just walk around your neighbourhood and see what is happening.
  • Change the environment. If you are just in one room making calls and going from one Zoom meeting to another, it might start feeling like you are in prison. So, move around the house, go to the garden or a nearby park (as long as it doesn’t distract from your call).

While these three points might sound simple, they may be challenging for you and might not be what you require. You know your stress points and judge for yourself if you need professional help. Don’t forget; this past year has been stressful for almost everyone in many different ways, and stress has manifested itself in several different ways. 

Stay safe. Stay healthy. 

Celebrating Women’s Day 2021 – Overcoming challenges women face in today’s online workforce and how men can help!

There are so many internationally recognised “day’s” – Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, even Groundhog Day. But of all the “day’s” that we celebrate, Women’s Day is probably the most important!

It is 2021, and women still have to fight to be recognised, respected and, in many cases, to be paid the same as men. It is really sad! And this at a time that we consider ourselves educated and enlightened, i.e., more than any previous times in human history. Please comment below (especially our gentlemen readers) why you think this gender inequality still exists, especially in a professional work environment.

A female, holding up a sign protesting that she earns less than a “him”, for the same work

It doesn’t bode well when we consider that the United States of America, considered by some to be the epitome of Western civilisation, modern sensibility, and equality for all, only now has elected her first female vice-president. While it is something for all women to celebrate, one must consider that the US is approximately 245 years old, a democracy since its founding, and they still haven’t elected a woman president.

Kamala Devi Harris, 49th Vice President of the United States

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. COVID-19 has turned the way we live and work on its head. While most people have adapted and embraced the work-from-home reality, the one group of people this has been a real challenge for is the working mothers. Let’s face it, in a vast majority of household globally, the mother is the one on whose shoulders the home rests.

While this post is dedicated to all women, it is specially dedicated to the tireless working mothers of the world. While all of us have faced challenges during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this is especially true for working mothers. With the lockdown forcing us into isolation, shutting down schools and day-care, and other entertainment outlets, working mothers had to meet their professional commitments and deadlines while having to do most of the household work, childcare, homeschooling the children and cooking. A 2020 survey by Women in the Workplace states that in America, during the COVID-19 crisis, women—and mothers in particular—are taking on an even heavier load. Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. In fact, they’re 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare—equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job (Source: WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE: THE IMPACT OF COVID-19).

A working mother

All of this added pressure inevitably leads to underperformance, stress, and job insecurity, leading to early burnout. And that is just the professional toll, there is also a personal toll, a feeling of being a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad provider. Shockingly the same survey also found that one in four working mothers are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether just to cope with the additional stress COVID-19 has added. 

So, what can we (men) do to help? How can we (men) empower the hard-working women around us, especially working mothers, so that we don’t lose their talent from the workforce, thereby regressing humanity to the dark ages and demoralising our daughters? The following are just my thoughts; please feel free to add to them in the comments.

  • Be inclusive Let’s face it, most of the workforce is still male-dominated and male-centric. It was hard enough for a woman to be heard over all the machismo during an in-person meeting, but it is now even harder to be heard during a virtual meeting. So, make sure you encourage your female colleague and make sure she participates and her voice is heard.
  • Be encouraging Most working mothers have the additional challenge of looking after the kids while attending a virtual meeting. This could result in background noise or participating in a video call without turning on the video (I do that all the time) because either she or the house or the kids are a mess, just to list a couple. All this could irritate some of your other colleagues. Play defence for her, explain to your colleagues the additional challenges of being a working mother and ask for their understanding. At the same time, explain to her that it is alright and that you understand the challenges she is facing. Sometimes all it takes is a little understanding.   
  • Share information Make sure you share all the information she needs to get her job done. With all the data sharing that happens in today’s virtual work environment, there may be times when your female colleague might not have access to all the data she needs to complete her work, or she might have just forgotten where to retrieve the data. Whatever the reason, you don’t lose anything by being a little more helpful. Be approachable and encourage her to ask for help too if needed. 
  • Be fair All these points might make it sound like the working mother is incapable of dealing with the additional pressures at home and hence you should not give her much work. Do not insult her intelligence or work ethic, and do not assume. Distribute work as you usually do but encourage her to say no if it is too much. Talk to her about her career path and what she needs to do to progress on it. 

These are challenging times for all of us, and we should ensure that we keep moving forward. Be inclusive. Work towards equality for all.

We at Robert Kennedy College are proud of our female colleagues and working mothers. Wishing everyone a Happy Women’s Day 2021!

Chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our Education Advisors for more information on all the management and business law programmes we offer, the application process, and details on discounts we might offer at this time. 

Working from home… 5 ways how to avoid the “Aaaaaaaagggh” feeling!

Not all of us wanted to work from home. Some of us actually enjoyed getting up in the morning, making breakfast, dropping the kids at school and then driving to work. We enjoyed meeting our co-workers (some of whom might have even been our friends, or better still, our arch nemeses!), socialising over a bad lunch at the cafeteria, meeting friends for drinks (or coffee) after work, and finally, getting back home at the end of the day for a good night’s rest.

Meetings with co-workers

On the other hand, some of us have dreamt our entire work life of working from home, waking up late, dropping the kids off at school in our pyjamas, not being stuck in traffic, not having to see the face of that irritating co-worker/boss, and having the time to explore other hobbies and interests.

Whatever your preference, COVID-19 has ensured that we all need to adjust to a new way of working. And for most of us, that way is to work from home.

Even after this pandemic becomes history, the impact of COVID-19 on the way we work and live will continue to remain. How we live today (or at least a version of it), might become the norm. So, understanding the challenges of working from home, and how best to overcome them, is important for us to continue to be as efficient and productive as working from an office.

The new norm

Challenges

When the day becomes the night and the sky becomes the sea, When the clock strikes heavy and there’s no time for tea.

Cheshire Cat, Alice Through the Looking Glass

COVID-19 has not only forced some of us to work from home but has also made us an island unto ourselves, forcing us all to stay isolated and locked in our homes. Now, man by nature is a social creature and even those of us who worked from home before the pandemic still had the option of going out and socialising to their hearts’ content.

All of this is no longer possible. Social distancing is what needs to be followed by us to truly beat this pandemic. But the result is that every day starts to feel the same, bleeding into each other, there is very little to break the repetitive cycle. In addition, for those of us who were thrust into working from home, the merging of the workspace with the living space proved to be an additional challenge to overcome.    

Working through social distancing

Going to the office provided us with a structure – get to office on time, morning meetings with the team, understand the goals to achieve on the day, check emails, coffee break, work, lunch, work, may be an evening meeting with the team to recap, and then go home. But with this structure removed, as a result of working from home, one of two things might happen:

  1. lose track of time and goals achieved, overwork yourself and burnout quickly or
  2. lose focus, get stuck doing busy work and don’t get any real work done

The following are 5 simple steps that you can follow that might help you overcome some of these challenges

  • Dedicated workspace: The first thing you need to do is create a dedicated workspace. Remove all distractions from this area and keep everything you will normally need to do your work close to you. Maybe set it up similar to the workspace at your office. If possible, set up the workspace in a room that no one else uses, a room with a door. Closing a door behind you can make a big difference to creating an effective and dedicated workspace.
  • Dedicated worktime (schedule): Even those of us that don’t actively keep a schedule or a calendar, inevitably follow a semblance of a schedule when we work from an office. Get to office in the morning, review the tasks that need to be done by the day’s end, monitor the progress of the tasks that need to be completed by the end of the week/month/year, do busy work like checking emails and other non-critical tasks, work on critical tasks, go on breaks (lunch, coffee, etc.), and finally windup for the day. So, a good way to focus is to pretend that you are still working from an office. Create a schedule that is similar to your workday. Start by assigning a time to begin work and a time to end the workday. Determine the tasks that need to be completed by the end of the day/week/month and review where you currently stand and what needs to be done to stay on schedule. Take a break for lunch and coffee, like you would do at office, but do not exceed the break time.
  • Set boundaries: This step might be a little emotionally difficult. Getting your family, especially kids and pets, to understand that you are working and not having a day off might be a little difficult in the beginning. But once they understand your schedule and that the workspace is for you to work, over time they will give you space to work.
  • Celebrate the accomplishments: Many of you might not have noticed it, but at the office, when you complete a task and it is submitted to your manager for review, or announced in a team meeting (or for sales people, when you reach your target), there is a weight that is lifted from your shoulders. When you work from home, for the most part, you are on your own. There is no one acknowledging your success or failures on a regular basis (at least not as regular as in your office), and there is no relief to that weight on your shoulders. So, figure out ways of doing this yourself. When you have successfully completed a task, realise that you have, and acknowledge this fact! Stand up and dance like nobody’s watching!
  • Use the extra time: You are working from home, that means you will have extra time on your hands. On top of that, COVID-19 has enforced self-isolation and social distancing. So, breaking the monotony is important to remaining focused, motivated and sane. Take up something that will challenge you, something that you always wanted to do but never had the time before, something that will push your boundaries. Maybe learn how to cook/bake, workout and get fit (haha), do online programmes and learn new things, may be get that degree you have always wanted.

If you have been thinking about doing a master’s degree, to challenge yourself and keep motivated, while at the same time being better qualified and prepared for the challenges to come, have a look at our list of programmes and see if we have anything that could help.

You can also chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our Education Advisors for more information on the programme that is right for you, the application process, and for information on discounts we might be offering at this time.