To say the Covid19 pandemic has upended business as usual is an understatement.
Suddenly millions of people used to going to an office everyday are finding themselves
meeting via apps like Zoom, Microsoft Team, or Skype while worrying about
homeschooling children, keeping in touch with family and friends, the new complications
of grocery shopping, and the stress of social isolation. A March 2020 Kaiser Foundation
survey has found that Covid19 stress is taking a toll on the mental health of America's
workforce, 1 in part because of what Psychology Today terms “high-intensity virtual
One of the simplest things a team leader can do in these times is to recognize and
minimize the additional stress of video conferencing. While these remote meetings might
be a great way to stay in touch and keep projects on track, both the physical and
emotional toll can be considerable.
The physical Toll of Screen Time
Excess screen time is known to the cause the following in adults:
Vision issues, including blurriness, eye strain, headaches and dry eyes.
Chronic neck and/or back pain from poor posture, sitting stationary for too long
Poor sleep. Blue light from screens impacts the hormone melatonin, causing sleep disruptions
Impaired cognitive function, leading to less efficient information processing
The Creations of Emotional Exhaustion
Emotional exhaustion due to Zoom fatigue can be caused by:
The need to be "on" for hours at a time
Feeling the need to look a certain way on screen
The idea of professional contacts getting a peak at our home environments -- not being able to "leave work at work"
Generalized Covid19 related worry making it difficult to concentrate
Appearing unprofessional while attempting to balance home/work demands
What Effective Leaders Can Do to Help Create a Manageable Video Conferencing
When planning Zoom or other video conferencing meetings, consider how much time your team is already spending in front of a computer.
Don't schedule back-to-back meetings. Give yourself and your team time to reset
between video appearances.
Schedule a beginning and an end to help employees with work/home time management.
Keep meetings as short and organized as possible. If your team is used to free-form meetings, now might be the time to introduce an agenda with discussion topics and deliverables.
Demonstrate professionalism by dressing business casual and keeping your own background clutter free (but not empty – you don't want to look like you're in prison)
Provide emotional support
- When you meet, recognize this is a strange time for everyone and that even generalized stress causes physical exhaustion.
- Encourage your team to take care of themselves.
- Allow employees a few minutes at the start of the meeting to touch base, and then encourage them to get in touch after the meeting to continue any extraneous conversations
Do not expect things to go smoothly. Be prepared for tech glitches, interruptions, missed deadlines or dropped balls, and responses that are perhaps more emotional than usual.
Promote patience and a spirit of generosity in yourself and among your team rather than being critical or impatient if things don't go right.
As a leader you are used to projecting strength, but don't do it to the detriment of your own mental health. It's okay to show vulnerability; in fact, it can be a way of demonstrating to your team that you really are all in this together.
At this stage we don't know how long our country will be social distancing, but for some
companies video conferencing could become part of a new normal. By embracing
patience and compassion, as well as the tips above, you will be better positioned to help
your team and your organization move through these uncertain times.