How to prevent video conferencing fatigue: Make online meetings more productive

Ring Central Blog


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9 min read

Online conferences and in-person meetings are fundamentally different from one another.

Working from home has transformed from a highly sought-after job perk to a bottom-line expectation.

Employees who used to travel from meeting to meeting are now relying on video conferencing technology to interface with customers, vendors, and team members. Free from the hassle of traffic and interoffice travel, these people are filling their schedules with back-to-back meetings supported by digital technology.

Until they burn out.

It turns out that scheduling back-to-back virtual meetings all day actually reduces productivity. This is true even for people whose pre-pandemic workday involved hours of back-to-back meetings.

Employers everywhere are starting to ask, “What’s the difference between video conferencing and in-person meetings?”

It turns out there’s plenty different. Employees whose jobs depend on productive meetings need to treat online meetings differently than in-person ones. For many businesses, preventing video conferencing fatigue is the best way to mitigate the risk of workplace burnout.

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What is Video Conferencing Fatigue?

Video conferencing fatigue, also called virtual communication fatigue can drag productivity down for entire teams. It is caused by prolonged, excessive use of platforms. This kind of fatigue presents itself in several ways:

Each of these symptoms can take a serious toll on anyone’s quality of life, and they will rapidly decrease the productivity of teams that rely on digital meetings and video conferences. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to combat video conferencing fatigue the moment it starts setting in.

1. Lack of Focus: Signs and Solutions

People lose focus in real-life meetings, too. But in a digital environment, it becomes a much more difficult problem to deal with.

In the office, it’s relatively easy for someone to catch up after losing focus for a moment. At any given moment, there are numerous side-conversations going on, and ample opportunity to communicate contextual clues silently.

In the digital environment, getting back on track after a momentary lapse in focus is hard to do. The more it happens, the harder it becomes to remain focused. In the end, it becomes a cyclical, self-reinforcing problem.

The digital medium adds additional layers of complexity to the problem. In a real-life meeting, it’s perfectly acceptable to look out the window for a few moments to gather your thoughts. In a digital video conference, looking anywhere other than at the screen indicates a lack of interest.

This is an especially tough problem for employees who need to interact with customers. Every customer believes (rightfully) that they deserve your absolute and undivided attention. They don’t appreciate companies that can’t deliver.

There are several things that employers can do about team members who appear to be losing focus during digital meetings:

meeting value calculator

2. Chronic Irritability: Signs and Solutions

In-person meetings are relatively simple operations. You get everyone into a room, have the host present the subject, and then start discussing it. Unforeseen complications are rare, beyond the occasional projector mishap.

The digital meeting environment is significantly more complex. Network glitches, dropped connections, spotty Wi-Fi, and badly timed software updates can all get in the way of an online conference.

To make matters worse, many of these problems are highly technical in nature. The average non-IT office employee simply doesn’t have the expertise to troubleshoot the dreaded, “Please check your network connection” error message.

Technical problems are among the leading causes of workplace burnout in the digital office. Even something as simple as having to check your microphone by asking other attendees if they can hear you gets annoying when you have to do it a dozen times per day.

This kind of irritability often remains hidden for a long time. Nobody wants to be unpleasant, so they bottle in their frustrations and neglect to communicate them until some minor inconvenience makes them blow up. It happens all the time, but there are a few things that you can do to mitigate the risk:

3. Reduced Input: Signs and Solutions

Another way communication fatigue can set in is through reduced participation in digital meetings and events. Some people will respond to the unique pressures of maintaining focus in an online environment by simply becoming passive.

They will say less, offer fewer opinions, and generally let the meeting pass by with as little participation as possible. From a managerial and quality-of-life perspective, this is problematic.

It’s difficult to “pass the baton” in a digital environment. In a brick-and-mortar meeting room, it’s easy to shift attention between facilitators and attendees. The moment a speaker looks at someone else, everyone else in the room will shift their attention to that person. Most people will understand the social cue and respond appropriately.

In the digital environment, the only way to do this is by calling out attendees by name. The problem with this approach is that the initiative to speak is still controlled by the current speaker – it’s not easy to interrupt to ask a question, even if asking that question will improve the value of the meeting for everyone involved.

There are a few things that organizations can do to improve meeting input from participants. Having more active meeting attendees will result in far fewer cases of workplace burnout:

4. Headaches, Migraines and Sore Eyes: Signs and Solutions

In most cases, when meeting attendees start getting headaches, it’s a sign that their eyes are getting sore. You may hear people complaining of an irritating, dry-eyed sensation immediately after closing a video call. This discomfort can worsen over time, leading to painful headaches, migraines, and even eye conditions.

Computer Vision Syndrome is often the culprit. Digital eye strain can cause a wide range of problems in people who have to focus intently on a screen for hours at a time. In the past, this condition was largely limited to programmers and other office employees who spent most of their time behind a screen. Now it is becoming commonplace at every level of the organization.

In normal conditions, the average person blinks 12 times per minute. When using a computer, that number drops to five times per minute. The discomfort of dry eyes can lead to blurry vision, which then confuses the brain – especially as it tries to decipher small text on a web browser – creating the perfect conditions for a bad headache.

These problems can exacerbate communication fatigue for people who have to attend digital meetings all day. Consider implementing some of the following solutions for your meeting facilitators and attendees:

Make Collaborative Video Conferencing Software the Core Of Your Strategy

Choosing the right communication tools will significantly shape your ability to collaborate effectively. Many of the items of advice listed above focus on how innovative video conferencing features can help reduce workplace burnout, improve the focus of meeting attendees, and mitigate some of the most common problems video meeting hosts face. The more engaging your meetings are, the more productive your employees and team members will be.

Originally published Jun 08, 2020, updated Jun 23, 2021

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