Learning & Development

The (Preventable) Reason Virtual Meetings Are So Exhausting

Why is it that remote meetings can feel so exhausting? After all, many meeting attendees these days are literally able to simply roll out of beds and log in. That’s in sharp contrast to the “old days” of spending an hour getting ready for work and taking a long commute just to make it to the meeting on time.

A new study, though, helps shed some light on the cause of virtual meeting fatigue.

Why Are Remote Meetings So Exhausting?

Recent research from Aalto University, led by Assistant Professor Niina Nurmi, challenges the common belief that virtual meeting fatigue stems from mental overload. Instead, the study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, suggests that sleepiness during virtual meetings is often a result of mental underload and boredom.

The research involved measuring heart rate variability among 44 knowledge workers across nearly 400 meetings, in both virtual and face-to-face settings. Findings indicate that workers who were less engaged in their work, or not enthusiastic about their work, found virtual meetings particularly tiring. Researchers attributed the fatigue to limited cognitive cues and sensory input attendees get in virtual settings, especially when cameras are off. This can lead to under-stimulation and a tendency to multitask, which can be taxing for the brain.

Tips and Strategies for Less Tiring Virtual Meetings

Fortunately, there are some things organizations and meeting leaders can do to help minimize the drain that virtual meetings may cause.

  • Be aware. An important step is simply being aware and acknowledging that, yes, virtual meetings can be taking.
  • Encourage active participation. Plan meetings to include some kind of interaction and active participation among attendees. This might include small group discussions, interactive Q&A or the use of pools and quizzes.
  • Limit meeting times. Keep virtual meetings short and to the point. Shorter meetings reduce the likelihood of participants’ attention wandering, helping to maintain focus, energy levels, and engagement.
  • Take breaks. If a meeting must be long, split it up and schedule in a few quick breaks. This can help participants rest their eyes and move around a bit to renew their energy.
  • Have a camera-on-policy. Yes, it’s controversial and many may not like being on camera, but the visual engagement this provides can help keep participants more engaged while mimicking the interactions of a face-to-face meeting.
  • Vary your presentation techniques. Don’t just “talk at” meeting participants. Mix it up with varying presentation styles—slides, videos, live presentation, etc.
  • Don’t multitask! Discourage multitasking during meetings. Ensure that the meeting agenda is engaging enough that participants don’t feel the need to focus their attention elsewhere.
  • Make it personal. Maximize engagement by using participants’ names and interacting personally with attendees. This creates a sense of involvement and reduces the feeling of being just another face in the virtual crowd.

Virtual meetings don’t have to be a source of fatigue. By recognizing the potential to drain your audience and taking explicit steps to keep them engaged, you can get more out of your meetings—and your team members.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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