6 Ways to Recognize and Cope with Online Meeting Fatigue

Over the past year or so, many of us had to adapt to interacting through online video meeting software, which has proven challenging for those who were not the focus of attention at live meetings and in classrooms.

As new teachers and managers will tell you, front-of-the-room skills do not always come naturally. It takes practice to push through the nerves and speak in front of others. So you might expect seasoned presenters to be more comfortable in front of the camera during online meetings. However, this is not necessarily true, and online meeting fatigue has become a major contributor to burnout.

This is because there is a difference between looking at yourself in the mirror, being on camera, and seeing yourself among the audience.  Seeing yourself among the audience is incredibly distracting, and a big portion of the fatigue can emerge from ignoring this image of yourself.  

A laptop camera is not the same as a mirror

In the pre-lockdown universe I would joke with people about how I wouldn’t worry so much about how I looked as long as I was clean and presentable, since I only saw myself in the mirror each morning and they had to look at me the rest of the day.

An online meeting is not like a rehearsal

When I was face-to-face teaching at the college I would advise my students to rehearse their presentations by walking through them out loud, in private, and preferably in front of a mirror. Students who followed this advice did significantly better on their presentation assignments.   

Actors don’t watch their own live performances

Actors are trained to be in front of a camera. Wardrobe, hair and make-up preparations, and rehearsals contribute to an actor’s performance. Further, it’s not uncommon for actors to avoid watching their own movies.

6 common stressors, and practices to cope with the stress

Different personality types are impacted in slightly different ways and so have different effective ways of coping. These are 6 of the most common stressors.

Someone who feels best when the rules are being followed, and who will normally chide people for breaking the rules might feel additional stress due to some people turning off their cameras. Establishing the rules of cameras and microphones so these types are not in between, will alleviate stress. For instance, microphones muted, raise hand to speak, and letting them know it is their call as to whether you can turn on your cameras.

Someone who is comfortable with group practices, might feel stressed when some attendees have their cameras on and others have them off, and they’re not sure which group they should be in.  Naming the rules regarding camera and microphone usage, and offering private chat options during meetings will allow these participants to reassure each other.

Those who pride themselves in being good exemplars of behaviour might find stress occurring when it’s not clear what standard is being applied. Outlining the rules of attire, for example, will give them a choice as how to comport themselves with panache, helping them to ensure they meet or exceed standards.

Those with a helpful streak look at the screen and would like to coach others when they see something amiss or perceive the stress on other people’s faces, would feel stress from not being able to help. This type of stress can be offset by outlining rules of cameras and microphones, and offering private chat options during meetings so they can check in with others to get a feel for their mood and situation.  

People who feel that work is difficult enough during normal times, feel the additional burden of trying to do the work using new technologies, which handicap your ability to collaborate. Establishing the rules for cameras and microphones, and offering private chat options during meetings so they can tap their go-to colleague for assistance will help address this concern. Those who would drop by a colleague’s desk could feel at a loss in a remote work environment, since they can’t see them to gauge whether it is a good time to drop by without interrupting their concentration. Asking a quick question through private chat during an online meeting is a way of dropping by without disturbing concentration time.

People who like to focus on the work itself find themselves confronting a sea of faces looking at them as well as their own face among them, when they would really rather be focusing on the task at hand. Naming the rule regarding cameras, and sticking to an agenda will help offset this type of stress. If cameras are required to be on, preparing for the meeting and following along with the agenda enables these types to maintain focus on the subject matter and timing of the meeting.

In summary, there are many different personality types attending meetings who are stressed for different reasons, and following a few practices can help alleviate some of this stress.

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