We all know how it feels to be exhausted after a long day of work, but have you ever felt exhausted after a long day of virtual meetings? You might assume that working from home and taking virtual meetings is a relatively sedentary experience, but meeting fatigue appears to be a real phenomenon—and there’s research being done into what causes it and how we can try to avoid it.
- Virtual meeting fatigue definition
- What are the causes of virtual meeting fatigue?
- Virtual meeting fatigue symptoms: how to know if you have it
- Best practices to reduce virtual meeting fatigue
- How does virtual meeting fatigue influence remote work?
- The role of leadership in remote work communication
In this article we’ll take a closer look at meeting fatigue and why it’s on the rise, as well as how to spot it, how to reduce it, and how it can affect team performance. But first, let’s define meeting fatigue.
Virtual meeting fatigue definition
Virtual meeting fatigue isn’t a formally recognized medical term, but it’s used colloquially to describe the mental and physical exhaustion that can come from spending too much time on video calls—whether it’s for work, school, or socializing.
It’s not just virtual calls that can lead to this type of tiredness, but any kind of video call or virtual conference where you’re looking at yourself and other people on a screen for long periods, whether it’s on Zoom, Skype, Teams, or Google Meet.
What are the causes of virtual meeting fatigue?
There’s lots of speculation about what causes virtual meeting fatigue, but most of it relates to the fact that video calls can be a more mentally demanding form of communication than a traditional in-person meeting. Here are a few of the leading theories:
You might have heard the idea that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. While the accuracy of that figure might be impossible to prove, most people innately understand that our facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language all help us to communicate.
With in-person meetings, this type of nonverbal communication happens on autopilot, but on a video call, controlling these nonverbal cues becomes a more conscious effort. Our brains need to work harder to convey the same ideas.
While we’re constantly checking out our own facial expressions as we speak, we’re also processing the faces of every other attendee on screen at once.
During in-person meetings, the unspoken rules of human social psychology dictate how often and for how long we can make eye contact with others before something feels “strange.” On a video call, and when faced with a wall of blankly staring colleagues, these natural social cues get distorted. This can make virtual meetings feel strangely tense—attendees can feel simultaneously exposed and invisible.
Most people don’t realize quite how much they move around and fidget in the real world. During in-person meetings, focus and attention move naturally around the room like a wave, allowing non-active participants to shift their posture, look around, or even doodle in their notebook for a moment while still paying attention to what’s happening around them.
Virtual meetings don’t allow for this same level of mobility. Webcams lock participants into a small invisible box in a three-dimensional space, and without the benefit of eye contact, a rigidly attentive posture becomes the only means of communicating to others that we’re engaged and paying attention.
Anyone who’s had to host a virtual meeting in a busy home knows that distractions don’t stop just because you’re on an important call. During a virtual call, your eyes and ears have to juggle two streams of conflicting sensory input: one from your meeting, and the other from everything that’s happening around you in the real world.
This can be an exhausting amount of information for any brain to deal with. The sound of traffic, doors closing, fridges humming, or dogs barking can pull your attention in two opposing directions, creating extra work for your brain that eventually leaves you feeling zapped.
Virtual meeting fatigue symptoms: how to know if you have it
There’s no formal criteria for diagnosing virtual meeting fatigue, but there are some general symptoms that tend to be associated with it. These include:
- Feeling mentally and physically exhausted after a day of video calls
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention during video calls
- A sense of disconnection or loneliness after or during video calls
- A desire to avoid or limit video calls
Best practices to reduce virtual meeting fatigue
While it might not be possible for every team to completely eliminate virtual meeting fatigue, there are some things you can do to try to reduce it:
- Use video calls only when necessary. This might not always be possible, but if you can, try to limit the number of video calls you’re taking. You might be surprised how much can be accomplished over email or on an instant messaging platform like Slack.
- Schedule breaks between video calls. If you do need to be on a lot of video calls, schedule breaks in between. Get up and walk around, grab a snack, or just give yourself a few minutes to relax and reset.
- Turn off your video. If you’re not required to have your video on, don’t be afraid to switch it off. This can help reduce the mental load of having to constantly monitor your own facial expressions and body language.
- Don’t feel like you need to be “on” all the time. Just because you’re on a video call doesn’t mean you need to be actively engaged for the entire duration. Relax in your seat, look away from your screen, and stretch.
How does virtual meeting fatigue influence remote work?
All forms of fatigue can have a serious impact on team performance, both in terms of the quality of work that gets done and the overall morale of the team. Meeting fatigue is no exception.
When team members are feeling exhausted or burned out, they’re less likely to be productive or engaged in what they’re doing. This can lead to a decline in the quality of work, as well as an increase in absenteeism.
The role of leadership in remote work communication
Leadership plays an important role in setting the expected frequency and length of virtual meetings, and ensuring that they don’t become excessive. That means leaders and managers need to be aware of the signs of meeting fatigue and be able to address them with their teams when they spot it.
For example, they could help by encouraging team members to take more rest breaks on days with lots of virtual meetings, or provide more spaces where teams can meet up and collaborate in person rather than on screen.
WeWork designs flexible office solutions and on-demand meeting rooms built with collaboration in mind, creating customized workspaces to suit the way your company works. Whether you’re looking to downsize your existing headquarters or to work together in person and cut down on virtual meetings, WeWork provides beautifully designed, adaptable workspaces with flexible terms.
For even greater flexibility, WeWork All Access and WeWork On Demand let you and your teams access workspaces and meeting rooms in hundreds of locations across multiple cities, allowing everyone to work and collaborate wherever they are.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.