How I survive endless video conferences and Zoom calls

How I survive endless video conferences and Zoom calls

Video conferences are stressful. For an hour every twitch and drift in attention is on display for everyone to see. There’s no doodling or multitasking without it being seen and judged. We’re forced to look alert and engaged. Those of us who dislike being on camera find it exceptionally tough. 

Far from being a great boost to productivity, they can be demotivating and soul destroying. 

With remote working set to become more widely used, video conferencing is here to stay. Question is: how do you become more productive when they’re uncomfortable environments. 

Turn off the camera

No one wants to see the top of my head as I scribble down notes. Nor do they want to follow me around the room when I get up to stretch because I’ve barely moved for the past 20 minutes. I don’t want to spend an hour worrying about how I’m coming across. 

There are few (if any) circumstances where you have to be on screen. You can leave the camera on to wave hello to colleagues, then switch it off. 

Turn off the screen

Watching everyone can be equally distracting. Bob on the top right might drift off to sleep. Mariko on bottom left has a fascinating book shelf. If there are slides being used, keep them in focus, otherwise put Zoom, Skype or whatever app you’re using into the background. 

Take breaks

It’s easy to get dragged into back-to-back meetings. I’ve had days when I’ve gone from one conference call to another without a break. There’s an expectation that because you’re in your own home, you can move seamlessly between them. A full bladder (or getting something to fill it) escapes most. Few are aware of how we need time after the intensity of a conference call to process what was said. 

If you’re scheduling a conference, make it for 20 or 50 minutes instead of 30 or an hour. Give people a chance to collect their thoughts and move on. Accept invitations on the condition you need to leave “10 minutes” before the end to prepare for your next one. 

Say “no”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to join a video conference to be a part of the audience. Sometimes it feels like the virtual equivalent of a cc: on an email. If you’re unsure why you’re there ask for an agenda. If you don’t get one decline – it can’t be that important. 

Bottom line: stay in control

Video conferences have a different dynamic to meatspace meetings. They’re more demanding on our attention and arguably less productive for attendees. If you want to avoid the stress of being on camera or feeling obliged to stare at a screen for an hour, take control. Create a conference environment that works well for you – then stick to it.

About Ross A Hall

A business researcher and writer, I help companies find new markets, form strategies and build successful businesses.

Find out more about my work.

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