There’s much to love about working remotely—no commute, no dress code, no distracting hallway conversations. Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced most businesses into remote work, two years later, the benefits have proven too good for companies and their employees. A hybrid or fully remote team is now the norm.
Remote Team Work Started Slow, Then Productivity Soared
The initial shift to remote work came with numerous challenges, like how to monitor workers’ attendance and output. Most businesses simply didn’t have the technology and infrastructure in place to handle a mass work-from-home (WFH) movement.
Today, remote workers are more productive than their in-office peers, thanks to evolving technology and software that increase focus and efficiency and make it easier to keep a remote team connected. As a result, all industries, from customer service to IT, have seen increases in employee output.
Businesses that have embraced remote work have seen their revenue grow as well: 63% of high-revenue-growth companies give their employees the option to work remotely or on-site. Ditching eight-hour office days is popular among workers, too—83% want to work from home at least 25% of the time.
Despite the positive news surrounding remote work, some aspects of the office culture have taken a hit. For instance, it can be difficult to develop trust among remote teams, particularly between supervisors and direct reports. And while the ability to meet virtually should compensate for reduced in-person face time, this presents another challenge: how do you keep your remote team engaged during virtual meetings?
Let’s look at how virtual meetings stack up against in-person ones—and how Zoom fatigue may be driving worker burnout.
Virtual Meetings vs Face-to-Face
Meetings are a fundamental part of work and take up a great deal of time—the average executive usually spends a whopping 23 hours per workweek in meetings. Added up over a typical 45-year career, an executive should expect to devote a total of 22 years to work meetings. Unfortunately, this number doesn’t even include emergency meetings.
Of course, this statistic doesn’t diminish the importance of meetings. The purpose of team meetings is to keep team members on the same page. This connection became even more essential during the shift to remote work, which is why companies prioritized establishing virtual meeting systems for remote team members.
A remote-only company will have all virtual meetings, but what about one that has adopted a hybrid model? In-person and virtual meetings each have value, which managers need to understand as they decide the most effective format for team meetings moving forward.
Face-to-face meetings offer a number of advantages over virtual ones. For one, participants get to read not just fellow attendees but the whole room as well, which helps establish context for the meeting’s purpose. The in-person proximity also allows participants to strengthen their bonds with each other—being in the same room results in spontaneous shared moments virtual attendees don’t get.
In addition, in-person meetings require little-to-no technology and offer a setting where workers can exchange ideas more freely. Employees can also play off each other’s social energy for easier collaboration. In contrast, a technical glitch like a bad connection can ruin a virtual meeting before it can even start. For example, lagging sound or video can lead to a stilted conversation, so the meeting never quite hits its stride.
Virtual meetings promote a more inclusive environment within the organization. Even the team member living across the country can instantly join a virtual meeting simply by logging in. By reducing or eliminating travel costs for in-person meetings, a company can reduce its overhead costs by about $11,000. This savings is essential amid today’s tight economy and high fuel prices.
In addition, virtual meetings offer less distraction and background noise, allowing participants a better chance of focusing on the subject matter. However, maintaining a high level of engagement and interest during virtual meetings remains a challenge.
The Problem with Zoom Fatigue
A major drawback of virtual meetings is what’s popularly known as “Zoom fatigue,” named after the videoconferencing software that dominated virtual meetings during the pandemic. Zoom fatigue is the overwhelming exhaustion we feel when we attend too many virtual meetings at work. The condition is similar to the crushing feeling of spending a whole day at the office attending physical meetings.
However, Zoom fatigue appears to be more taxing compared to the regular aversion to office meetings. Stanford University researchers attribute the heightened burnout from video conference meetings to the following four reasons:
Excessive Eye Contact
Videoconferencing requires you to continuously look at your computer display, which shows multiple squares of your colleagues’ enlarged faces. This in itself is an unnatural way to look at fellow human beings—you don’t often have to make eye contact with multiple individuals at once. As a result, your brain is incorrectly interpreting these close-up faces as an intense situation that triggers a state of anxiety or arousal.
Seeing Yourself Too Often Is Tiring
Another unnatural occurrence during virtual meetings is the constant presence of yourself in your display window. In a given day, we don’t see ourselves that often or for that long, so our brains haven’t adjusted to this new normal. Plus, studies show that people who often look into a mirror are more critical of themselves.
Reduction in Mobility and Movement
Each virtual meeting participant is given a square-shaped window to represent their seat at the virtual table. Unfortunately, many people feel obliged to remain in that square and keep their movements small for the entire meeting. This boxed-in feeling can increase participants’ anxiety.
Increased Cognitive Workload
Finally, virtual sessions don’t provide the many social and contextual cues participants usually get from in-person meetings. Trying to pick out and respond to these cues virtually leads attendees to exert more effort and results in a cognitive overload.
Keeping Your Remote Team’s Attention During Meetings
Virtual meetings won’t be going away anytime soon. While there are some drawbacks, videoconferencing will remain a fixture among hybrid teams thanks to its low cost and global reach. The savings in travel budgets alone is more than enough to justify having video conference software on standby.
Companies should now focus on keeping remote team members engaged during virtual meetings. To do this, managers must strike the right balance of maximizing participation in virtual meetings while minimizing the chances of Zoom fatigue or disconnect.
Here are seven ways to increase participation from remote team members during virtual meetings:
1. Ask Questions That Involve Everyone
Individual remote team members display individual behaviors during meetings. For example, the introverted ones try to avoid getting called on for anything, while the extroverts use any chance they get to insert themselves into the conversation.
A great way to restore balance is to ask inclusive questions that require everybody to answer. The communicative ones will be more than willing to respond, and the quieter ones will get a chance to share their thoughts. If you find that your quiet team members still can’t seem to get a word in, ask them questions directly.
2. Personalize Meeting Rooms
If you’re meeting with your remote team, use this time to display your team colors. Instead of subjecting attendees to a plain, corporate meeting room, liven up the background with design elements that are meaningful to your team. It could be a recent, pre-pandemic team photo, your department slogan, team names, or inside jokes that everybody knows. This small but thoughtful gesture can spark conversations and strengthen the team’s bond.
3. For Longer Meetings, Try Splitting Into Breakout Groups
Nothing is more exhausting than meetings that go longer than expected. On average, meetings shouldn’t exceed more than 90 minutes, but sometimes extra long meetings can’t be avoided. In these circumstances, you might break up the meeting’s monotony and the audience’s restlessness by dividing attendees into small breakout or discussion groups.
Splitting into small groups serves two purposes. First, it encourages participants to recall what they learned earlier in the full meeting. Second, breakout groups ask members to collaborate and apply their knowledge and creativity to come up with solutions or suggestions.
4. Use Visuals
Instead of subjecting participants to a continuous broadcast of each other’s faces, display some related images to jolt them out of boredom or inattention. Adding visual elements also helps participants retain information better compared to reading static text or listening to the presenter. The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than plain text, which is why infographics, charts, or striking visual examples can help sustain your audience’s attention.
5. Incorporate Video
If still images can stir the attention of your remote team members during a virtual meeting, imagine what video can do. Contrary to claims that the average attention span is continually shrinking, Agility PR insists that people are instead more selective about what they pay attention to.
A truly compelling video can capture even the most selective viewer’s attention. It allows a presenter to provide short but engaging content that can leave the audience wanting more.
6. Add a Fun Activity
Starting a virtual meeting with an icebreaker or other fun activity can help perk up your participants and set their mood for the main part of the meeting. For example, the meeting host can ask a thought-provoking question that everyone has to answer. Or, you can introduce a hot topic, divide the team into two groups, and have them debate the best answer or solution. Once the majority of your team is engaged, you can start the meeting with fewer worries about their attention levels.
7. Be Mindful of the Time
Virtual meetings, like conventional meetings, should have a defined time limit. Participants often lose interest when they realize the meeting has become a long, drawn-out discussion. Tell your team when the meeting will start and end, then stick to that schedule. Starting on time lets you maximize the allotted period for the meeting, and ending on schedule shows you value everyone’s time.
Manage Your Remote Team Successfully With Helpware
As companies continue the shift to hybrid and remote work, virtual meetings will be an essential part of office culture. Take steps to ensure virtual meetings don’t cause your team additional stress. For instance, engage your team through icebreakers, include visuals to maintain interest, and start and end meetings on time.
Virtual meetings are just one element of remote team management that supervisors must contend with. At Helpware, we’ve found that part of successful remote management is devoting enough time for the team to communicate and interact with one another. This allows them to learn together, share ideas, and collaborate on solutions.
If your company needs help assembling and managing a remote team, turn to an outsourcing partner like Helpware. We have a rich history of providing back-office support for determined but cost-conscious companies. From recruitment and training to customer service, Helpware provides skilled personnel plus the tools that can take your company to the next level.
Learn more about how Helpware can provide your back-office support so you can focus on growing your company. Tell us more about your company’s needs, and we’ll suggest custom solutions for growing your staff through a remote team.