It happened to me the other week. I was looking forward to participating in a virtual community gathering, but I was burnt out from staring at my screen all day. I'd had many back-to-back zoom meetings plus all the normal screen time work like email, projects, etc. By the end of the day I literally felt like my head was spinning when I looked at the screen.
There was no way I could engage in more screen time, I had to bow out.
I've heard similar stories from friends and colleagues. Clients telling me how overwhelmed they are with all their meetings being on zoom now. Colleagues offering amazing opportunities for professional development and the responses? Crickets. Why? Because, we're all getting tired of managing our careers and lives remotely.
This burnout is an important thing for leaders to address directly with their teams. It's best to be proactive, have conversations and help set boundaries. We already know that too much screen time while working can lead to many problems, between lost productivity to repetitive strain injuries.
That doesn't even address other challenges. How do you create a sense of connection among your team when people can no longer bump into each other getting coffee and talk about their weekends?
I find that it's not just the act of staring at the screen that's exhausting, it's also the nature of how remote team meetings and training experiences are happening. It's all work, all business with no time or space for getting personal. That's not only draining but it depletes morale and erodes trust.
There's ample evidence that we need to feel a sense of connection to have trust at work. And that trust is imperative for a team to work together to effectively solve complex problems (like how to COVID proof a business).
So, what's a leader to do?
Establish boundaries around virtual meetings - To a degree, this problem is an old one dressed up in a new outfit. "Too many meetings" has long been a challenge for many professionals. Calling and holding meetings feels like a great way to be productive. But so often they are a waste of time because there's no clear purpose or objectives for the meeting. It becomes all talk and no action. Leaders need to show their team when a meeting is necessary and when it's not. They need to teach team members how to lead effective meetings. It also might be useful to put specific limits on when zoom meetings can or cannot happen. Rules like no meetings between 8-10am or after 4pm ensures that team members are getting the time needed to manage their productivity effectively.
Encourage the use of other remote collaborative tools - Team members can accomplish a lot working together outside of meetings using tools like Slack or Asana. In the event a conversation is needed between two people, there's also this really old fashioned tool called a telephone. While it's nice to be able to see colleagues on video, it's not always necessary (and excessive video chat can be exhausting). A lot can be accomplished with a simple phone call. This all goes back to having a clear, shared understanding of the purpose and desired outcomes for a meeting before putting it on the calendar. Not everything that needs to be discussed and hashed out requires a meeting. Sometimes the pace of collaborating via other tools enables space for more creative and innovative thinking.
Make time for non-work related points of connection - If you're a part of a tight-knit team, chances are remote working is taking a toll on your sense of connection. When you're used to celebrating birthdays or grabbing lunch together, it's just not the same now. Because chance encounters are not happening in the land of remote working like they were before it's really important to create space for meaningful, personal connection. You might consider reaching out to your team to ask how they're feeling about working remotely. Those conversations will also enable you to get their ideas for ways to create a sense of connection remotely. I've seen teams host video lunches where people are not allowed to talk about work. Other teams have hosted virtual happy hours. Another option might be to do put time for personal check-ins on the agenda.
Remote working and virtual meetings will not be going away anytime soon. That's why it's so important for leaders to proactively help their teams get the most out of video collaboration. The consequences of doing nothing, misunderstandings, lost morale, distrust, boredom, disengagement - just to name a few - are a lot more costly (in time and money) than it is to invest a few minutes in helping your team to adapt.
What are you doing to help your team adapt and thrive during this time?