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Remote working has become synonymous with back-to-back Zoom (ZM) meetings. Since the start of the pandemic, video calls have become a lifeline for many employers trialling working from home for the first time. As a result, however, home-workers have been inundated with so many video conferences that it coined a new phrase: Zoom fatigue.
It appears the tide is beginning to turn for video conferencing, however. Recently, the global investment bank Citigroup (C) banned work video calls on Fridays in an attempt to help employees escape the relentlessness of the "pandemic workday."
Jane Fraser, Citi’s new chief executive, told staff that the company would be introducing "Zoom free Fridays", limiting internal meetings among employees and encouraging people to take holidays in an attempt to tackle stress and exhaustion.
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Fraser also announced 28th May would be a company-wide holiday known as “Citi reset day” and encouraged staff to book more holidays.
“I know, from your feedback and my own experience, the blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our wellbeing,” Fraser wrote in the memo, which was first reported by Financial News. "It’s simply not sustainable."
Citigroup isn’t the only firm setting boundaries around video conferencing. Last year, the Texas-based company SailPoint Technologies Holdings Inc instituted a ban on meetings from 10am to noon every Tuesday and Thursday. Abby Payne, chief people officer at the Austin firm, said
“Zoom fatigue” was the main reason why they were reducing the number of meetings. So are employers falling out of love with video conferencing — and if so, why?
The ability to work from home has been a silver lining for many office workers during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, though, some companies have seemingly taken their bad habits and moved them online. Rather than improving employees’ work-life balance, remote working has increased the number of unnecessary meetings they are forced to sit in on.
Last year, a Harvard Business School study found work-from-home employees are working longer hours and attending more meetings than ever before, albeit virtually. An analysis of the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people found that the average workday increased by 8.2%—or 48.5 minutes—during the pandemic’s early weeks.
Employees also participated in 13% more meetings, although for less time than they did before COVID-19.
Zoom calls have become a blessing and a curse. For one, the perceived ease of video calls has increased the number of online meetings employees are attending. Instead of sending out a quick email, workers are having to sit through long, exhausting video calls while their children or pets cause havoc in the background.
Watch: The physical and mental side effects of Zoom fatigue
“The term ‘Zoom fatigue’ is the buzzword being coined and the moment, and there are a number of possible explanations for this,” explains Dr Linda Kaye, a senior lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University.
“One reason may be that most video calling platforms will include the user’s own camera view on the call screen. It is likely that this is enhancing our self-awareness to a greater level than usual, and therefore resulting in us making additional self-presentational efforts than in face-to-face interactions in the real world,” she says.
“Another explanation for fatigue may simply be from technical restrictions and our inability to be able to fully use the usual array of social cues and non-verbal communication.” On video calls, we have to pay extra attention to others’ behaviour and subtle social cues to interact with people effectively, which can be tiring.
“And then of course, it could simply be a volume issue. Without the need to travel and be co-present in various locations, we have greater capacity to schedule meetings and chats within our lives,” Kaye says. “Therefore we may be over-scheduling ourselves simply based on the fact we have more time available.”
For some employers, video conferences provide a chance to catch-up with workers, but fail to take people’s individual circumstances into account. Others may use Zoom calls in an attempt to keep tabs on how employees are using their time.
However, with trust an essential aspect to home-working, attempting to monitor people will rarely go down well. Instead, workers are more likely to feel frustrated and disengaged from their work, which will negatively affect their productivity.
Ultimately, while video conferences can be great for keeping in touch with remote workers, it’s essential for employers to be mindful. Communication is key for home-workers, but managers need to assess whether a Zoom call would be better summarised in a quick email. If not, give people as much notice as possible. If people are already struggling with a heavy workload, stick to an agenda and keep it short and concise, to avoid causing unnecessary stress.
Watch: Is working from home bad for the environment?