I have a three-year-old son named Xander. He’s adorable (most days) and he really loves superheroes. More specifically, wants to be the Flash. And if you know the Flash, you know that he travels at the speed of light.
So imagine my joy, after eight or nine hours of back-to-back Zoom meetings, when the first words out of my son’s mouth are: “will you go zooming with me?” Before I can answer, he grabs my hand and we run around the house as he says, “zoom, zoom, zoom.”
He picked the perfect mantra for these pandemic times, right?
While zooming means flying like the Flash to Xander, it now means something much more exhausting to adults. Every time I hear him say “zoom” in any context, I think of the good ole days when seeing live humans was the norm and zooming was only to help “speed up” our ability to have an in-person conversation.
I’m certainly not the only one feeling this way. According to the New York Times, our brains feel broken right now. We’re all suffering from a mental overload, which is exacerbated by our professional and personal lives melding together. It’s hard to be productive when you’re feeling foggy, but the fog just doesn’t want to lift.
So what to do?
The reality is that remote work is here to stay. I work with a number of large corporations and the general consensus is that we’ll move to a hybrid work arrangement once COVID’s behind us. The key is that we find a balance and establish boundaries so we can continue in this flexible work environment, without allowing the brain fog we’re all experiencing to become permanent.
So, I’ve put together a list of my favourite ideas to help us all battle Zoom fatigue. Hopefully a few of these sound fun and worthy of a try:
1. Establish a Meeting or Zoom Jester
One of the worst things that’s happened in the “workplace” as a result of the pandemic is us losing our sense of time. (Have weeks felt both slow and fast at the same time?) And team meetings can feel like a vortex of talking without end. Which is why we all need Meeting Jesters. Just like the Medieval Times Jester that we learned about in school, a Meeting Jester is there to “speak truth to power” and warn people when “they are monopolizing conversations or meandering.” You can lighten things up by having the Jester put on a funny hat to signal that time’s up, or say a funny word to alert someone to their rambling.
2. Set Up a Walkie-Talkie
Do yourself a favour, and set up some “walkie-talkies.” There is absolutely no reason for every meeting to be a video meeting. Yes, sometimes it’s nice to see coworkers’ faces. But sometimes it’s not necessary. Turn off your camera. Get away from your desk. Walk and talk.
One of my senior leadership clients has four director-level meetings on Fridays, and she’s encouraged those directors to take their meetings from somewhere other than their desk. The calls are audio only, and the senior leader has agreed to stay behind at her desk so she can take notes for each of those calls. This allows the directors to be walking or driving or sitting on their patio — whatever makes sense for them. The weekly check-ins are then more enjoyable and more memorable. When we break out of our daily routine, there’s a different association so the memories are anchored differently in the brain.
3. Trim Your Meeting Times
I’ve seen this more and more often, as it’s one of the simplest things we can do to improve our at-home workday. Limit your meetings to either 45 minutes or 25 minutes. We need a full five minutes away from our desks in between meetings, whether that’s for water or a washroom break or to get a coffee. To have downtime between calls can really improve focus and reduce fatigue. Ironically, more work gets done with less time on calls — amen to that!
4. Book a Full Hour for Lunch
Lunch hours were never really something I thought about pre-COVID, but about three months into the pandemic, I was noticing extraordinary fatigue. I started getting migraines and physical symptoms that I had never experienced before. That’s when I started booking an hour for lunch, which guaranteed me at least one hour “off” every day. The hour-long lunch gives my brain an opportunity to take a break. Sometimes I’ll take the last 20 minutes of my lunch to answer some emails or prep for my afternoon, but at least my eyes have gotten a break from the screen for 40ish minutes.
I purposely leave my office and go to the kitchen, where I make a healthier meal. It typically involves chopping fruits and vegetables. As we know, when we’re tight on time, we grab whatever’s fastest and easiest, not necessarily what’s healthiest. Having the time to hang out in a different area of the house and really focus on my nutrition while I enjoy my meal has helped with my brain fog. It also helps my brain segment the day more whereas when the pandemic started, I felt like I was the main character in a sequel of Groundhog Day.
5. Resilience Shares, Please
If you’ve made it through 12 months of a pandemic, you’re resilient. But these days, it often feels like we’re not.
I once worked with a mining company, and as I’m sure you’d guess, one of the company’s biggest challenges was safety. Mining is a dangerous industry. The leader I worked with opted to start every meeting with “safety shares” where employees would explain a recent situation in which they made a conscious choice to be more safety-oriented.
This gave me the inspiration for resilience shares, and now one of my clients starts their Friday meetings with them. Ask people to talk about their resilience shares on a regular basis, whether that’s a staff meeting or one-on-one check-ins. What are you doing today or this week to stay energized or increase your resilience?
For me, I used a recent lunch hour to work out. I didn’t want to, but I did, and it rejuvenated my whole afternoon. So, the resilience share would be admitting that. We should make that a normal thing to talk about. Instead of letting people secretly sneak away when no one is looking, we can develop a collective awareness and continued conversation around these ideas that makes them culturally acceptable.
Take a walk. Do the workout. Turn off your phone when you’re done for the day. It may not seem like it, but it’s your resilience peeking through.