While online platforms for meetings are convenient, currently necessary, and can provide a measure of connection, if we depend on them too much, they can leave us feeling more disconnected, isolated, and depleted than we expect. This post looks at why this happens and offers some tips to curb the gloom of Zoom.
I remember when Facebook launched in 2006, I eagerly created a profile and began to connect. Not only was it a great way to connect with current friends, but I also reconnected with people I hadn’t seen or heard from in decades. The idea was simple, here’s a way to become more connected both locally and globally. Now social media have expanded to many platforms and is the target of much adoration and condemnation. It’s proven to be a tool used for great good and great harm. The letdown of social media is that its unregulated use causes anxiety, depression, a greater sense of isolation and disconnection.
In a similar vein, the sudden advent of online meetings, classrooms, and social gatherings are leaving many of us physically exhausted and emotionally drained, both of which were surprising to me. I mean, why do I feel more depleted when I don’t have to make the commute to the office, or wear pants? But I’ve felt it, too. I’m not saying Zoom meetings are linked to depression and anxiety on the same level as social media. Still, I am concerned at the level of what some are calling “Zoom Fatigue” because fatigue/exhaustion is connected to depression and each are believed to fuel each other.
We humans are wired for personal, emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual connection. Belonging to a community, fellowship over good food and drink, face-to-face conversation, physical touch, enriching spiritual interaction; these are life-giving aspects of our life together. When we don’t experience these through genuine human connection, the attempts to replicate them artificially can provide initial benefits, but become life-depleting over time as we work to compensate for the genuine connection that’s missing. Online video conferencing, like social media, is a companion to personal interaction, but cannot replace it. Thus, the advent of “Zoom Gloom.”
But in the reality of quarantine and social distancing, what to do? I think awareness of the information above and self-awareness of how you’re doing are key.
Listed below are some additional tips and practices to take the gloom out of Zoom.
- Plan your work and work your plan.
Since many Zoom meetings are scheduled, think through an agenda and set meeting goals. Do this old school, in a journal or legal pad. The physical motion of writing out the agenda and notes during the meeting is beneficial, even if you type them digitally later.
- Get Centered
This could be a few deep breaths, preparing your workspace, or meditation. For me, it’s a few moments of prayer. As a pastor, I’m usually heading into a meeting where the needs are great, so I call on help and hope from God. Whatever you do, remind yourself of what the purpose of the meeting is, and work your plan.
- Look in the “eye” and say hi
Make a deliberate effort to look at and personally welcome each participant as they enter the meeting. This means looking at the camera. Weird, but it’s powerful on the other end. Use the waiting room feature to let in a participant, call them by name, say hello, and do the same to the next participant. Look into the camera to interact with whoever is speaking. When someone else is speaking, look at them, like you would in person.
- Don’t Multi-task
Multi-tasking is a myth. Scientifically, it doesn’t exist. Our brains can switch between tasks but can only do one thing at a time. In live meetings, being on one’s phone or engaged in one’s laptop during a session is discouraged, so don’t do it in an online meeting. Taking notes is different. In fact, looking down to take notes is a sign of engagement. Remember, take notes by hand.
- Take Breaks
Try not to schedule back-to-back meetings. Give yourself 10-15 minutes between to re-center, use the restroom, stretch, rehydrate, snack, etc…
- Go Audio Only
One of the reasons Zoom can be so fatiguing is that we’re reading facial ques of multiple people without the context of what’s happening around them. I’ve done some meetings by speakerphone rather than Zoom, or with Zoom but without video. I’ve found it easier to listen and take notes this way.
- Don’t Cross the Streams
Okay, that dated reference from Ghostbusters refers here to the tendency many of us have to sit down for a Zoom meeting at the same place we use to Zoom with our parents or our book club. A change of scenery and location can really help curb Zoom Gloom. Have your workspace in a different place than your social space, or in another dated reference, keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool.
- Zoom Outside
If possible and practical, take your laptop or phone outdoors to your porch, balcony, or other outdoor space. It’s refreshing to others who might follow suit. You could plan for your whole team to Zoom outside. If you’re concerned about distractions, this method could be done with everyone going audio-only.
- Maintain your Routine and Professionalism
I joked above about not wearing pants. I was joking. John Krasinski, notwithstanding, you should dress for work. There’s something healthy about maintaining your regular routine that increases productivity and the sense of normalcy in this new normal. Get up, get dressed, get ready, and “go” to work.
Regarding professionalism, simply ask, what am I doing at home that I’d never do at work? Don’t meet in your bed, be sure to silence all the dings and buzzes from your phone/laptop. Be aware of and remove background items that could distract. And don’t swig Dos Equis during your meeting … unless that’s an acceptable thing.
- We will meet again
Let’s face it, there are some upsides and benefits to digital meetings. These, along with heightened sensitivity and concern for public health, means that digital tools will be here to stay post-quarantine. Just remember, digital tools are companions for interaction, but cannot replace genuine, in-person interaction. When facing Zoom Gloom, keep in mind that we’ll meet again in boardrooms, restaurants, churches, bars, gyms, and parks. As we’re alone together, be encouraged that soon we’ll be gathered together again.
 Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 37, No. 10, pp. 751-768.
 Skapinakis, P. Psychosomatic Medicine, May/June 2004; vol 66: pp 330-335.