During the Covid 19 pandemic, Zoom became the de facto way for many organisations to run meetings – with both internal staff and external clients.
Often, participants come away from these meetings feeling drained and stressed, without really knowing why. Zoom meetings have been compared to modern-day seances: “Can you hear me?”, “Is anybody there?”, “Are you frozen or just sitting really still?”
Although it can be a very useful tool when used properly, Zoom does need some thought and planning to be truly effective.
Catherine Skelly works for FMN, an online marketing company that runs a portfolio of casino and sports betting sites.
Catherine writes: Meetings are a vital part of our day to day operations. Running our sites requires a lot of planning, scheduling and decision-making, whether via internal team meetings, negotiations with third party operators or outsourcing to freelancers. In the past, these would have all been conducted face to face, either at our premises or on-site with the clients. When the Pandemic hit in March 2020, we quickly had to switch all our meetings to Zoom and, to be completely honest, it took us a while to find our feet.
Even though lockdown is due to end in the next few months, it seems that more and more companies will be moving to at least a hybrid model of home and office working, so Zoom will be with us for a while longer!
If you’re still struggling with Zoom meetings, I’d like to suggest seven ways to reduce the underlying stress of online communications – tips that we learned the hard way!
1. Get comfortable
It may sound obvious, but many of us have found ourselves conducting Zoom meetings from workspaces that were not really designed for online communication and which are far from fit-for-purpose.
Take the time to redesign your workspace ergonomically – ensure your chair is at the right height, that your keyboard and mouse don’t need you to stretch out your arm, that the screen is at or just below eye level. Do some test calls to check that your microphone and speakers are at a comfortable level so you’re not deafening people or straining to be heard.
2. Prepare documents
The Zoom screen share function can be really useful for collaboration, but there’s nothing more frustrating than staring at your screen, waiting for a document to load. Or, if you’re the one sharing, the embarrassment of watching Microsoft Word load up while everyone sits staring blankly at you.
A little pre-planning can go a long way here. Either pre-load the documents you’ll be wanting to share in the meeting, or email them to all participants ahead of time.
3. Have an agenda
Compared to a face to face chat, where we can pick up non-verbal cues from each other, Zoom meetings can feel slightly unreal and remote. There’s always a danger that things can descend very quickly into chaos, where people start to interrupt and speak over each other, a bit like a Trump / Biden debate. As Zoom cuts out all but one speaker, valuable information can easily get lost or have to be repeated. “Sorry, can you say that again? No, not you, Jim, Sue. No, Sue, SUE!!”
Having a clear agenda – where everyone knows what is about to be discussed – reduces the anxiety participants sometimes feel when they think a relevant point may not be discussed.
4. Moderate and Facilitate
A way to avoid the above is to have a nominated moderator for the meeting who can call on participants to respond in an ordered way. It’s also useful to have someone to act as a facilitator and read comments in the chat box, or deal with incoming emails. The moderator should set the agenda (emailing all stakeholders prior to the meeting) and work through it in an orderly manner, ensuring all relevant points of view are heard before moving on to the next item.
5. Have a clear communications strategy
As mentioned above, having a clear communications strategy is key. Ensure participants know to only speak when they’ve been asked to by name. If they have a comment to make, they can use the ‘Raise Hand’ feature to let the moderator and facilitator know they have something to add. Communicating via Chat is also really effective and won’t stop the flow of the meeting. Participants can send questions via Chat to the facilitator who can then filter them through to the moderator where and when necessary. If you need group feedback, It’s easy to add approval or agreement via the Chat to All feature.
6. Keep meetings short
Although normal face to face meetings can extend into hours or even entire days, Zoom is disproportionately taxing. This is partly due to the release of Cortisol, a stress hormone which happens when you stare intently at one point for an extended period of time. Again, don’t try to emulate ‘normal’ meetings in Zoom. Arrange for meetings to be shorter and more focused. Take frequent breaks. If you can, stand up and move around the room (a Bluetooth headset is useful for this)
The advantage of this is that you’ll soon find that meetings are more effective – you may get fewer things done, but they’ll be done in much more detail, improving overall productivity.
7. Don’t keep looking at yourself
Although the Gen Z / Instagram generation may enjoy looking at themselves endlessly, those of us in slightly older age groups may not get quite the same thrill from having to stare at ourselves as we work. Although there are little tricks you can employ like ensuring you’re lit from the front and not the side (helps to reduce wrinkles!), apart from anything else, it’s completely unnatural and results in a form of cognitive dissonance, where your brain struggles to resolve conflicting stimuli.
A useful function – and one which we use constantly! – is the ‘Hide Self View’ option on Zoom where you can see the other participants, without having to endure the sight of your tired face staring back at you in confusion!
Hopefully these seven suggestions can help reduce unnecessary stress as we move into the ‘new normal’ of working in 2021 and beyond!