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Reducing ‘Meeting Fatigue’


Man showing fatique from too many video meetings
Image: Girts -
“Read the room” is a phrase you probably hear quite a bit if you have teen- or college-age kids. It seems to have caught on with them, probably because, even before the pandemic, they found themselves preparing to enter a world where many of their elders seemed fairly clueless about a lot of things.
Here in Month 5 of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S., all the rooms are virtual, which means they’re a lot harder to read. And that’s a big contributor to the very real phenomenon of “meeting fatigue,” according to new research just published by Microsoft and described in a blog by Jared Spataro, corporate VP for Microsoft 365.
Studies by Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab found that “brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails,” Spataro writes. “Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration, fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a meeting.”
“Several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue,” he continues. These include “having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with.”
We naturally look in two places to alleviate these challenges: Common sense and better technology. Spataro’s post covers the common sense part, recommending shorter meetings and regular breaks. Microsoft attacks the technology angle with a couple of new features, called Dynamic view and Together mode. The latter tries to literally break out of the boxes that confine people in a video meeting; instead of the camera’s natural square frame, people’s images are traced and lifted out, to be placed into “seats” in a virtual auditorium.
I start out a little skeptical about Together mode. Think about the fun backgrounds that everyone was using a few weeks back; that was the hot feature that Zoom had and Microsoft rushed to match. I don’t know about your meetings, but in the ones I attend, the novelty of those backgrounds seems to have worn off — plus the edges of people’s heads look weird if they move too fast. Imagine looking at a group in which where people aren’t relating to the space that they appear to be in — an auditorium, all together — but the space they’re actually in, i.e., their homes, which you no longer can see.
You have to applaud the effort to make video meeting spaces more human, but I don’t know how much you can really do to help people read a room that’s not really there. It’s an interesting challenge and one we’re likely to continue facing as this pandemic drags on. Which is why I’m really glad we’ve got a couple of sessions around this topic in our Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo the week of Aug. 3. Both are led by Ira Weinstein, founder and managing partner of Recon Research, the leading technology analyst in the video/audio-visual space.
Ira’s first session, “How to Help Employees Get the Most from WFH,” deals directly with the issues I’ve discussed here — how you work at the intersection of technology and common sense to make work-from-home more productive and bearable. And his second session, "Meeting Rooms & the New Normal," aims to help enterprise leaders prepare for the time when employees will start to return to the office, and how your legacy meeting rooms will have to be adjusted to accommodate the new demands of the not-yet-post-Covid world.
These two sessions, along with the rest of the program, are free to attend. The event will help enterprise decision-makers, especially those in IT, plan their strategies for supporting both remote work and the systems that undergird all of our communications technologies. We’d love to have you join us — you can sign up here.