Our offices look a little different these days.
Lunch breaks are two-minute sandwich cram sessions, coffee breaks have turned into 10-second walks from the dining room to the kitchen and the only way we “unplug” is when we literally unplug our devices at the end of the day. These days, we don’t even do that much unplugging, as we go from video meeting marathons during work hours to video chats with family and friends after work.
Many of us suffered from meeting overload before the coronavirus, often dealing with meetings that could have been covered over email. In fact, research conducted by Vyond and True Global Intelligence in early February found that about one-quarter (26%) of professionals think their meetings are unproductive or unnecessary, and nearly half (48%) of managers believe there are more meetings than are necessary in a given week.
If employees felt they already had too many unnecessary meetings, how has COVID-19 affected their attitudes toward meetings? The problem is exacerbated with a new influx of video meetings, both professional and personal, stemming from a natural desire to interact and socialize while we all stay at home.
With a schedule packed with meetings, workdays are lengthier and often don’t have a stopping point — leaving employees overwhelmed and with no clear path for relaxation and self-care, since the notion of paid time off (PTO) has also dramatically changed. So, how can learning and development (L&D) and human resources (HR) leaders help employees avoid virtual meeting overload and burnout during these unique times?
Proactively Address Employee Well-being
The major fallacy of working from home is that you have more “free” time, given that you are no longer commuting, and should be able to take on more responsibilities at work. There’s nothing further from the truth, however, especially for people who are taking care of children or other dependents.
On top of this misconception, there’s also the pressure many employees put on themselves to overperform, especially in the midst of potential furloughs and layoffs. The combination of this external and internal pressure can quickly lead to employee burnout.
That’s why it’s so important to proactively talk to employees about the nature of working in these unprecedented times and the importance of prioritizing their well-being and mental health. This kind of messaging from leaders creates an open environment for employees to communicate about what they need to effectively work in these non-traditional circumstances.
Keep an Ongoing Conversation and Provide Resources
This new normal isn’t anywhere close to normal. As employees grapple with the major adjustments to everyday life, managers must be reminded of the importance of regular one-on-one check-ins with their direct reports. In these check-ins, it’s critical to start conversations with open-ended questions that allow direct reports to express how they’re coping.
In addition to manager check-ins, leaders should be creating and consistently sharing resources to help employees navigate work life during this time. These resources could look like a host of things, from offering a corporate subscription to a meditation app to sharing custom videos with practical advice for employees. HR, training and marketing teams can create new content that addresses these remote work life challenges, and video is a powerful platform to accomplish this goal. (Don’t miss this video on “How to Stay Sane During Home Isolation,” for example.)
Directly Address Virtual Meeting Fatigue
There’s nothing wrong with addressing the elephant in the room: virtual meeting fatigue. The need to replicate our face-to-face interactions with video calls has led to a back-to-back barrage of — let’s be honest, stressful — virtual meetings. We were OK with phone meetings just a month or two ago. Pre-pandemic, many employees who work with colleagues in different offices coordinated and managed projects using collaboration tools and phone calls — and it worked. Does every meeting need to be a video conference?
Organizations have an opportunity to broach the topic and even offer a company policy around virtual meetings or encourage teams to set their own policies. This push needs to come from the leadership team, because it’s unlikely employees — especially more junior employees — will feel comfortable enough bringing up the topic themselves. Even telling employees that turning on their camera is up to them will go a long way.
When we surveyed professionals earlier this year about handling meeting overload, two-thirds (65%) of people with no direct reports said they had not tried to bring this issue up with their supervisor. Some groups are more likely than others to bring up the topic; for example, we found that men are more likely to have successfully tried to change the number of meetings they have (33% of men versus 21% of women), while women are more likely to not have tried at all (46% of women versus 36% of men).
As employees continue to navigate our new work life, it’s more important than ever to provide a framework for managers to maintain healthy and productive teams — which means calling out the impact of virtual meeting overload and offering concrete ways to address it.