Zoom has become part of the lexicon of our lives. It is the way many of us meet and teach. In a similar way, we use Google Hangouts and other analogous synchronous meeting apps for live classes and the myriad of meetings that previously populated our workdays. If you are like me, you have three or four Zoom sessions a day. They are with the same colleagues as before, but they just don’t feel the same as in-person meetings. Those routine meetings can become anxiety-producing and exhausting.
Research is being conducted in real time as we experience the impact of virtual conferencing on a daily basis. The BBC interviewed leading experts in the area of workplace studies: Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at INSEAD, who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, who studies workplace well-being and teamwork effectiveness. The researchers are examining the phenomenon called “Zoom fatigue,” an array of physical and psychological factors that combine to make our synchronous online communications less effective and wrought with discomfort. Among their suggestions:
Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings, says Petriglieri. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room, so may be less tiring … Shuffler suggests shared files with clear notes can be a better option that avoids information overload. She also suggests taking time during meetings to catch up before diving into business. “Spend some time to actually check into people's wellbeing,” she urges. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.” Building transition periods in between video meetings can also help refresh us -- try stretching, having a drink or doing a bit of exercise, our experts say.
Zachary Yorke, UX researcher, reports in the Google Blog that there are science-based reasons for the different feel of virtual conferencing. Among the things Yorke suggests are:
Conversations on calls are less dynamic, and the proverbial “talking stick” gets passed less often. That’s a big deal for remote teams because sharing the floor more equally is a significant factor in what makes one group smarter than another. Computational social scientists like Alex "Sandy" Pentland and Anita Woolley have shown that higher performing groups aren’t made up of individuals with higher IQs but instead people who are more sensitive to emotions and share the floor more equally. Identify calls where conversational dynamics could be better. Encourage more balanced conversation, help some get their voice heard and remind others to pass the talking stick.
In far too many conferences, our video images and those of others are far from flattering -- sometimes blurry, sometimes blue, and often our faces are shaded to the point of being unrecognizable. Even more aggravating are the moments when voices and images freeze and break up. Many of these problems can be solved with a couple of tweaks and following some simple rules.
Let’s start with the worst situation first. That’s when your signal breaks up, images freeze and audio drops out. You may even be disconnected. This can happen at any point in a conference. Most often either you or the current speaker has run out of bandwidth at their location. You may have had plenty at the start of the conference, but your bandwidth has dropped down due to a heavier load on the local internet service provider. The immediate resolution is to reduce the amount of data streamed per second in the conference.
I was recently in a conference with 55 others, all with cameras and microphones on. As you might imagine, that is a recipe for disaster! In terms of bandwidth, if everyone other than the speaker could turn off their cameras and microphones, the bandwidth would drop significantly. This will stream less data and may be enough to keep the conference signal stable.
It is courteous to establish your presence with the camera on when you log in to the conference, but then when things get going, turn off your camera until it is time for you to speak. This also helps hide your eye rolls and other nonverbal cues that you may wish to avoid. How can you look your best on camera? Here are some tips:
- Be sure you’re illuminated! Set up your laptop or camera with you facing a window or other light source.
- Do not have a light source, such as a window, behind you -- the camera will adjust for that luminosity and put your face in the shadows.
- Put your camera (or entire laptop) so that it is at or slightly above eye level.
- Pay attention to the background.
- Take a look at your setup (turn on your laptop's camera) before you log in -- make sure things look the way you want.
There are lots of resources out there to make you a Zoom pro in no time. PC magazine has even more suggestions on how to look good on video conference calls. There are some tricks in Zoom to allow you to enable a background and even insert one of your own. You can invert your image and much, much more. CNet has a list of "13 Hidden Features in Zoom," and the Groove blog has 16 more tips, including many shortcuts you can use in Zoom.
Certainly, one doesn’t need to use all of these tips and tricks to communicate effectively through videoconferencing. I hope some of the links are useful to you in creating a better image. It seems we may be meeting virtually for weeks and perhaps months to come, so a little time invested will be well worthwhile.