“Everyday is today,” said Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live sometime in the last Groundhog day of quarantine. “There is no Saturday anymore.” The days just blur together and, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, “One day was so much like another that I don’t remember if I had 12 meetings 6 days ago or 6 meetings 12 days ago!”
Many of us are fortunate to still be working and able to work from home. However, let’s give that statement the proper framing: We are attempting to work at home in the midst of a global crisis with unfamiliar tools, distractions and worries! I am fortunate as I generally work from home but even so I have had to shift my work space to accommodate my partner who is now home all the time, my older son who moved back home and my younger son who is also home trying to keep up with his school work. So it’s a full house with a lot of distractions. Getting work done is tough whether it’s the struggle of trying to do business as usual, the meetings themselves, focus fatigue or a combination of all of the above.
Pretty much everyone I know is spending hours on Zoom or some other platform. Have you noticed how exhausting it is? First week of lock down I had back-to-back interviews and focus groups that were supposed to have taken place in Wisconsin. Instead they took place on Zoom and my colleague and I realized after day two that we could not keep up a “normal” pace for meetings over Zoom. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the first week and that was with rescheduling a few interviews for the following week.
Focus fatigue is real. Patricia Berendsen from the Trauma Healing Centre in London offers this 3 minute video describing the impact of being online for hours at a time. Our brains ache from being online for so long. Our bodies ache from unfamiliar chairs, our eyes are strained from peering at the screen. We are also experiencing “freedom freeze” because our movements are restricted – we can’t gesture as we normally do and our bodies are tighter from maintaining a certain posture that will “read” well on camera.
Staring at yourself for hours on end is weird. Chloe Hadavas describes it perfectly in this Future Tense blog on Slate: “Video conferencing apps are turning us, against our will, into modern-day Narcissuses—unable to look away from our own reflections. Unlike the figure from Greek mythology, however, many of us aren’t drawn to our striking visages but to our own “dumb faces,” as someone recently put it in Slate’s Slack. We’re forced to confront ourselves on camera—flaws, unflattering lighting, and all—and we can’t avert our eyes, even if we find a gargoyle staring back at us.”
Discovering the “hide self view” feature was pretty much the highlight of my week! (Chloe shares how to do it in the above blog.)
A bad meeting is worse online. From opening to closing, a well-thought out meeting helps everyone feel and do better whether it’s online or the in-person kind we used to have back in the “good old days” in February. Technological skips, jumps, delays and lags can make the most patient person want to rip their hair out. Couple that with no agenda or online meeting structure and everyone is muting their audio and video and tearing their hair out while screaming loudly.
Know why you are having a meeting!! Before you even push that schedule meeting button, create a strong agenda and if you can take care of it via email or Slack – don’t have a meeting!
Establish a strong structure from the get go. This helps meetings be successful, even if it’s a family gathering – maybe especially if! Several friends and family members have shared their frustration at chaotic family hangouts – it’s just too much.
If the gathering is a check in to see how everyone is doing (work or family,), consider using a method like oldest to youngest, alphabetical, current speaker identifies the next speaker or having the host call names according to the gallery view rather than opening it up popcorn style. This avoids the above scenario of everyone talking at once.
Take care of yourself! From a difficult environment to focus fatigue to crummy meetings, my parting words to you are these: Don’t try to pretend these times are normal. Take extra care of yourself and know that it’s okay to not be okay. Ask for the help you need. Have compassion for yourself and others and turn off the computer and news when you can!!
Also published on Medium.