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Managing meetings without succumbing to Zoom fatigue

23 March, 2021

Jean Hsu

Jean Hsu

Engineering leadership consultant at Medium

Jean Hsu

Real-life solutions from Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering at Range

Isn't Zoom fatigue a bit too common these days?

We all go through those days when we look at our calendars and feel exhausted because of back-to-back meetings. Especially engineers turned managers may feel the lack of accomplishment and productivity on such days.

These tried and tested solutions will help you stay on top of the challenges while managing meetings:

Challenge - Too Many Meetings

Virtual meetings have become a big part of our lives, especially post covid; zoom fatigue has become a real thing. We schedule an overarching amount of meetings to get the same context as we used to pre-COVID (by simply swinging by someone's desk and asking questions). Declining engagement and migraines are some of the common issues individuals face, which can become even more challenging when meetings start cannibalizing your focus time.

Solution: Lean on asynchronous updates

These could be team updates or company updates, anything that doesn't need to be a conversation, take it to an asynchronous tool. Avoid using synchronous time as this is very valuable. You can be creative in terms of tools used for asynchronous communication, such as:

  • Recording videos on "Loom"
  • Using "Range" for regular check-ins

When you start moving towards such methods, you will be able to cancel some of your recurring meetings.

Challenge - Aimless Meetings

These are the meetings with an unclear agenda or they keep going on for too long (a few people get carried away talking to each other). Other members in these meetings keep sitting on mute, lose attention, start looking at their phones or doing other work. Such meetings are usually tolerated by people rather than enjoyed.

Solution: Get clear on the purpose and structure of meetings

Define a clear objective of each meeting. Ask yourself, "Why are we conducting this meeting?" and convey this to all participants well in advance. These purposes could be to:

  • Start off your week
  • Review high-level metrics
  • Share important announcements etc

Use this example as an inspiration to structure your meetings:

  • First 5 minutes ー Facilitator plays music while everyone settles in or finish making their coffee
  • Opening round ー Share how you are doing and go around the room
  • Discussing the purpose ー Review company metrics. CEO highlights or anything notable that was planned
  • Q&As ー Encourage people to ask questions
  • Updates and announcements ー Bring up an agenda item to have a brief conversation
  • Closing round ー A prompt from the Facilitator, e.g., "What's something you're looking forward to this week" and go around the room

When meetings are well-structured, you will be pleasantly surprised that they may take less time than planned.

Challenge - Less participation in meetings

Now that a big chunk of meetings is happening over Zoom, it is convenient for people to turn off their videos, put themselves on mute and do something else. Getting shy/quieter team members to participate in meetings can also be a great challenge for leaders.

Solution: Start and end your meetings with opening and closing rounds

Research shows that when people say something at the beginning of a meeting, they are far more likely to contribute to the rest of the meeting. Having everyone participate is even more important remotely as meetings are the only interactions individuals have with their coworkers.

If you are wondering how to conduct these opening and closing rounds? You could:

  • Ask everyone simple questions like: "How are you doing today."
  • Use icebreaker tools that shuffle interesting work questions like: "How do you like to receive feedback?"
  • Go for some casual questions like: "What was your favorite comfort food as a child?"

Challenge - Cannibalizing Meetings

These are the meetings that take over your calendar. Even when meetings are well organized, having many of them can eat up your focus time. Sometimes these team meetings are scheduled right in the middle of a nice juicy chunk of your focus time that you may have blocked for writing code. So you basically get no time to get work done.

Solution: Zoom out from the day-to-day and look at a week or two in your schedule

Take a broader look at the schedule from a weekly perspective, try to be intentional, and encourage people to defrag their calendars. Taking a poll for rescheduling recurring meetings to a better time (which won't ruin your focus time) can give positive results. Structure two-week cycles of meetings:

  • With team recaps including personal reflections, celebrations, founder thoughts, and Q&As in the first week
  • Manage all your one-on-ones in the first week (ensuring these are not spread throughout the two weeks)
  • In the second week, you can have a lot of focus time

By implementing such practices, you can better control your calendar and motivate your coworkers to do something similar.

In this time of highly agenda-driven meetings over Zoom, don't forget to make space for more casual interactions and know your colleagues. You can set up Donut (an app. from Slack) to organize coffee chats. In the end, if you feel like you don't have a hold on how your meetings run, take the lead, try creative solutions, and make the change.

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