By Tracey Dowdy
Many of us just hit the one anniversary of going into quarantine, and although so much has changed over the past year, one thing that seems to be here to stay is video conferencing. Once the purview of executives and freelancers with overseas clients, virtual meetings have become ubiquitous, with everyone from the President to preschoolers communicating and learning via a computer screen.
If even after all these months, the thought of jumping on a Zoom – or any other video conferencing call – stresses you out, you’re not alone. Buffalo 7, A UK-based specialist presentation design agency, found that 73% of people have suffered from Zoom Anxiety this year. Which tasks cause the most anxiety? Presenting (42%); Interviews (25%); Client meetings (18%); Team catch-ups (15%). By far, the biggest trigger for that stress was having tech or audio problems and not knowing how to correct them (83%), followed closely by being unable to read other participant’s body language (67%).
And, even though the vaccine rollout is going well, many companies aren’t returning to in-office work any time soon, and some have shifted their business model entirely, with more employees opting to continue working from home for the foreseeable future.
If the thought of being trapped in an endless loop of Zoom calls stresses you out, here are tips and tools that can reduce your anxiety and ensure your meetings run smoothly.
If you’re like me, having to stare at your own face for an hour, even when you choose Tile instead of Speaker View, means you obsess about how you look to the rest of the group. Do yourself a favor and turn off self-view. Once you log into the call and make sure you’re in the frame, right-click your video to display the menu. Select Hide Myself. The rest of the group will still be able to see you, but you won’t obsess about the random hairs sticking out at an odd angle or overthink the faces you’re making.
Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who recently published a study on Zoom fatigue, says, “For me, the self-view is the most troubling. Never before have people stared at themselves so long per day. This adds stress both consciously — people worry about their appearance, grooming, etc. — and unconsciously, as psychological research has demonstrated that even when people aren’t actively thinking about their reflection, a mirror in their field of view causes them to increase self-evaluation.”
If you don’t want to toggle back and forth or wish to block participants from seeing you all together, buy a simple camera shield or use a Post-It note to block your camera.
Don’t forget, not everything has to be a video conference. Sometimes you can accomplish just as much in half the time through a phone call or an email. Before you set up that conference call, ask, “Could this meeting have been an email?” Don’t be afraid to speak to your boss or team lead and let them know that you want to participate but don’t want to talk over other team members or get bogged down with items on the agenda that don’t apply to you. Most leaders want their meetings to be efficient, so offer to dial in when the discussion is pertinent to your team.
If it isn’t a required work meeting or is a social event, feel free to say no. We all had our fill of virtual happy hours and holiday dinners over the past year, so if you’re meeting-ed out, say so. Be honest about the impact on your mental health constant virtual meetings are having. Even the world’s introverts have had enough and are ready to give up life as a hermit.
Finally, give yourself the grace you need, and if something goes wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Technical difficulties have been a thing since we used two juice cans and a string to make a call. Sometimes your kids will Kramer-into the room, your cat will jump in your lap, and you may even knock over your coffee mug while you dig for the reports you need. It happens. Remember, at least you’re not a lawyer trying to defend your client while appearing onscreen as a cat. Things could be worse.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.