why video meetups are so tiring—and what to do about it

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. Yogi Berra

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You’re on a video call with colleagues, family, or friends. It’s an energizing discussion. Lots of laughs. You’re glad for the human contact—then you click “Leave Meeting” or “End.” Only then do you realize: you’re totally gassed. What happened?

You’re not imagining anything. Video meetings are provably more tiring than face-to-face communication. Here’s why—and what you can do to mitigate the exhaustion.

science says: meetings stink

The fact is meetings were taxing long before COVID-19 forced us into virtual workspaces. As an article featured in The Atlantic notes, people confuse activity with productivity, and meetings have been shown to be a net drain on productivity, largely because we’re spending too much time in them. Today, it seems like all of our time is spent in meetings—or calls with friends and family that feel just like meetings. We’re socializing, but not truly being social.

we’re hardwired for human contact

We humans engage with each other in multiple, overlapping ways. When you’re talking to someone face-to-face, you notice their little expressions, their body language, even how they smell—in addition to the words that are coming out of their mouth.

But video meetings abstract all of this interaction, and all of your energy, into just two elements: seeing and hearing. Over the course of an hour (or a full day), as organizational behavior expert Dr. Gianpiero Petriglieri tells the BBC, focusing only on those things is tiring.

Plus, he says, video meetings keep your attention in a constant state of flux. Because you can see yourself on the screen, your focus tends to shift between your “performance” and the people on your call. This task-switching is exhausting, too.

how to get video group calls to a healthier place

Video meetings will never be able to replace real human interaction. But, until life gets back to normal, you can take action to make your video calls more tolerable.

keep them short

In Silicon Valley, it’s not unheard of to have “standing meetings” where attendees are not allowed to sit down. The end result: nobody wants to stay any longer than absolutely necessary. Consider setting your meeting default to 20 minutes, instead of 30, to claw back more of your day.

use messaging, chat, or email

A good question to keep asking: “Could this be an email?” Putting your thoughts in writing lets you be more thorough and explanatory. Plus, the recipient can digest what you have to say on their own time.

replace group meetups with one-on-one calls

The smaller your video meeting, the more you can be yourself (as opposed to “performing” for a group). 1:1 video calls, like those on illumy, can be far less taxing than large group meetings.

stay in touch with your mind and body

Regular self-check-ins are essential to staying on an even keel. Often, the best thing you can do is to step away from your desk (or the couch). Have a glass of water, go for a walk, or practice some breathing exercises. Taking even a few minutes for yourself can be hugely restorative—and it’s a proven way to clear your mind.

show off your pet (if it’s appropriate and possible)

Pets alleviate stress. We love our little furry, feathery, or scaly friends, and few things prompt big smiles and verbal affection then cute pets in the middle of a meeting. When there’s a lull in the conversation, or if your team is having a “get to know you” session, pick up your pet and share them with your coworkers. It can be a great way to bond.



Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

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