Why We’re Tired: Surviving Online Meetings

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By Barbara Roberts
Working in this medium for hours on end is not good for the health we are trying so hard to preserve! Let’s be intentional about how we pace ourselves, and we will last longer in the end. We are all learning to function in a new medium, which takes energy in terms of attention, concentration, learning in real time while doing, and learning without hands-on, in-person supports.

Are online meetings dragging on too long?

Dear WorkLife,

Working from home involves a lot of online meetings and webinars.  What is a normal length for effective Zoom meetings or webinars?  I’ve encouraged my supervisor to try to keep meetings under 60 minutes if possible.  It is difficult for those of us at home with small children if we have to meet longer than 1 hour online and do not have available alternative childcare options during the day.  Many students have told me that they get anxious after about 40 minutes as well.  What's the best way to host effective online meetings?

Sincerely,

Dr. Sparty


Hi Dr. Sparty!

Let me first address your concern about the duration of meetings and people’s endurance for online work. Making this shift to all-remote work is exhausting for several reasons.

  1. We are all learning to function in a new medium, which takes energy in terms of attention, concentration, learning in real time while doing, and learning without hands-on, in-person supports
    1. Learning the technologies
    2. Learning the etiquette, or “netiquette” of working online
    3. Learning to participate with multiple people you may not be able to see or hear simultaneously is distracting and takes energy
    4. Sustaining your focus on the topic while doing all of the above simultaneously
  2. We are establishing new work/study environments and spaces, paying attention to things that used to be taken for granted in our usual workspaces
    1. What’s around me, behind me? Will the dog bark or the doorbell ring? Will the kids interrupt? Do I have all my tools for a meeting handy where I am now?
  3. We are establishing new ergonomics to mitigate physical fatigue while positioning to sit through a meeting, and another meeting after that (e.g. back pain is a more frequent issue)
  4. The ergonomics of working online are fatiguing in unique ways we are not used to:
    1. Eye strain - We focus our eyes at the same distance for hours on end; we need to move and change our focal length often
    2. Physical fatigue and stiffness - We have limited movement when we sit in one place, meeting after meeting, without walking to another room or building, necks and shoulders in one position, wrists and elbows constantly in typing position
    3. Mental fatigue - Sustained concentration in one medium is exhausting

Next, I'll address online classes.  Principles of teaching suggest requiring no more than 20 minutes of sustained attention without a break in medium, participation, style or interaction modes.

For all these reasons, meetings should certainly not last longer than one hour without a substantial break. If the meeting/event has to go on longer, you could include a “stand-and-stretch” pause, a “bio break”, “take 5” and turn off your video to get a coffee or water, attend to kids, let the dog out or just take a breath of fresh air on your porch, etc. Working in this medium for hours on end is not good for the health we are trying so hard to preserve! Let’s be intentional about how we pace ourselves, and we will last longer in the end.

Links to related information, blog posts and recorded webinars can be found here: https://worklife.msu.edu/strategiesfromhome 

Stay well and remember, the WorkLife Office team is here to support you!

Sincerely,

Dr. Barbara Roberts, Executive Director
WorkLife Office


If you have a question for Dr. Roberts or another member of the WorkLife team, please send an email to worklife@msu.edu