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5 Tips to Make Video Meetings Fairer to Anxious Employees

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Video calls may have taken over as the meeting method of choice during the pandemic, and the surge in remote work means that they won’t be going away any time soon. Many people appreciate the convenience and flexibility of being able to show up on time no matter where they are physically. Still, it would be wrong to assume that everyone is entirely comfortable with this new working method.

It’s not always easy to tell who might be struggling with the new meeting schedule. For example, some employees that are more than comfortable meeting in person may be anxious about appearing on camera. On the other hand, people more than happy to chat for hours on the phone may still be coming to terms with the concept of online meetings.

Managers who are already comfortable with online meetings may be surprised to learn that one study suggests that 73% of people suffered from Zoom anxiety in 2020. A further study indicated that worries over backgrounds, appearance, and speaking over someone all play a part and virtually equally between males and females.

Essentially, the majority of people still have concerns about meeting online. Nevertheless, it’s a crucial component of adjusting to remote work, so what can you do about it? Here are five ways that you, as a manager, can promote a comfortable video calling experience for everyone involved.

1. Make Being on Screen Optional

Many employee concerns around video calls stem from the thought of being on screen. While comfortable in the office, their webcam acts as a window into their home. One of the quickest ways to make everyone more comfortable is to consider appearing on camera optional.

Some people like to be able to see who they’re talking to. Others want to ensure they have the full attention of the room. However, it’s time to accept that employees are often responsible and eager to do as their employer requires, and appearing on a screen shouldn’t make or break their efforts.

It may require additional trust from some managers, but the benefits are clear. Body language can be overrated on video calls, too – in some cases, it’s easily misinterpreted. Some employees might be concerned about this happening to them, but accepting that cameras aren’t essential to productivity can eliminate much of the anxiety associated with these calls.

2. Encourage Flexibility

Try not to get into the habit of scheduling video calls at short notice. This can cultivate an opinion among employees that they are expected to be at their desks at all times. That in itself can be a significant cause of anxiety, especially for those that have struggled to adapt to remote work and have altered their routines as a result.

It might make sense to implement an official policy on video meetings, such as providing at least 24 hours’ notice or potentially even banning them on specific days. There’s also evidence to suggest that it may be time to make all meetings optional, although this won’t work for every organization, especially those with just a handful of key people.

Giving people time to prepare for an upcoming meeting can ensure their schedule is free and that they’ve taken whatever steps work for them to make them feel more comfortable on screen.

3. Make it Your Job to Promote Social Interaction

There’s always a risk that anyone that misses out on video calls through anxiety may exacerbate their issues by reducing overall social contact. Like any competence, it is possible to lose social skills over time when left unused.

Video calls can replace face-to-face meetings, but they’re also a great way to keep up at least some of the more sociable interactions from the workplace. It may sound counterintuitive to arrange additional calls for those suffering from anxiety, but many people perform better under social circumstances than professional ones.

These meetings really should be optional, but someone needs to take the lead in ensuring they’re available for people that wish to attend. As a leader, there is no better candidate than you.

4. Make a Point of Mentioning Mental Health

Mental health is not a workplace taboo. On the contrary, many managers consider it part of their job to ensure that people feel good as issues can lead to a reduction in performance.

Most employees would rather not discuss their personal mental health, especially in front of groups. However, some are even anxious about broaching the subject at all. Make it clear on video calls that you’re aware of how remote work can affect people and that you’re more than happy to arrange for assistance.

If you’re comfortable providing that assistance yourself on a one-to-one basis, then do so. If not, ensure that you have someone you can send employees to for help. Such a seismic change in working habits affects everyone differently. Even if they merely need reassurance that their camera and microphone setup works, it can significantly improve their confidence levels.

5. Support Employees at their Own Pace

Some employees will never forget the first day they didn’t even have to get out of their pajamas for work. Others may still struggle to find a routine that works for them months after commencing remote work.

It’s simply impossible to support a team based on a timetable. There’s every chance that no two employees will be at an identical stage of adaptation. This does require flexibility on a manager’s part, but it should be viewed as an opportunity.

Every instance of providing customized support to an employee is a learning experience, and the more involved you become, the easier it will be going forward.

For example, if an employee who has never appeared on video decides to switch their camera on, don’t immediately view it as cause to make a big deal out of it – that may be the last thing they want. Instead, follow-up with them to ask how they felt and understand if there’s anything else you can do to make them comfortable in the future.

Wrapping Up

While people are becoming more comfortable with Zoom, Teams, and other video meeting apps every day, their usage represents a colossal shakeup in work patterns. The key takeaways involve acceptance, support, and enabling people to progress at their own pace. Some people may never be truly comfortable with the concept, but it is only fair to do all you can to encourage them to reach their potential, just as you would do with any other aspect of their working life.

About the Author: Amy Deacon is a business coach and speaker who creates solutions for businesses seeking to change attitudes and routines to boost productivity throughout the workplace.

This blog is printed with permission.


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To Meet, or Not to Meet: Why All Meetings Should Be Optional

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 Meetings. They look like work. They feel like work.  They smell like work.  There’s nothing like getting the team around a conference table, batting around random thoughts to make sure everyone is on the same page. And, you never know when a good topic or idea will mightily rise up out of conference table dust!

A study by career site Salary.com on workplace time drains found that “Too many meetings” was the No. 1 time-waster at the office, cited by 47% of 3,164 workers, up from 42% in 2008.

I once worked at a large corporation where our team had a full-day, recurring mandatory meeting every month. Everyone on the team was expected to attend. It was meant to get everyone motivated and on the same page, and was a meeting that a consultant suggested would help us collaborate, build closer relationships and share pertinent updated information. It was a way for leadership to be visible to inspire, guide and motivate us. And not attending the meeting created so much guilt, you’d never even think of skipping out.

Recurring meetings can be — and often are — huge time wasters. They create a block of time that you and your colleagues must then fill, in some way.

For the two days preceding the big mandatory meeting, everyone was either 1) running around like crazy trying to prepare what they had to present, pinging off all other team members like a pinball machine on steroids interrupting the real work or 2) dreading the upcoming mandatory meeting and beginning to fake ‘coming down with a cold’ so that if they didn’t attend, they could pull the ‘I was ill’ card.

Wait. How can it be mandatory if you can use certain excuses to get out of it?

I took notice of who didn’t attend one of these meetings. I knew that these people were ‘in the office’, but for some reason weren’t present in that room. What gives, I wondered? I thought it was mandatory. So I boldly asked a couple of these suspiciously absent people why they didn’t attend (my bad – since they were my superiors). They answered by informing me that they had to attend to customer needs. Really? So did a lot of the rest of us in the mandatory meeting who didn’t have the hierarchical weight to use that excuse.

Two acceptable excuses for missing a mandatory meeting:

  1. I’m sick (called in sick or at workstation sick, and don’t want to pass germs to everyone in the meeting . . . cough, cough)
  2. I’m taking care of business (i.e., important enough to get a free pass)

The two days after the mandatory meeting there was a flurry of complaining, lamenting and teeth-gnashing about how much time we wasted in it – and the lack of value it added to our work. We contemplated how we could get out of the next one. But whether we were spending time in the meeting or just complaining about it, the one thing we weren’t doing was working.

So there were basically five days where we experienced a serious loss of productivity: two days before while we scrambled to get ready, one day to meet, and two days to complain. Let’s do the math*. There were approximately 200 people invited to the mandatory full-day meeting monthly, with an average salary of $50,000.  If all 200 attended, the salary cost for one day was $38,461.  Now do that each month for 12 months and the salary cost is a whopping$461,532.

And this math didn’t account for the productivity loss both during and the four days surrounding the meeting. It didn’t represent the cost for the room, continental breakfast, mid-morning snacks, boxed lunches, mid-afternoon snacks and continuously flowing beverages.

Now that’s just one meeting per month with 200 people.  Think of all the meetings going on day after day, hour after hour with resources who agree that 30 – 80% is wasted time – er, money. And no amount of meeting effectiveness trainings or lists of meeting protocols has fixed it. In decades.

Some organizations have tried to fix the overwhelming amount of meetings by designating a period of time where no meetings should take place, say ‘No Meeting Thursdays’. The challenge is that the culture still believes that meetings are necessary to get work done, collaborate, communicate, etcetera. So these organizations simply hold more meetings on the remaining four days; or, people have forbidden, “secret meetings” on no-meetings day.  A no meeting day is a technical fix to a deeper problem.

Yet it’s possible to remedy this broken relic from the days of yore once and for all. All you have do is:

Make every meeting optional. 

Even the mandatory ones, or those where the organizer is the VP, manager, or some other hierarchically important person. Status update meetings are optional. Stand-up morning meetings are optional (yes, we’ve worked with clients that are also working with the Agile methodology). Staff meetings are, too.

The problem is poor planning, believing all the stuff we believe about meetings that isn’t true, and accepting meeting mediocrity. It’s politics, posturing and positioning — and it’s a big fat waste of time.  It gives the person scheduling the meeting ultimate control. Besides, it’s not polite to decline a meeting we think is going to be a colossal waste of time, right?

Wrong.

Think about meeting math again. It’s our job to do our jobs. And part of that is–or should be–utilizing resources effectively and not wasting them. The task of having a productive meeting falls first in the hands of the person calling it.

Before scheduling a meeting, every meeting organizer should answer the following:

  1. What do I need exactly?
  2. Is what I need relevant to the outcome I or the people I’m working with are trying to achieve?
  3. Is having a meeting (IM, SKYPE, on-line meeting, conference call, in-person meeting) the best way to get what I need?
  4. Is there a more effective way to get what I need that uses everyone’s time more effectively?
  5. Who is an integral part of helping me get what I need?

If you determine that yes — the best way to get what you need is by holding some sort of meeting — then it’s up to you to convince the people/person you are inviting that it’s a good use of their time, too. They’re not just going to blindly accept your meetings anymore.

Meetings are one thing: a tool to get to results. If the tool is not doing the job of getting you to results, you’re using the wrong tool — over and over and over. It’s just like using a screwdriver when it’s a hammer you need. Using a screwdriver for a hammer’s job will get you suboptimal–or worse, no–results in addition to wasting time and creating frustration. Forcing people through a strong-arm management style (that meeting is mandatory!) to use the wrong tool to get the job done is poor management of the work.

Originally posted on ROWE on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jody Thompson is one of the Founders of CultureRx and one of the creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Her first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, co-written with Cali Ressler, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.


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