How to Stay Engaged During a Videoconference

How to Stay Engaged During a Videoconference
Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
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The only thing more predictable than the monotony of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the consistency of video conferencing. The necessity of staring into screens has made “Zoom fatigue” a very real condition, affecting regular office workers as much as the Hollywood icon Al Pacino, apparently.

During Sunday night’s Golden Globes, the eighty-year-old looked, shall I say, a bit tuned out as he dialed in to be another face on a screen during the semi-remote production. Pacino’s glazed over look (was he actually sleeping?) had universal appeal, because who hasn’t mentally drifted off during a Zoom call?

Unfortunately, most worker bees cannot fall asleep or look completely uninterested with an audience staring at them from the other side of their connected devices. For those of us who are not Al Pacino, here are some tips for staying engaged while on a video conference call.

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Take notes

I’m going to preface some of this advice with a caveat or two, because Zoom fatigue is a very real condition that not only makes work more mentally taxing, but reinforces the blurred lines between work and regular life as everyone’s home became their office.

But if you find your mind wandering during video conference calls that you absolutely have to devote undivided attention to, try jotting down the most pertinent details from your meetings. Taking notes by hand, as a multitude of research shows, is an incredibly helpful means of information synthesizing and retention. This doesn’t mean you have to take detailed minutes like a court reporter does, but writing down the most vital nuts and bolts should help you at least recall the meeting’s broader takeaway.

Close open browser tabs

It’s normal to get distracted by open tabs in your browser, especially if a meeting doesn’t exactly feel essential. Since you’re likely to wander through more entertaining tabs during a snooze fiesta of a meeting, close all the pages that aren’t open for a specific reason. If your camera is on, your colleagues will be able to tell if you’re scrolling through Twitter or watching highlights of last night’s basketball game instead of keeping your gaze fixated on the speaker.

I am, personally speaking, a tab hoarder, so I understand the uneasiness of closing wayward tabs that no longer pose much value. Still, if you’re someone who can’t control the urge to impulse-scroll, it must be done.

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Headphones will help you listen

Headphones will filter out much of the excess noise that might distract you during calls. With headphones on, you’ll feel a bit more locked in, especially if you’re taking notes. Headphones allow you to cross the line into work mode a bit more bluntly, especially if you can’t hear much of anything else happening beyond your computer.

Don’t attend nonessential meetings

Many organisations have leaned so heavily on video conferencing that any series of meetings tends to subsume most aspects of the workday. To that end, ask yourself what you’re getting from meetings that aren’t necessarily essential to your daily duties. If it’s possible to whittle down the amount of huddles you’re attending regularly, it’s likely that you’ll feel a bit more fresh and able to listen to the meetings that you can’t miss.

Tell you’re boss if you’re burnt out

Zoom fatigue doesn’t adhere to some hierarchical boundary; your bosses are likely suffering from it, too. If you and other colleagues are all single-minded in your experiences of feeling drained from a barrage of video conferencing, consider how you might approach your manager about having fewer meetings.

If you have a good boss who’s sympathetic to the reality of being perpetually affixed to a screen, they’ll likely be amenable to phasing out meetings that aren’t essential. Besides, it’s always possible to impart valuable information without having everyone log on to a call.

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