How many of us are being inundated with an ever-growing number of meetings on Zoom, MS Teams, WebEx, etc. each day?
With a larger portion of the workforce online and working remotely, it seems many organizations are seizing the opportunity to lock their employees into a constant meeting spiral. Knowing that folks are stuck at home is giving those who love meetings the opportunity to fill their colleagues’ schedules.
Google “Zoom fatigue” and you’ll get more than 35 million results. Those souls who now spend the bulk of their days staring at screens that glow regularly report symptoms such as tired and blurry eyes, headaches, low energy, and depression.
Neuroscientists have discovered that even as little as six weeks of such intense screen time is enough to alter the neuroplasticity of our brains: reducing our ability for deep reading and thought. To see how you are holding up, try to sit down and read a book for thirty minutes uninterrupted. If you find yourself terribly distracted, you are not alone.
This overload of activity should not be a surprise. Back in 1958, C. Northcote Parkinson published his seminal work, “Parkinson’s Law: Or the Pursuit of Progress.”
Parkinson’s Law declares “work expands to so as to fill time available for its completion.” In other words, the amount of work involved in doing something naturally adjusts to the time available in making it happen.
And, in much of our world today, that is the key: time available.
With many working folks now spending far less time commuting and avoiding business travel, more time has been “freed up.” In accordance with Parkinson’s Law, that gap gets filled with activity that wasn’t needed before. And, much of that activity is coming in the form of additional virtual meetings.
This is not to say that virtual meetings have no value. “Seeing” your colleagues in a different setting can humanize them in a positive way. Entering their homes through the screen and meeting their pets and family can soften the harder edges. Being together virtually also builds a sense of commonality.
Still, the addition of more and more virtual meetings has many wondering about diminishing returns. Beyond the inevitable technical glitches, not all folks approach virtual meetings the same way. Some attendees are engaged, while others seem checked-out. Not being able to read body language and other non-verbals further reduces effectiveness. Moreover, the abundance of virtual meetings should never replace a well-crafted email or a telephone call.
As the COVID era continues to evolve, we humans will adapt. We always do. So, the next time you feel a need to schedule yet another virtual meeting, it might be best to pause and consider a leadership dictum of General George Patton: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” In the virtual world, that means give them the time and space to do their work, rather than overwhelming them with a packed schedule that takes away from their ability to get things done.
Andrew R. Thomas, Ph.D., is associate professor of marketing and international business at the University of Akron; and, a member of the Core Faculty at the International School of Management in Paris. He is a bestselling business author/editor of 23 books.