Whether you call it Zoom Fatigue or Zoom Gloom, many of us are experiencing overload from being online. If you type “why are zoom meetings…” into a google search, the top three options are “so exhausting,” “so awkward,” and “so boring!” Yikes. Our exposure to video meetings has left us wanting and wondering about their effectiveness.
This is not only true in the business world, but also within the church. Barna Research reveals that one out of three practicing Christians has stopped attending church during COVID-19. Online church and virtual meetings have lost their luster.
That’s a problem! Experts are now saying that being online, whether its Zoom, Microsoft Meetings, FaceTime, or some other cutting-edge platform, it’s hard on us both emotionally and mentally. Virtual meetings bring on what I call the three dreaded D’s.
- Discomfort: Talking into a webcam to communicate is not natural. Many of us don’t even like to have our picture taken, let alone looking at each other for an entire meeting. However, the primary way of showing we are paying attention is by looking into that camera. We’re stuck staring! Studies have also shown that the multi-person screens (The Brady Bunch view) magnify the discomfort because our brain isn’t sure who and where to focus. The single view also has its drawbacks because it keeps us from seeing how others are interacting. The bottom line is all of these combined leaves most of us feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
- Distraction: Video calls make it easy to do things we wouldn’t usually do during a face to face meeting. I confess that I can easily be distracted while online. During an online discussion, I’ve been known to check my email or review my calendar or search the web. Usually, I’m looking to learn more about a topic being discussed, but I’m still distracted. And that’s when I’m working in the office! Logging in from home has its own challenges people stopping by, the kids wandering in, or pets jumping up. I heard about one Zoom meeting where a fellow meeting-goer accidentally activated Alexa in someone else’s house! Sadly it is very easy to lose focus online. Paying attention online takes far more energy than in-person.
- Disconnection: No one would argue that the best way to meet is face to face. Online, we lose context. Body language and non-verbal cues are hard to impossible to perceive from faces on a screen. We need the whole person present to communicate fully. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to feel like you belong and are understood. To add to the awkwardness, keeping your audio on mute when it’s appropriate may be polite but speaking into that is like talking in an empty room! It’s easy to keep repeating yourself while unconsciously waiting for affirming responses from others…assuming their internet hasn’t frozen.
So what can we do? First, I’m not suggesting that we completely stop online meetings. They are here to stay and we should use them for ministry. However, we shouldn’t use them as our primary platform if other options may be better. Here are some things we should consider.
- Start meeting in-person. A number of our churches are starting outdoor worship services. Small gatherings are now permitted inside our buildings. There is a local coffee shop where I can meet with others. It may take a little extra creativity but it’s worth it to see one another beyond the screen.
- Use other forms of communication. Consider using phone calls, texts, and emails. Frankly, many times I prefer the phone. On the phone, I can concentrate better. I’ll even take a walk while talking, which gives me some exercise and, I’m told, can help with thinking. 🙂
- Limit the time on video calls. Whether it’s a formal Church Service or private meeting, the rule of thumb is an hour at max. Intentionally program a break out group or ask for interaction through the chat or a poll. Be purposeful of programming for engagement. They say it starts to wain after 30 minutes. The longer you go, the stronger the three dreaded D’s become.
- Provide for breaks. Divide up the meeting into 15 to 20-minute segments. Breaks help keep people engaged. Even then, if everyone looks distracted, it may be a good idea to end early.
- Commit to being there. We should treat an online meeting as seriously as in-person ones. That requires us to carefully plan for the meeting and then close the programs and documents that may distract us so that we fully attend the meeting (easier said than done for me).
BEFORE YOU GO
So, what are your struggles and advice for online meetings? I’d love to hear from you!
Ironically, given the topic of this post, the Conference Council voted to have our Annual Conference entirely online this year.
We understand many of the challenges this will bring, but we also hope that you and many others will have a chance, maybe for the first time, to attend some session at Annual Conference.
You can sign up to receive meeting links and up-to-date information on our website. https://pacificecna.org/annual-conference-2020