COVID Communication Fatigue: Before you add another online meeting, stop and reconsiderMay 20, 2020
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, complaints of meeting fatigue are on the rise. Have you found your day filled with back-to-back Zoom calls, where you stare blankly at the poorly lit face of a colleague on the computer screen, as s/he provides a daily update, or report?
“I hop from Zoom call to Zoom call for hours on end,” said one client. “I can barely get my actual work done…and I’m starting to tune out during these calls.”
There is definitely a better way.
It is easy to see how this unsustainable communication pattern began. With the implementation of physical-distancing, many teams were thrust unexpectedly into a work-from-home (WFH) situation without any established guidelines or remote-team experience.
Many leaders found themselves scrambling to hammer out new rules of engagement, and looked online for advice and best practices. This is not a bad place to begin, however much of this advice is based on more normal circumstances. For many employees, the current situation includes several variables not typically considered when shaping WFH policies, procedures and best practices – shared workspaces with family members and roommates, homeschooling duties, toddlers and pets tearing around the workspace, stress and worries related to finances and health, dodgy internet connections, and more.
Under normal circumstances, the commonly cited rule of thumb for remote teams/workers is that the leader may need to communicate, in an intentional way, twice as much as they would were the team situated together in an office space. But it seems as though twice as much has now become too much.
Instead, I suggest a less prescriptive approach to remote team communication – one designed to optimize the quality of connection and minimize the stress level of team members. Some team communication strategies may be working just fine. If so, there’s no need to make tweaks. For other sport leaders, the following guidelines should help develop a plan that is right for your team.
Assess your communication needs: It’s important to begin “with the end in mind” and consider what your team is attempting to accomplish (i.e. your various team objectives), and what type, quality, and frequency of communication will be required to help you get there. Take an inventory of what meetings you already have in place, and whether they contribute to the attainment of those objectives. For example, if one of your primary aims is to develop a comprehensive and innovative sponsorship strategy requiring the input of certain team members, ensure that the communication needed to accomplish this is represented within your plan. You may need longer, brainstorming sessions at the outset to allow for collaborative, creative discussion, then weekly updates on progress towards the sponsorship plan for a few months, then reducing updates to once a month.
There will also be the more mundane communication items that need to be covered regularly. Some of these items could be discussed in a meeting (e.g. team selection updates), while others may be suitably addressed over email (e.g. date or location changes for an event). Ask yourself: What are regular updates that need to be communicated to the team? At what frequency? What venue is most suitable (e.g. Zoom, email, phone call)?
Prioritize & flex your meetings: As you are planning out your meetings, prioritize the topics you will cover, and ensure you have clear objectives for each meeting (e.g. making decisions on two key issues). Ensure these objectives are communicated with participants in advance of the meeting.
Specific projects or situations may require daily meetings at certain times, but give yourself permission to reduce the time allocated to the meeting, then reduce the frequency of the meetings, as needed. We know from experience that meetings will expand and contract to fit the time allocated, so be intentional about planning for what is actually needed, and be willing to close the session when the main objective for that meeting is reached. Further, as leaders, it is important to recognize that multi-hour meetings may be unrealistic for some staff at the moment, depending on their WFH situation.
Cut the extras and add in social interaction: This might not be the best time to introduce more low priority meetings into the calendar. In fact, you may want to reduce meeting times in order to prioritize valuable social connection meetings. Consult with your team about what types of social activities might be of interest (e.g. Online lunches, video happy hour, interactive quiz games via platforms like Kahoot). Find fun and appropriate ways for your team to reconnect with one another socially.
Pass the mic: If you find that you are doing all the talking for the majority of meetings, you’re likely doing too many report outs. First reflect on whether the content could be better shared via email or webcast link, rather than take up a set time in people’s calendar. Second, find ways to involve team members through active discussion, or by inviting them to lead portions of the call.
Consider the needs of each individual: Leaders do need to connect with team members, especially in these uncertain times. This doesn’t require a one-size-fits-all strategy. In fact, it is important to remember that team members are individuals and might have different needs.
- Maintain the regular sequence of performance management calls, but also check in on the human, not just the employee. For many people right now, life and work are deeply intertwined. Ask your team member how things are going? How you could help support them? …Or just shoot the breeze for a few minutes.
- What level of connection does the team member want and need? Perhaps one individual is fine with occasional touch points, while another is feeling more isolated or vulnerable and requires more frequent check ins. If you are unsure what they need, ask how often they’d like to connect.
Think beyond the screen: While video calls are a fantastic tool, consider other methods of communication. Simple phone calls, texting, instant messaging, or brief emails are also legitimate ways to remain in contact without overwhelming people’s calendars.
Cut yourself some slack: You might not get the meeting and communication plan nailed at first. With the help and input of your team, adapt your plans as you go. Even though these tips apply particularly to our work situation at the moment, all of the advice above is as applicable to establishing an effective rhythm of connection and communication when you’re back at the office.
About the Author(s)
Claire Carver-Dias’s professional life has straddled the worlds of sport, business and academia. A PhD specializing in English and Communications, Claire has won medals in synchronized swimming at the Olympic, Pan American, World Championship and Commonwealth Games. She has also served as a sport board member, volunteer, and administrator. Clearday, Claire’s communications coaching consultancy, combines her appreciation of effective coaching techniques and keen understanding of performance management and communications, to help corporate leaders achieve their full potential.
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