You may be saying to yourself, “I’m blessed to be working from home right now with a secure job. But all of a sudden everyone wants to video chat, even for things we used to handle over email, phone calls, or Slack. Between Zoom meetings for work during the day and FaceTime happy hours and Google Hangouts with friends at night, I’m quickly starting to get burnt out of video chatting. I know others are feeling alone, but I need some me time!” How do you tell people that you can’t, or simply don’t want to constantly be video chatting?
Well, you are not alone! There’s been a rush to use video chats instead of practical options like phone calls or emails in this pandemic so that we can show our faces to one another and hopefully feel less isolated. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
Excessive video chats (especially those with multiple participants, where you’re awkwardly trying to figure out who gets to speak when) can cause a feeling of even more disconnection and isolation, especially if you’re a person who tends to be more introverted. If we know anything, it’s that a lot of us could do with significantly less screen time (hence the built-in app in many of our phones)—not just to alleviate eye strain but also for our mental health and sense of greater connection to the world at large. And, of course, there’s the fact that you’re being asked to look at yourself, essentially, for an entire meeting.
So what should you do to alleviate your burnout and get a little more “you” time (and a little more work time, too)? Here are some ideas.
1. Step back and observe
When you’re dealing with a problem, it’s helpful to take a minute to step back and look at what’s going on from an as-objective-as-possible perspective without having to decide what you’re going to do about it right then and there. This is your chance to analyze all the information you can and figure out what to do next.
You’re overwhelmed with video chats, but how many exactly are we talking about, and how much time out of your day do they take up? Also, what is it about them that you find overwhelming? Do you hate being on camera, do you find them ineffective at accomplishing tasks, are there simply too many of them, or do they go on too long?
Take some time and track the number of video chats you have planned, how much time they will take, the topic, and which ones were actually helpful as video chats as opposed to another form of communication.
Do the same assessment for your after-work social Zooms, obviously with more of a personal/social/mental health analysis: Are these Zooms making you feel good or bad? Can the connection you hope to get through video chats be achieved another way?
This is the most important when anything is bothering you. Ironically, this is what these video chats are supposed to help us do but when they’re not as effective at what they are supposed to accomplish, it’s time to speak up, either to a manager or, especially if you’re a freelancer or own your own business, to your clients themselves. This could be as simple as offering an alternative—“Do you mind doing this by phone or email? I’m finding myself on a huge number of video calls these days, and would prefer another method”—or, if your manager is committed to video chats, it may require a more extensive discussion about what your options are and why being on video chats is so important.
Frame all of this in terms of wanting to do your job to the best of your ability, and ask your manager for guidance in doing that. Chances are, they, too, are starting to feel the burn of all of the video chats. They may have some thoughts on how to improve this, or they may simply need to hear and understand what you have to say. At the same time, there might be valid reasons for having a video chat that you’re simply not aware of.
Hearing what they have to say like, “I need you on a weekly video chat to prove without a doubt to my supervisor that the team is working efficiently”—may make this temporary reality a little more tolerable, even if it doesn’t change anything.
As for your after-hours social Zooms, this is both easier and harder. You probably want to socialize with friends on some level but you may also feel obligated to continue to check-in through the way they’re suggesting. But happy hour Zooms are not your job. I suggest being as direct, in a nice way, with your friends as possible. “Hey, guys. I’m going to sit this one out. I’ve been on video chats all day for work and need to give my eyes a break from screen time tonight”. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to say that does not cut you out of the possibility of being on future video chats.
3. Schedule your time wisely
Let’s say that you’ve managed to cut a few of the video chats you’re expected to be on each day, and you’ve changed most of your after-work socializing to direct phone calls or something non-screen-based but you’re still expected to be on X number of video chats a day. You can still alleviate some of the burnout.
Take breaks! Make sure to actually get up and stretch your legs in between video calls, and try to avoid them being scheduled back-to-back. There’s simply a limit to how much a person can concentrate and engage in that way. Try to take a non-screen-focused lunch. Go for a walk, or do exercises at home. When you’re done for the day, be done for the day!
You can also, as much as your schedule allows, try to block off time between work tasks that aren’t meetings and the meetings you’re expected to show up for digitally. If you can, say, spend the morning checking things off your to-do list, an afternoon video chat is going to seem much less taxing and maybe even a little bit fun. Try to keep the meetings as short as possible—or talk to your manager about how to do this; each video chat meeting should have a purpose and agenda and time frame—so that when they’re over, you can go back to feeling productive at work, not video chatting.
4. Continue to adjust
We are still trying to find our balance with all this and try being as flexible as you can. Something that may help with your burnout is to acknowledge that it is in your power to keep evolving in a way that suits you best (within the confines of your work tasks, of course). It’s up to you to take note of everything that’s happening to recognize the impact on your work and then to advocate for yourself. That will lend a sense of empowerment that’s helpful not only in a pandemic but also afterward. Someday, this moment will end, but problem-solving skills last forever.
When you are in a video chat, focus on the call alone and try to avoid multitasking, which wears on your brain faster and can also make you seem disinterested to others. Be sure to carve out part of your day that doesn’t involve screens at all. It’s the least you could do for yourself and, ultimately, your work too.