Are employers using Zoom too much?


It wasn't long after millions around the world were sent home to work remotely during the pandemic before the concept of Zoom fatigue became familiar. — dpa

Citigroup recently announced it was creating something called "Zoom-Free Fridays" to give workers a break on video meetings that have become so dominant over the last year.

There was concern early in the pandemic that Zoom and Microsoft Teams, or other video-conferencing software, might not be the most productive thing for workers.

An April study from Wundamail Research said 42% of people contributed nothing to the call and 73% of respondents considered doing a Zoom meeting "work done" — giving the illusion of being productive.

Citi said part of its decision was concerns from workers about the blurring of lines between work and home that has frustrated employees across many companies.

Here are some expert opinions:

Q: Should businesses scale back the time they spend in Zoom meetings?

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

YES: In my experience, meetings are overused to provide the illusion of productivity and communication when they often accomplish neither. Broader adoption of web conferencing software lowered the hurdle to call a meeting, wasting countless hours of productivity. Meetings can be effective if they have specific objectives, provide material to review sufficiently in advance, include only necessary people, and end with clear decisions or actions with deadlines.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

YES: Online meetings can be a great way to cut travel and commuting costs and benefit the environment. But as with so many other promising innovations, if we don't put limitations on technology, we'll find that technology is putting limitations on us. I know I can easily lose focus if I'm not actively involved in an online meeting. Meetings should have a clearly specified start and end time and be limited to those whose participation is essential.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

NO: I do believe companies should promote a healthy work-life balance, encourage staff to take time off to refresh, and establish programs that encourage health and wellness. But naming one day as a Zoom-free day as some companies have done is just gimmicky in my opinion. Zoom and Teams have been very effective at Scripps during the pandemic and we will continue using them avoid lost productivity resulting from driving to and from multiple locations for in-person meetings.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

NO: This is really not a decision one can make for all businesses. This question beckons the need for management to be cognizant of too many meetings with too many people involved, which used to happen with in-person meetings as well. Most work requires a combination of meeting and communication time and a time to focus alone. Not everyone will have the same proportions of need for solo versus group time. Again management needs to figure that out.

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

YES: Due to the pandemic, some companies may have overdone video conferencing. It seemed like every meeting turned into a Zoom call when it worked perfectly fine as a conference call before. We entered this new world overnight and management needed to visually see the workforce productive. It's time to rebalance. Employees have proven they can be productive remotely. Go back to using the telephone or turn off the cameras if you need to view presentations as a group. This can help combat Zoom "burnout", by allowing movement and less screen time while people listen or participate.

David Ely, San Diego State University

YES: Many organizations might find that they can raise productivity by spending less time in both Zoom and in-person meetings. With less time in meetings, employees will have larger blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on their projects. Eliminating unnecessary meetings, creating clear agendas so that meetings can be completed in less time, and inviting only those who need to attend are all actions that could yield productivity gains for an organisation.

Ray Major, SANDAG

YES: Businesses would be shocked if they calculated the wasted and ineffective time spent by employees, especially management, on virtual meetings. In most cases, employees need uninterrupted time to do meaningful work. Virtual meetings will prove to be an important addition to the corporate toolbox, but today, they are overused and create frustration and fatigue among employees who find that "real" work has to be done outside of traditional work hours.

Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

YES: While some research indicates virtual meeting platforms like Zoom are part of a productivity dive, the tools proved critical in the wake of Covid-19. Video calling has become the default for communication — now more than the phone call. The extended day-after-day use makes "Zoom fatigue" a real issue. Studies are showing burnout from overuse. Contributing factors being screen time, focus required and onscreen stimuli. All said, businesses should encourage Zoom-free time.

Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University

YES: Zoom and other virtual meeting spaces are running into diminishing returns and often damaging productivity by interrupting more valuable work. At a minimum, staff meetings should be no longer or more frequent virtually than they were in live space. Virtual meetings may be most useful to connect project collaborators quickly. Physical meetings may be required to spark general creativity and brainstorming. Balancing virtual versus live connections may be the most important post-pandemic challenge enterprises face.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

YES: There are limits to usefulness and effectiveness of Zoom meetings. Much like meeting in-person, online meetings can be efficient when appropriately organised and focused. Zoom meetings tend to increase cognitive load taking up considerable conscious memory capacity. They can be exhausting as one feels a need to appear interested, and in absence of many non-verbal cues, intently focus on words and sustain eye contact. Compartmentalising times are also important considerations, realising employment is not 24/7.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

NO: I, too, value and miss in-person meetings. However, a better way to look at Zoom is as a tool to enhance productivity. When you are Zooming you don't have to show up to the meeting (e.g., commuting), and you can often multi-task (considered rude if you are actually in the room). We will move forward not in a Zoom or Not to Zoom world, but with more tools in our communication toolshed.

Phil Blair, Manpower

NO: Maybe they should look at scaling back many of their meetings. Just because video conferencing is so easy it should not be a temptation for more meetings. Used judiciously video conferencing can allow staff to attend important out of town meetings that were off limits before but not additional local meetings. Conferencing should be our friend, and save us time not waste it.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: Studies have shown that too many video meetings are hurting productivity. A study by Wundamail Research found that wasted time in meetings is costing businesses US$1,250 (RM5,156) per employee per month. Workers are more easily distracted, it is more difficult to determine if people are paying attention, and employees are less likely to follow up on actions agreed to in video meetings. The latter is due to people forgetting key information, which may be due to a reduce attention span during these meetings.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

YES: We miss out on a lot of non-verbal communication and our feelings and attitudes are largely conveyed much more fully in an in-person meeting. In-person meetings allow us to catch up on things with colleagues where if it is a virtual meeting, we would not likely do that. The heightened emphasis on facial cues and the ability to see what people are really thinking is lost. Plus, looking at our face for an entire meeting? – dpa

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