Have you ever noticed yourself feeling exhausted after a long day of Zoom meetings, perhaps even more so than after face-to-face meetings?
You’re not alone: this phenomenon has been coined “Zoom fatigue” and has affected millions of us worldwide as the world of work moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The rise of virtual conferencing as bricks-and-mortar office were exchanged for online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meets took some getting used to for everyone, as “you’re on mute” or “let’s chat about this offline” became synonymous with our “new normal”.
Indeed, there is no denying that these new ways of working have had a profound impact on how we interact in a work context, sometimes leading to mental exhaustion as everyone adapts to these new demands and behaviours in an online setting.
However, as draining as this can be for everyone regardless of disability, the Zoom fatigue phenomenon also offers neurotypical people a unique window of empathy and insight into what everyday interaction can often feel like for Autistic people.
If you’ve ever felt hyperaware of your facial expressions due to constantly seeing your face on-screen, that’s something many Autistic people feel on a daily basis, even during face-to-face interactions as we strain to ensure our facial expressions match the sentiment of what we’re trying to say or what we’re listening to.
If you’ve ever found you have to concentrate harder to read people’s gestures, body language and facial expressions while on a Zoom call, then you can probably relate to Autistic people struggling with this same “lag” in processing non-verbal cues in everyday conversation.
If you’ve ever sat on a Zoom call and not quite known where to look as you’re speaking or listening, feeling a bit awkward by seeing everyone “closer up” than you would while standing a polite distance from them in an everyday interaction, this is akin to the discomfort many Autistic people can feel around eye contact in face-to-face settings.
If you’ve ever felt the temptation to reply to emails or multitask during a Zoom call while also trying to process what’s being said in the meeting, leading to you feeling a bit overwhelmed by the end of the day after juggling tasks so intensely, this is a familiar feeling for many neurodivergent people, especially those with ADHD, experience as they try to focus on the task at hand but feel endlessly distracted by the “Ping! Ping! Ping!” of messages coming through to them. Juggling the tasks of processing what’s being said in a meeting while also taking down notes and filtering out any distracting sensory stimuli such as background noise can also prove very challenging for some neurodivergent people, who often have to concentrate twice as hard as everyone else just to follow the conversation.
These new challenges brought on by new ways of working are a great opportunity for colleagues to understand some of the barriers their neurodivergent co-workers may face. The good news is that there quite a few simple things you can do to help make Zoom meetings a little less exhausting for everyone, not just your neurodivergent colleagues.
Here’s some of our top tips for you to try out:
If you find it distracting looking at your face as you speak in meetings, select “hide self-view” in your Zoom settings. Others can still see you, but you won’t see yourself.
If you find it intense or exhausting being on-camera all day and your role involves you having a high volume of meetings on a daily basis, it may be worth discussing with your manager the possibility of having a few “camera-off” days a week where there isn’t an expectation for you to have your video turned on during meetings. This gives you a break to really focus on what’s being said and is also an excellent reasonable accommodation for some neurodivergent people who find it hard to concentrate while on-camera in meetings.
Try to avoid the temptation to multitasking during meetings if you can – it might seem like you’re getting more done in less time but is likely to lead to burnout in the longer term.
Try to block out some “focus time” in your diary to ensure you don’t have an endless string of back-to-back meetings and have time to work on the items discussed in the meetings you do have. Blocking out some time for uninterrupted reflection is a good self-care practice to implement even in your life outside of work. As our professional and personal lives have become more and more intertwined with the rise of working-from-home, it’s always a good idea to prioritise your wellbeing across the board!
If you’d like to hear more about how you can adapt your meetings to be more inclusive, particularly towards autistic/neurodivergent people and people with disabilities, book an appointment with our subject matter expert Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org!