Resilience practices: Reduce & Prevent Virtual Overload
What is virtual overload?
If you find yourself feeing anxious, tired, distracted or even burned out at the thought of your next video meeting, you—like many others–may be experiencing “virtual overload.” The exponential growth in our use of online meeting tools for work AND socializing. has launched us all into a massive social experiment. So far, studies reveal that virtual interactions at the current scale and level can be hard for the brain to manage.
Why does it happen?
Online meetings require more setup and problem solving with technology which can cause extra stress and anxiety for the participant and facilitators when things go wrong. We also have to work harder to observe and process the “data” we gain through body language and vocal tones. However, this feeling of being constantly observed and the need to be “on” can be draining, particularly for people that prefer less attention, eye-contact, and more space and privacy than the “always on” video conference environment. Non-inclusive behaviors can also create stressful experiences. Without intentional ground rules and a skilled facilitator, participants can experience being ignored, interrupted, and/or overlooked by the group. While these technologies are sometimes considered to be “great equalizers,” research shows that creating an equitable experience for all participants involves both intention and skill.
Who/how does this impact?
Each of us have different preferences and tolerances within the live, virtual space. This is a great time to share and explore these with your work and non-work communities. Take this opportunity to identify differences and create working agreements to generate a supportive, inclusive, collaborative and fun experience in online gathering spaces.
What can I do about it?
Glad you asked! Here are some of our suggestions for preventing and reducing virtual overload.
TIPS TO REDUCE VIRTUAL OVERLOAD
Limit your video calls to ones that are truly necessary. Make turning video on optional. Use your phone when necessary, allowing yourself to move around, doodle or sit outside in the sun, suggested Psychology Today.
Discuss and align on working agreements for your online gatherings such as these recommendations.
Share (and ask) preferences for meeting options (voice, video, online but share screen only) and build awareness of your own needs and role-model making requests to others that will enable your ability to work productively and sustainably.
TURN ON/TURN OFF
Turn on your camera when you join a meeting so others can see you and “know” you’re there, but turn it off after that. Turn it on to speak, but off when you’re listening, suggested Psychology Today.
Take some time during meetings to check in with others before getting to work. “Spend some time to actually check into people’s well-being,” Shuffler told BBC. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.” Consider a brief “mindful moment” to encourage everyone to get present and focused to ensure quality of conversation and results.
Be empathetic and patient with the unique situations for each participant. People are working with a variety of technology, equipment, and environments that create challenges in participation. Explore ways to support people with what they need in order to participate from where they are.
Inclusive behaviors are just as important in these online environments to support hearing from a variety of participants through the use of digital or even “analog” hand raises before speaking, and facilitation that ensures equal opportunity for participation, speaking, and being listened to.
Treat it like a real conversation and divert your eyes if needed. Get up and get water or look away from your screen, suggested The Convivial Society.
Take breaks in between calls (and during calls longer than 1.5 hours) to allow our brains to switch gears, and to create a separate physical space where you take work video calls and personal video calls, reported USA Today.
Respect that workdays begin and workdays end, meaning shut down your computer screen (before re-opening it if you’re going to start web-surfing, gaming, etc.) and change into casual clothing, said Psychology Today. “This means that you should get out of your jammies in the morning before you begin your work shift, by the way.”
USE TECHNOLOGY FEATURES
Video conference apps have ways to help create variety in your visual experience and to help focus and rest your eyes. To help with focus, you can ‘hide your self-view’ and ‘hide non-video participants.’ You can also ‘pin video’ of the key speaker to be able to catch their non-verbal clues. Lastly, you can change shift between gallery and speaker view to provide some variety.