When I commented in Psychology Today last year about a cause of burnout I commonly saw with my coaching clients, I could never have imagined this new kind of burnout we are all feeling. It’s old news at this point that the world transitioned to virtual meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also old news, but not as often discussed, that virtual meetings are causing an entirely new type of burnout that some are calling “Zoom fatigue.” When the majority of our social interactions occur through a computer screen, we have less meaningful connections and can burn out more easily (think quantity over quality). Most recently, the global social unrest has left us weary at best for people of all races, backgrounds, and political views. If anyone out there isn’t affected by burnout during this difficult year, I would love to know who you are and interview you! For the rest of us, I hope the following tips on enhancing the quality of your interactions bring health and wellness to your life so that you work can better flourish in your life and work:

Recreate those “water cooler” conversations

One major component of trust and relationship building that we are all missing right now is the “water cooler” conversation. By that, I mean that coworker you run into in the break room while heating your lunch, or the person you get to know while waiting in line, or the “how’s the family” conversation you have while waiting for a meeting to start. The challenge is that, with so much less human interaction due to the pandemic, we have more and more virtual interaction with less and less depth. This leaves us burned out as, the more we interact, the less connected we feel. With the “water cooler” moments missing, how do we build meaningful trust and relationships? I would say the answer is to intentionally work to recreate those moments. A couple of ideas include: taking a few minutes at the beginning of your virtual meeting to discuss how everyone is doing, scheduling a separate meeting just to catch up with a colleague or team,  or sharing a “fun fact” as part of a team meeting. There are many ways to do it, and none of them are right or wrong — the key is intentionality. 

Add a dash of vulnerability

Before you panic: I’m not saying to open up about all your deepest issues. Hear me out — as Simon Sinek said, “Human beings are social animals, and our ability to survive as a species depends on our ability to cooperate. It’s in our DNA.” In other words, we literally need social connections with each other to survive and thrive. These connections are not created by sharing “safe” opinions about the weather, sports, or today’s most popular TV show. They are made by sharing something more meaningful. Again, it doesn’t have to be your deepest secret. It could be as simple as finding something in common with the other person — where you grew up, someone you both know, or a favorite hobby. (I watched a fellow Zoom participant’s face light up recently when I private chatted her that I liked her “visitor” — a large dog hogging the camera). I promise you’ll feel better when you make even those small connections with people; we all need them right now to feel less frazzled and more fulfilled.

Mix your media

While I understand the idea to try to make virtual meetings feel more interactive by using video, I would argue that the two ideas above are much more powerful means of doing so. The good news is that gives you the freedom to mix up your means of communication and spend less time on Zoom. If you don’t need to be at your computer for some reason (such as sharing documents on your screen), switch to phone and walk outside in nature while you talk. For closer friends and family, even those of us on the more cautious end about the spread of coronavirus can take a walk outside in your neighborhood in an extremely low-risk way of mixing up the Zoom meetings. 

Bonus: I found these practical tips very helpful for overcoming Zoom fatigue — you’ll thank yourself for watching.

Whatever you do, I hope you will check in on friends and colleagues, listen more, and give each other the benefit of the doubt if you can. It’s been a tough year for everyone, and we can use the common struggles for good — but only if we intentionally seek more opportunities to connect with one another.

Do you have any ideas for making virtual meetings more meaningful? Leave a comment below — I’d love to learn from you, too!

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