Not everything needs to be Zoom. Here’s When It’s Ok (And Even Better!) to Turn Off your Video

Throughout the Pandemic, Zoom may have become “the norm,” but for many instances, here’s why a phone call may be more productive.

There’s no question that Zoom Fatigue is real and we are all exhausted from it. So why do we keep putting up with it? I was on call with a client who is also a friend recently and she said, “I don’t go anywhere, I’ve turned into a true human Zooman, and am exhausted.” One week later, another client said to me, “Is it ok if we go off camera? I’ve been on Zoom all day!” I smiled and told them I was thrilled because while Zoom has its place, I find it ideal in rare circumstances.

Throughout the pandemic, while there were many instances where Zoom or other Video Conferencing platforms were useful, I found myself in more situations than not realizing that Zoom was stressful and inefficient. I still do and speak up about it and listen to more of my colleagues and clients agree and open up about their frustrations with Zoom. These comments include, “I actually hate Zoom and much prefer calls” and “Zoom makes me self-conscious about how I look, so it can be harder to listen deeply and process what people are saying.” In other words, some of us are overperforming to do our job, and as a result, this can inhibit us from being ourselves.

Having had kids in virtual school, I hope you’d agree that “Zoom Fatigue” gets to us and our kids and that we should not be judged for turning off the video at times; rather, it should be welcomed and offered. Recently, a colleague of mine working for a major social media platform was preaching over social media that she loves to use the “presenter mode” on Zoom so that she isn’t watching herself.  My question to you is: After a year of Zoom poisoning, how do you feel? Below are my thoughts:

I am a communicator, connector, and work with companies of all sizes – from Fortune 500 to small start-ups that utilize multiple video conference platforms. Over the past 15 years, I have mostly focused on helping people, companies and brands define and best articulate their brand and company culture. Throughout the pandemic, this was especially important as transparency, honesty and personal connection were key, and we all learned this as we became more casual on Zoom, accepting no make-up, kids on virtual school and pets in the screen background. While there were situations when the video calls were helpful, such as meeting new faces, screen sharing, reconnecting and most definitely the “social” events, I felt happiest and most productive when I was on the phone on speaker or with headphones, as not everything necessitated “a Zoomer.”

Throughout my career at SMACK! Media, and even during my COVID side-hustle, Remotely Human, dedicated to helping companies and leaders better work from home, I have consulted and guided company leaders on what teams need to maintain happier, healthier and more productive employees. One of these elements for leaders was to help their teams lighten the load on day- to-day tasks. As I’m grateful to see more people vaccinated, offices beginning to open up and many kids back in “real” school, consider the toll that lockdown has taken on people and especially working parents, who became schoolteachers, cooks, cleaning ladies, errand runners, and the list goes on. On top of that, to have to sit in front of a screen and talk to someone for hours per day? Could a good old-fashioned phone call have served the same or even better purpose so that we could get more accomplished, and in reality, help support our mental wellness?

While multi-tasking is primarily frowned on, it had to work for me personally during COVID, and I tend to be a decent multi-tasker. I have unloaded the dishwasher for informal check in calls with my internal team in the morning or taken a walk while I brainstorm a marketing plan with a client. I enjoy listening to voices, sharing emotions and connecting with people on a human and in-person level, such as a hike or a bike ride. And when we are unable to do this, a Zoom or related video conference platform is wonderful, but it’s not always really needed. As mothers (and fathers), and business owners in general, especially during a pandemic, we need to get things done around the house that include folding laundry, cooking, cleaning, driving kids to and from school and activities and no one should be judging us. Even the CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, admitted that he had Zoom Fatigue and JP Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, is ready to cancel all of his Zoom meetings. But I’ve been preaching this for months and months. I almost always take phone calls after I have dropped my boys off at school or on the way to pick them up, keeping the time reserved for them when they are in the car with me as family time, or to sing Carpool Karaoke together.

I also take several calls while walking and have written about “Sweatworking” since 2015. Our minds and bodies perform best when they are happy, relaxed, motivated and believe it or not, when our heart rate is up a little bit. We are more creative when we’re outside and if the meeting allows for this, give it a try. While I’ve done this for years, I had to smile when a friend and colleague, Meaghan Murphy, Editor in Chief of Woman’s Day Magazine and Author of “Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Your Day with YAY,” said on her podcast with guest social entrepreneur Radha Agrawal that she recently began, “Walkie Talkie” meetings at her office now that her teams are back to their desks.  She said, “if we can get outside, it’s an opportunity to have a walking meeting, and everyone benefits from it!”

So I encourage you to be smarter about when video really is necessary or not and make it ok for people to turn off their camera. And if you DO need to be on a screen, the following 3 tips may help prevent the fatigue:

  • Take the call on your phone. Not having a huge screen in front of you too big or too close is helpful. Talking to a 13-inch screen is easier on the nervous system than talking to a 56-inch screen. Alternatively, you can switch to “Speaker View” which makes for the person speaking on the call to be the prominent large window on the call screen.
  • Take breaks in between Zoom calls – get outside, re-center, walk around. Move, listen to music, do a 5-Minute Meditation (Peloton has great ones!), read something funny or call a friend. There are many things you can do to work happier and healthier.
  • Set ground rules, especially as a CEO. Allow audio only for a couple meetings/week – we all know what we look like and most calls truly don’t require video. Let the teams know in advance that they may go off-screen. I do this with clients and internal calls now and I get thanked for it.

You may be surprised that audio-only team meetings or good old-fashioned phone calls where we can truly take efficient notes with our eyes not on the speaker, or while on a walk where we can truly be in the moment (and not scrolling the internet) will make for more productive calls because we won’t be so focused on having to “perform” on screen. We also won’t be so focused on what the lighting looks like, be concerned about kids in the background, partners or roommates walking or working behind us and pets getting in the way. It’s ok to multi-task so long as the performance results and productivity is evident.

So, if I go audio only during our next call, don’t judge me. I can assure you that my mind will be more clear and you will have more of my attention even if I am taking a walk, stretching on the floor or cooking dinner while I speak to you. This is where business meets personal, and why I trademarked “Public Relation(ship)s.  If I enjoy speaking with you, I will work my hardest and most effectively for you. I will still be focused, taking notes and generating positive results for you. And most of all, smiling as I do it.

Sweatworking with client, CEO of EyePromise
Sweatworking with client & CEO of EyePromise