How to not have fatigue from online meetings | Inquirer Business

How to not have fatigue from online meetings

/ 05:14 AM November 05, 2020

I have Zoom fatigue,” says M, my friend who does marke­ting in their firm. “Just because we work at home, the boss mandates back-to-back meetings: four today, two to three hours each. I feel sick.”

“How necessary are the meetings?” I ask.


“Two are the usual group meetings every Tuesday, where we catch up on stuff that needs to be done,” M says. “The other two are for clients.”

“Let’s talk about your team meetings. If you meet regularly, why is there stuff to catch up on? How many issues did you resolve?”


“We finally made a decision that was pending for a month, so that’s good,” says M. “But there is a lot on the agenda, so we’ll discuss again when we meet.”

“Is everything on the agenda something you can really help with?” I ask.

M stares at me from the screen. “Actually, no. I can only give input for three of the six items, but this is a team meeting, so we have to be there.”

Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang talks in his book “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter and Less” about companies that reset the default meeting length of an hour to 10 minutes.

“If they are careful about who is invited,” says Pang, “asking, ‘Who is really necessary to solve that problem?’ rather than invi­ting an entire team or management layer—they could get more work done in a shorter time.”

“Tell that to my boss!” M gripes. “I waste so much time in meetings, time that I can put to better use.”

“When they discuss things that don’t concern you, just work offline,” I say. “As long as you take responsibility for what you do, no one can fault you.”


“Our meetings don’t even start on time,” M says. “People make excuses, so now I log on 10 minutes after the scheduled time. Presenters waste time fiddling with the deck and putting us to sleep with 50 slides.”

“Time is precious,” I say.

“When I give webinars, I tell organizers to give at most five minutes leeway, then I start, whether there are 50 or 5,000 participants. I don’t use bulky slide decks. Instead, I plunge into the topic. I respect my audience, and they reciprocate. Tell your colleagues to respect your time, and treat it the way they would treat theirs. If people only read from the slides, they can just send these out to everyone, rather than wasting time in meetings.”

Pang also talks about the flipped classroom, which I use in my college classes. I send materials such as math problem sets and psychology journal articles to students more than a week in advance for them to solve and analyze. Then when we meet live, every minute is used to present solutions and for discussions.

Unless the topic is complex, I don’t do lectures, I don’t repeat the book.

Before a meeting, presen­ters should send materials out beforehand. During the online meet, people should brainstorm on solutions rather than listen to presentations they could have scanned earlier.

We cannot do away with meetings entirely.

But we can “get them under control, treat them like the tool they are, and then make [them] … as useful as possible,” says Pang. “Meetings should be no longer than necessary, no bigger than necessary, and have as clear a purpose as possible.”

“How about clients?” M asks. “They want hourlong meetings, which stretch to two.”“You have more control over your own people rather than your clients,” I say.

Pang describes a company with staff members who meet productively, but with clients who “set a meeting for an hour, chat about the weekend at the beginning, get to work and make a decision, then chat more at the end to pad out the hour.”

“With my family business clients, I gently remind them that time’s up,” I say. “Except for emergencies, when perso­nal issues are suddenly brought up and need to be resolved for everyone’s wellbeing, we generally stick to the time.”

But things are not set in stone.

“For students who are depressed and anxious, often an hour is not enough,” I add. “But since I don’t waste time during meetings, I have time for things that really count.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Contact the author at [email protected]

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