The world is suffering from Zoom exhaustion, apparently. We find ourselves in a state of permameeting, where hours become but interchangeable units of attention mediated through Zoom, Teams, Meet or, for the really unfortunate, WebEx.

Because back in the (prepandemic) day, meetings were great, right? It’s not like HBR were publishing articles like this but a few years before COVID struck? It’s not as if John Cleese wasn’t, in 1976 producing management training videos like this?

Meetings were awesome weren’t they? Super-productive, expertly run. They took place in well equipped meeting spaces that met the needs of the participants. We’d ditched ludicrous ideas like putting art on the walls rather than whiteboards. Or long tables “Boardroom style” that made eye contact impossible for most people.

Meetings surely weren’t up there before the global pandemic as the thing second only to email that people would almost invariably state as getting in the way of them doing actual work?

Bollocks. Meetings were bollocks before the lockdown, they’ve been bollocks during the lockdown and they will continue to be bollocks after the lockdown.

Not all meetings, I grant you. But a great deal of them.

Zoom (or Teams or Meet or WebEx) aren’t the problem. Whilst they might have exacerbated some things in the past twelve months, they aren’t the cause of our malaise. By removing the last filter of meeting organisation, the meeting room, we probably are organising more meetings than ever before. And in hindsight it seems that a meeting room’s calendar was more important than an actual person’s calendar. It feels like incidence of me being double- or triple-booked have escalated when there hasn’t been a meeting room to find.

But that’s not the fault of Zoom (or Teams or Meet or, poor you, WebEx). That’s a problem of software designers trying to remove friction from everything. Outlook software designers in particular.

And yes, eye contact is different and meeting dynamics are different and you can’t gossip in a Zoom call in the way you can in a meeting room. But similarly in a meeting room you can’t turn off your camera to hide your involuntary look of disbelief when your colleague says something ludicrous, or turn off your camera to pick your nose for five minutes or go to the loo. (Don’t judge me. I don’t do at at least one of those three).

We aren’t tired because of Zoom or Teams or Meet or WebEx. We are tired because of bollocks meetings. And we are tired because of bollocks meetings in lockdown in a global pandemic where we can’t spend time with people we actually want to be with, let alone work colleagues. We are exhausted by the relentless bad news and the deaths and the fear and the sharp sensation of our own mortality.

That fatigue isn’t Zoom fatigue. It’s “OH MY GOD WHAT NOW?!” fatigue. And I’m not sure that when all this is over (TM) we are quite prepared for how commuting and bollocks meetings in bad meeting rooms will not make us suddenly go back to feeling “normal” again after a year of distinct abnormality.

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