It’s day 80 of quarantine and social distancing in COVID-19. Day 80 of wearing a mask at the grocery store and wiping down everything with Clorox wipes. Day 80 of not hugging my closest family and friends. Day 80 of working from home, sitting on back to back virtual meetings. I don’t know about you, but it’s getting old.
Like many, the first few weeks of “stay-at-home” were a refreshing change of pace from the hectic commuter life and travel schedule. Getting to tackle projects in the peace and quiet of your own home away from the office allowed for a mental refresh and more productive schedule. We got creative with moving our in-person meetings to virtual, trying out new tools to replace whiteboard sessions, and uploaded our favorite scenic destinations as our Zoom backgrounds. “Look at me, I’m working from the beach in Hawaii!”
But now that we’ve been in this for close to 100 days, the novelty has worn off and the need for synchronous communication and constant meetings has become grating. Without the short walk between conference rooms, there is no time to switch contexts from meeting to meeting and even less time to get work done, unless you multi-task during another call, thus making that meeting less productive. I’ve found myself overemoting on webcam calls, constantly aware of my facial expressions in the bottom corner of the screen and feeling a pressing need to connect with people through the camera. How long and hard can I stare at the bright green light next to my webcam before going blind?
I am grateful to have a job that allows me to work from home in these unprecedented times, so I do grapple with complaining about a first world problem of privilege. I surface the issue of burn out because if we ignore the burn out, we won’t make it through this period of quarantine and long-term future of quarantine. What can we do about the need for constant virtual meetings, given remote work appears to be our “new normal”? I’ve tried a few strategies to no avail, such as blocking some chunks of time on my calendar for working hours, only to be found out my colleagues asking if I’m “really booked all day.” I’ve also asked if a meeting needed to happen or updates could be given via email, sometimes met with a, “Yes, I do have updates to share.”
Maybe the changes need to come from the top down. Some companies have recognized this burnout and set one day a week to be free from meetings, so people can get some time back on their schedule to crank through work. A cultural shift like this might help an organization focus on working asynchronously for one day a week. That being said, having a holiday Monday off this week led to four days of extra jam-packed schedule due to the lacking calendar space.
I present this problem as a call to action for all of us to do better. I’m not sure how to affect change aside from leading by example. I will continue to question the meetings that I’m invited to and say “no” more often to protect my own sanity. I encourage you to lead the change so we can shift the meeting-heavy culture from the bottom up. Challenge the status quo, ask why we do the things we do, and only attend meetings where your presence will make an impact. That’s what innovation is all about.
What has your team tried? What’s working for you? How can we innovate together to make things better?