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How agencies can combat Zoom fatigue

The problem isn't the technology, it's the meetings

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Most of us don’t go a day without someone talking about “Zoom fatigue.” Some agencies have moved to Zoom-free Wednesdays or camera-off Fridays, or other approaches to combat it.

But the problem isn’t the technology. Zoom is great. Video conferencing is a fantastic tool.

The real problem is that there are too many unnecessary meetings with unnecessary participants.

Chip and Gini discuss how to get things under control without resorting to gimmicky solutions.

Transcript

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and we’re here today to talk about something that you may be experiencing. You may be feeling it yourself and we’re not therapists. So we’re not going to cure you of this. But we do have some ideas.

Gini Dietrich

Yes, it is zoom fatigue.

Chip Griffin  

And we’re all tired of a lot of things but we’re only going to talk about zoom fatigue today.

Gini Dietrich

Or I would I will loop all video chats into well

Chip Griffin

yes I mean, we have nothing’s going

Gini Dietrich

to go meet Yeah,

Chip Griffin

we have nothing against zoom in particular. I do love Microsoft, but I don’t like Microsoft Teams. So maybe I I will put them into a separate bucket. I just, every time I get invited to a Microsoft Teams call. I just,

Gini Dietrich

it’s Yeah, it never works ever. Never. It works. It’s just it’s not. It’s not as smooth. I’d rather

Chip Griffin

use Skype or something like that. And to my friends in Redmond, I am sorry. Because I do love my I’m doing that this whole production is being done on Microsoft Windows. I’ve switched from the Mac. So I’m a huge fan of you guys. I’m not a huge fan of the team’s meeting software.

Gini Dietrich

On that note,

Chip Griffin

so zoom fatigue, everybody’s talking about it, we have people saying, Oh, my God, zoom. And you’ve got people have come up with all of these quote unquote, solutions, like, zoom free Wednesdays, or, you know, no camera Tuesdays, or I, I don’t I can’t really wrap my mind around a genie.

Gini Dietrich

I think it’s less about the technology and more about we’re having meetings just to have meetings just to have meetings. Yeah. And I’m finding that people are like, Oh, we need to have a meeting about that. And you’re like, No, no, no, we don’t we can just, we can put that in slack or we can eat It or whatever the communication method is, we do not need to have a meeting.

Chip Griffin  

That Yeah, and I think that is really what this comes down to. It’s not zoom, it’s not video, and switch switching your meeting to audio isn’t going to solve anything. I mean, let’s let’s think back a year or two, how many of us complained about how many conference calls we had to sit on? Right? We didn’t like conference calls. Those were audio only there was no video. We used to complain about how many meetings we would have in the office. I mean, I know when I worked for some larger agencies, right. I would sit in meetings from literally sunup to sundown, without a break in

Gini Dietrich  

between done that way. How do you get anything done? Right?

Chip Griffin

And, and so it’s not the problem is not zoom, folks. The problem is the meeting itself. You’re having too many meetings, you have the wrong people in the meetings, you’re not accomplishing what you need to accomplish. So So address that. Don’t I mean, this is this is like, you know, if someone’s you know, bleeding, you just give them a band aid and think you’re done with it, right. That’s the equivalent of turning off the camera. Right. But if you don’t figure out why you’re bleeding right away, right, you know, it’s not really solving the problem, solve the actual problem have a meaningful purpose for every meeting and think about do you need everybody there?

Gini Dietrich

And is do you really need the meeting is the most important. It’s when this all started, when everybody started working from home, I there was a conversation in one of the Facebook groups, I’m in about this very topic, and the agency owner is male. And he said, I’m having trouble because my female employees have started to say they don’t want to come to zoom meetings anymore. So what do I do? And as we started to dig into it, a couple of things. One, he was having three, check in zoom meetings a day, and I was like, dude, you cannot do that. Stop it. And I said, and so you know, the conversation I thought was really good and really engaged and lots of people were coming tributing to it and asking him lots of questions. But that’s what it came down to. They were having three chicken meetings a day on zoom video chat, because in the office, they would see each other constantly like, right that like that. And the other thing he said is, you know, they’re they’re asking if if we have to have these meetings if we could do it on audio, but I like seeing everybody’s faces. And I said to him, there’s a difference between men and women on video chat. Men can throw on a ball cap and be happy and fine. women cannot. He’s like, No, I don’t care if they come in a ball cap. I’m like, it’s not about you. It’s about them. And the other women that aren’t coming to the zoom meetings, don’t make them come to video chat three times a day.

Chip Griffin

Well, don’t make them come to any meeting three times a day. I mean, what what on earth could you possibly be working on unless you’re in the midst of a crisis? What on earth could you possibly be working on this you need to meet with the same group of people three times in one day It’s just totally unnecessary.

Gini Dietrich

Yeah, I think it was less we had a need for a meeting and more that they were trying to figure out how to work from home and how to stay connected and how to continue building culture and how to continue building team. And if they were there in person, then they will be having conversations. But, you know, forcing somebody to come to a meeting three times a day to try to recreate that just doesn’t work.

Chip Griffin

Right? Well, I think this is where, you know, people are using zoom and these other technologies as almost a micromanagement tool. And it’s because people aren’t comfortable with the new environment. They don’t know how to manage a remote workforce. And so they’ve substituted reason for just scheduling meeting after meeting and they think that if they’re doing that, you know, they’ll have control. But that’s, it’s an illusion. I mean, even even in the the, you know, office environment, you don’t have control over your team. Right, right. You should, that’s not how you should be looking at it. They’re not, you know, your team members are not like pieces of software where you have to hit buttons and click things and all that, right. They need to be able to accomplish things on their own. You need to set the direction, give them leadership upon what you need to prove, but it’s not just constantly meeting over and over. And even if you’re in the office, you shouldn’t you shouldn’t be on top of them all day long. That’s not useful.

Gini Dietrich

No. And nor, like, I always say, I hire grownups so that I don’t have to worry about this stuff. I’m not a micromanager. I don’t want to micromanage. I want to give people expectations and say Go do your job. I don’t want to have to do all that. Like there. I had a friend whose boss used to read her emails, and I’m like, oh, who has time? What Why? Why?

Chip Griffin

Yeah, it was bad it. Was the boss looking for something in particular, or is it just general micromanagement?

Gini Dietrich  

No, that was just general micromanagement. He read all his direct reports, emails.

Chip Griffin 

Wow. I mean, I can think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worked in employees. mails. A few of them were because they were related to legal proceedings where we had to collect documents. So you have to do it then. And in that case, it always feels uncomfortable doing it. And in a couple of cases it was because I suspected employees have some wrongdoing of some sort. And so you have to investigate somehow. But I mean, as a management tool, quote, I mean, that’s just that’s not, that’s not terrible.

Gini Dietrich

Yes. Terrible.

Chip Griffin  

So, okay, so it

Gini Dietrich

is a special breed. But yeah, so if we

Chip Griffin

agree that the technology isn’t the problem, that it’s the meetings themselves, I mean, how do we what what advice would you give to folks on how to set a good meeting cadence in this new environment? You you’ve run a remote team for quite a while now, you’ve got a good sense for I mean, what what is the right way to do this so that you don’t end up in this situation?

Gini Dietrich

And, you know, it took a little bit of trial and error first to sort of figure it out. So one of the things that we’re where we are right now, and I think it’s pretty comfortable is we do check in, we do a check in every day. Slack, we don’t do it, we don’t do a stand up meeting, we don’t do a video chat, there’s no audio. And truthfully, that’s more because I don’t want to have to be at a certain place at you know, at 830 every morning, I just don’t want to, or eight o’clock every morning whatever it happens to be. So we do a check in and we say here Good morning, how is everybody hope you had a great night weekend whatever happens to be here are my top three priorities for the day. And then you know anything else that might I have a doctor’s appointment at this time or I’m you know, whatever it happens to be we there there’s that opportunity for you to say what else you’re doing during the day so that you if you a lot of meetings or or whatever it happens to be, or you’re working on something for a client and can’t you know, have to do deep work or something like that. So that’s what that is. I do a direct reports, video chat most of the time with every all of my direct reports once a week. We were doing an all agency meeting on zoom every week and that was too much. So then we moved it to every two weeks and that was still too much. So now we Do an all agency meeting once a month? And what we find is that, you know, there certainly are team meetings, but those are usually with clients. And then you have your direct report meetings, and then you get information from those meetings. So I think I’m in four hours of meetings a week, just with direct reports and agency running kinds of things. And then the big come all age, all agency meeting once a month, and that’s it.

Chip Griffin  

I mean, that sounds like a very reasonable schedule. Certainly, it’s not three times a day, so so that’s good,

Gini Dietrich

you know, and it’s not every day either. I don’t I and, you know, I mean, you know, this from experience, there’s one week a month, I don’t do any meetings.

Chip Griffin

Right. Right. And, and I think, you know, one of the one of the things that you’re doing well there too, that that I think folks would be well to learn from it. You have different kinds of meetings. So you’ve got your one on ones, you’ve got your all hands, you know, you you have to mix it up. And I think that there is a tendency for people to just say, okay, we’re going to have a daily check in And some days, it may not even include conversation with most of the people on the call, it may, it may effectively be a one on one with two people that just everybody else has to listen in on. And that’s just I mean that that doesn’t make any sense, right? I mean, those, those are updates that probably could be done over slack or email or something like that in most cases, or you can speak one on one with those folks that you actually need to have those conversations with. And I think that in some respects, it’s, it’s born out of, I don’t mean this in a negative way. It’s gonna sound it’s out of laziness, right? By having a daily meeting with your whole team. Yeah, you don’t have to worry about, you know, what’s the right frequency for each individually, you can just say, okay, we’re bringing everybody together. And I’ll just deal with whatever I need to deal with, even though it’s irrelevant to you know, 60% or 80% of the people on the call. And so you really need to be thoughtful about that. I mean, I mean, we’ve all been in those kinds of meetings, right? Where we’re sitting there like, why am I Why am I here? Yeah, right. I know what’s, what is the point. And and back in the day when I was in larger agencies, I used to just start blowing off meetings just to see what would happen. I would just say, you know, I don’t really think I need to be in this. So I’m going to see what happens if I don’t go a couple of times, if I don’t go. And it had half the time, they didn’t even notice that I wasn’t there, I’m sure. Right, because I wasn’t contributing, they weren’t talking to me. I was literally just a warm body in the room. And in most cases, I had a deputy or something like that, who was already there. So, you know, what’s the point and it was just, and and we all run into this too, right? Where we will invite someone as a courtesy sometimes to meetings. So that’s a horrible practice, you know, because what’s your What’s yours? You’re then putting that person in the position, if you haven’t communicated with them. I mean, if you say, Look, I’m adding you to this. So you can come if you want. That’s fine, right? Because you’ve made clear that it’s a courtesy invite. But if you’re in your mind, it’s a courtesy invite and you haven’t actually expressively communicated that the The person on the other end has to decide, well, so am I being disrespectful by not showing up? You know what, you know what? So you’re right, you’re handling wrong. So if you want to do a courtesy invite, just be clear, that’s what you’re doing. And frankly, most of the time, you don’t need to do a courtesy invite because anybody who is senior enough to get a courtesy invite probably has better things to do with their time. Deaf, hopefully, hopefully has been fixed in time. Otherwise, we’d have a conversation about agency profitability with that,

Gini Dietrich 

right, rarely. Yeah. And you know, the other lesson that I’ve learned is I used to schedule those meetings for an hour. And what I discovered is that 15 or 20 minutes of them, usually our business and then there’s 40 or 45 minutes of just chit chatting. And it got to the point where I was like, I don’t have time for this. I’m happy to just sit here and chit chat with you about politics and books and things like that. But I have, I have to build my time I have to get like I have to do client work. We’re in the middle of this crisis, whatever it happens to And so I started reducing the time, overtime. And so now the one to ones depending on who they who they’re with are between 15 and 30 minutes.

Chip Griffin

Yeah. And generally you don’t need more than that. I mean, you know, I think you don’t, you know, most meetings shouldn’t be scheduled for longer than 30 minutes. If you’re going to schedule something for longer than 30 minutes, you have to have a very clear agenda for it. Even if even at 30 minutes or less, you should still have some kind of an agenda for sure. But I don’t think it needs to be quite as detailed if it’s a shorter meeting, because generally, it’s sort of everybody’s kind of on the same page as to why we’re getting together. But once you start going to a longer one, you need to have more structure to it, because otherwise you do end up wasting a tremendous amount of time in it. And I look we’re in that weird situation. All of us are, we’re we’re, you know, we don’t have as much human contact. And so, inevitably, our calls and meetings do have more of that, you know, chitchat component, right, because you’re not getting it at the watercooler. You’re not getting it when you go out to lunch with a colleague. You’re not getting it as you walk through the hall. ways. All right, but you still have to keep it under control.

Gini Dietrich

You do? Yeah. Yeah. And that’s what I found is that, certainly I’m like anybody else like to have those conversations too, but an hour hour and a half of that is not appropriate. So I started reducing those.

Chip Griffin

No, I mean, and I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t do any of these meetings over an hour. I think it is very difficult unless, again, unless it’s very project specific, and you’ve really got a lot of ground you have to cover on a particular project. And even then, I’d suggest you may want to split it into multiple meetings. But it’s very difficult to stay, whether you’re sitting in around a conference table, or on zoom, or even on a conference call, staying focused on anything for an hour and a half or two hours is very

Gini Dietrich

fair. I will tell you that I personally like to do those longer, especially if I’m doing like a board meeting or something right now because we’re not doing board meetings in person. And those usually allow A little bit longer. I appreciate that they’re a conference call versus a zoom chat. Because I can do other things. I can walk the dog, I can do the dishes, I can fold the laundry, whatever. I mean, I can do other things. Because what happens is, and I know I’m not alone at this, but I’m sitting at my desk, and I’m on zoom, and I’m seeing slack notifications and text notifications and email notifications. After about 45 minutes, I start checking. So and that’s bad. And I even if I have it turned off, I’ve got two other computers sitting here. So I’m still seeing it in some fashion. So if I get up and walk away from my desk, I’m far more focused on what’s what the conversation is, especially for those longer conversations. But that proves your point that no human being can sit and be focused for more than 40 to half an hour. 45 minutes,

Chip Griffin  

right if you’re on if you’re on a zoom call or anything like that, where you can be checking your email out and texting and slacking and all that, you probably don’t need to be in that meeting. Because if that if the meeting is not requiring your focus and keeping your focus, you probably shouldn’t be there. Now, there are an exception for sort of, you know, half day day long board meeting type things where, you know, maybe you have to kind of keep half an eye on things or even even then I sort of hate it, and I’ve shared savings over the years. Yeah. And I, I, when I was younger, I was I was very much in that hardline. You know, I don’t want to see your phone out. I don’t want to, you know, and then over time, I realized, well, you know, occasionally keeping an eye on something may be beneficial, particularly if you’re in an all day meeting. Yeah, for sure. urgencies can crop up, because typically the people around the table are fairly senior and do have things that that need timely attention. But that said, if you’re sitting there I mean, I’ve been in those meetings where someone’s just on their computer the whole time. Typing, I guarantee you they’re not taking meeting notes.

Gini Dietrich

I mean, they are not

Chip Griffin

meeting soccer. So they’re not taking notes, those that still drives me nuts. Just don’t come, don’t come. If you were if honestly, if you were that busy, that you cannot, you know, give you give 90% of your attention to the course that just don’t show up. Don’t show up.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And if you’re in charge of those meetings don’t make them longer than they need to be.

Chip Griffin

Correct. But if you are, if you are on a zoom call, shut down all the other windows, right? I mean, this is this is one of those lessons I’ve learned the hard way over, just because you Even if you say, I’m not going to pay attention to it, you know, you see an alert pop up or just to just close them all. Plus, it will help with your bandwidth and sometimes that helps in getting good audio and video quality. Something Yeah, I’d love to discuss

Gini Dietrich

something.

Ah,

Chip Griffin

for those of you listen to last week’s episode, our apologies for the technical difficulties.

Gini Dietrich

I don’t know and it’s frustrating because We had a guy come, we had a guy come in and do all react, like rewire everything. And I’m literally hooked into the internet via a wire. It’s not Wi Fi. And the fact that it’s not working, I’m just like,

Chip Griffin 

but I think I think today, Jenny, we’ve tracked it down to your microphone, because you’re now on your earbuds for the show, and we haven’t knock on wood. We have not had any technical hiccups once you switch. And

Gini Dietrich

that’s very frustrating, because I have a very fancy, very nice brand new microphone, so it should not be causing any problems.

Chip Griffin

Well, you’ll have to have your guy look at him. The problem for me is I am my guy. So you know when something goes wrong here, I have to do the rewiring and the reprogramming and

Gini Dietrich

I actually had to hire somebody to do that.

Chip Griffin 

Hopefully they were wearing a mask But no, no, we’re not. We’re not going anywhere.

Gini Dietrich

We’re not here when he was here.

Chip Griffin

Last All right. Well, I think hopefully we given some folks some Some good ideas on how to make their meeting time more productive. It is not merely turning off the camera or having, you know, zoom free Wednesday’s or all these other crazy things that I’ve heard because the problem is not the zoom fatigue, it’s meeting fatigue. It’s a problem with with your your management structure and how you’re going about things and that’s what you need to address. So solve the real problem. Don’t just, you know, put a bandaid on the symptom have

Gini Dietrich

less meetings, less meetings have less,

Chip Griffin

plus your meetings, fewer people in those meetings, more results, which equals Yes, my favorite thing more profits.

Gini Dietrich 

I love Mr. Money, moment old money. Show me the money.

Chip Griffin

And with that, we will show you the end of this episode. So we’re drawing it to a close. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin

and it depends

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