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Is it an effective virtual meeting if it’s two hours long?

John Lovell

For months now, our news feeds have been filled with articles on Zoom fatigue. But what if it’s not the platform, it’s us?

For months now, our news feeds have been filled with articles on Zoom fatigue. The symptoms. The causes. The remedies. The ‘new rules.’ How to run effective virtual meetings. Whether it should be a meeting or could be an email.

As a manager with a hybrid team, I’ve certainly read my fair share. My team is accountable for customer success, so my obligations are to them and to every customer they serve. Am I delivering key information in a consumable manner? Are folks multi-tasking? Zoom-fatigued? Are they understanding and internalizing critical information? Have I created an equitable environment for remote vs. office staff? Should we go back to being on video all the time? Do I really look as old as I do on video? (Quick tips for looking human on camera do help.)

How long should effective virtual meetings be anyway?

But a report that crossed my desk has me pondering a different question – is it Zoom fatigue, or meeting fatigue? Over the past decade, I’ve hung my hat on this statistic – effective virtual meetings are scheduled for 60 minutes or less. Period. Corporate. Government. Company town hall meetings. Virtual press conferences. Earnings calls. All of them 60 minutes tops, many of them less.

The report in question showed that more than half of the webinars we hosted this summer ran more than 60 minutes, with 22% running more than twice that. Nearly a quarter of the webinars we hosted for customers ran longer than 120 minutes. That stark contrast to a decade’s history required a peek at the underlying data.

As our state and local government customers converted citizen engagement forums from physical to virtual – with seemingly limitless durations on some topics and in some jurisdictions – they certainly contributed. Another impact was the increased percentage of internal vs. external communications. Media and investor briefings, for example, did not get longer. Rather, employee communications and trainings not only increased in number but in duration – and significantly.

As a manager, I understand. We have information to convey. We want to be accessible. We need to train. We want to maintain and foster collegial relationships on our teams. We’ve lost ‘grabbing a coffee’ and ‘bumping into each other in the hallway.’ We’re relying on Zoom to do all the things and, apparently, we’re trying to do an awful lot of the things at one time.

But as a manager – and an employee, a parent, a person – I’m also tired. And my news feed says I’m not alone. So I’m shifting my focus from Zoom fatigue to meeting fatigue and what I can do, apart from email/IM over a meeting whenever possible, to structure effective virtual meetings.

How effective virtual meetings can reduce “meeting fatigue”

My first thought is more meetings rather than longer – with shorter durations, clear and narrow agendas and objectives and liberal use of parking lots and other tactics to stay on topic. The key will be to do this without stifling interaction with and within my team.  My approach will be to tweak the old 45-minute meeting strategy. Instead of “book the meeting at 9:00, out at 9:45” I’m going to hold the agenda to those 45 minutes but leave room for another 15 of interaction. Not every meeting fits within that duration, and not every team or topic will carry into the 15 minute buffer, but I happily left two colleagues in my meeting room earlier this week engaged in spontaneous collaboration past the meeting’s scheduled end. A silver bullet? No. A tactic to help reduce meeting fatigue for my team? I’m hopeful.