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Are virtual meetings a headache?

Seeing people in pixels rather than in person…

Diane Hall


Woman on Video call with collegues

I recently completed seven full days of training delivered virtually, which was an interesting experience. I wouldn’t say it was a pleasurable experience—though, had the training been delivered offline in a conference room somewhere, I doubt I would have found it any more riveting.

Staring at a screen for eight hours at a time, over seven days, is not something I do often, if at all. I may spend a few hours in front of a screen here and there across typical weeks, but this is broken up by other work, my commute, and the sheer fact that I’m part-time with my various employers—I’m never in any one workplace/space for too long.

A couple of days into the training, I had to adjust the brightness of my screen as I began to suffer from a constant headache. And the intense screen-watching made me much sleepier than when I carry out normal work tasks on the computer.

A colleague of mine spends much of her day virtually networking via Zoom. When she was in the office recently, after hopping off yet another business get-together via a screen, she genuinely looked shattered—like she’d run a half-marathon. She fully agreed that virtual meetings of any kind can be exhausting, both physically and mentally.

I joined a thread on an online forum that talked about working from home. The original poster was lamenting that their employer had got rid of their office premises (without consulting its employees, though this is another issue). They were destined to see out their working life at home, and they were devastated at the thought.

Stress from home working

Stress from home working

The respondents to her post were split three ways. One section was happy to be working from home and couldn’t understand her distress, citing the lack of commute, the flexibility within their day and never having to endure banal conversation with colleagues as some of the reasons they loved remote working. The second section were those who had worked throughout the pandemic at their employers’ workplaces, due to the nature of their job being unsuitable for homeworking. Most of these respondents pined for the benefits the first section enjoyed.

The remaining third were sick and tired of working from home and longed to be back in the workplace.

This section hated being tied to a screen for a good portion of their day (just as I did when training). They missed interacting in person with their colleagues and felt varying levels of loneliness. They hated that they had no separation between their work and home lives. They saw a future of homeworking stretching out endlessly before them. A percentage of this group had already begun looking for another job.

Group workers

Group workers

Many enjoy working in a group and hate working alone at home.

One comment did stand out for me. The poster said, ‘All of you that can’t wait to get back to the office, or who are dreading a life of homeworking, are likely to have a job that you enjoy with colleagues you get on with. For people for whom this is not the case, homeworking is a very welcome alternative.’ She has a point. If you enjoy your time in the office with your colleagues, and you have a job that you enjoy, and your commute is easily forgotten, it’s clear to see why you’d miss it. If, however, you didn’t enjoy the office experience to begin with, because you had a colleague that infuriated you, you didn’t enjoy being micro-managed, perhaps, or you had a horrendous commute involving numerous modes of transport, then I can see your view of returning would be coloured.

The loneliness of homeworking is turning into a big thing between employees who have been forced to work remotely since the pandemic began. Not being able to interact with their team—indeed, anyone else—is one issue; however, I believe that social distancing restrictions and the closure of most leisure/hospitality venues, is exacerbating how cut off from civilisation some people are feeling currently. For many, it’s just not the same seeing people in pixels rather than in person. We’re social animals. Interacting with each other in real life, i.e. offline, is part of our psyche.

I suspect that, once the UK open ups again, and we can mingle with…well, anyone, the loneliness will dissipate a little during working hours. And it won’t just feel like all we do is work and sleep.

Homeworking genuinely has lots of benefits, and it suits some people down to the ground. However, I can also see why people yearn to be back in the office. The latter could be confused with a need to see anyone we don’t live or shop for food with, however, and this is why I think the virtues of remote working will once again come to the fore when normal life resumes.

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