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Video calls are not always the answer

“Walk and talk” meetings are good for our bodies, our brains and our work.

Sara Lobkovich
Sara Lobkovich
5 min read
Video calls are not always the answer

This post was originally shared via Medium — on occasion I’ll share more polished / “business-y” stories over there in addition to here. For those who already saw this, thank you for reading and we’ll see you next week!

Source: Google Trends, US Interest Over Time for “Zoom Fatigue”

“Zoom fatigue” entered the Google Trends lexicon with a bang during the last week of March 2020. It’s now February 2021, and if the consulting and coaching clients I’ve spoken with this week are any indication, our video-call fatigue shows no signs of abating. Many of us are feeling like the potatoes in a potato clock

(it’s a thing, kids — image search it)

like we wake up, plug into our video calls which drain our energy and life force, and then at the end of the day we unplug with a strange sense of lost time

having spent much of the day talking to people (but are they people when they’re inside the machine)? Our systems confused by the cognitive overhead of constantly cycling on

what is real?

and working to achieve clarity and understanding without the tools of shared energy and facial and body expressions that we rely on when communicating and connecting in person.

I don’t need to belabor the point — it’s already been written about heavily. A few examples:

I am a (strong) introvert who works in consulting, coaching and training so adapting to my life as a potato in a potato clock has been bumpy.

I love my work (passionately) and even so, for the last few weeks the image I haven’t been able to get out of my head is inspired by Minority Report:

At the end of the day, my husband (played by Tom Cruise) comes to rescue me, the drained precog, from my pool where I’ve been jacked into The Machine, the life force being drained out of my perpetually fight-flight-or-freeze-filled body.

And it’s not pretty. A colleague described my recent state as “teetering” this week, and it’s one of the most true things someone else has said to me in some time.

And I know I’m not alone, since I’m having this conversation over, and over, and over, on a near-daily basis.

The leadership team where I work started doing walking AMAs early in the pandemic, and they were great. A few months ago I started really paying attention to what was working, and what wasn’t, with my energy and my video calls. Over the holidays, I had time off from my day-job work but was still busy with self-employment, with the freedom and flexibility to match my tactics and my energy and to really experiment with my call formats (and boundaries) to try to ease my exhaustion.

And something counterintuitive happened.

You know what doesn’t leave me feeling like a spent potato at the end of a day of meetings?

(I’m about to say a naughty word in video call circles, so if you’re easily offended just be forewarned.)


When I’m the teacher presenting or coach facilitating a room full of 30 or 50 people, there is no such thing. But that only describes about 1/2 of my video call time.

The other half of the time I’m in internal meetings with colleagues, or coaching or consulting sessions with clients. And those meetings are not all performance. Those meetings have a range of gives and gets, and demands and offers. They depend on active listening and good note-taking or information capture.

So I’m finding great value in embracing multitasking and providing people I work with the option to multitask during those meetings (if it works for us both).

I don’t mean distraction. I‘m not talking about checking email and catching up on online shopping while we talk. And it’s well-established in positive psychology circles that we are at our happiest when we’re present in the activity we’re engaged in, without mind-wandering.

But I do my best, most clear thinking these days when I’m walking my dog, or working in my garden, or folding laundry. Or really: anywhere BUT my computer or in front of a screen.

And I noticed that when I started doing those things away from screens during calls when I was able to and still fully participate, I experienced a host of benefits:

  1. Increased satisfaction because I’m getting a personal chore done or some self-care in addition to working;
  2. Less eye-strain because I gave my eyes a chance to look at something other than a screen;
  3. Better thinking, because the cognitive overhead that usually goes to parsing all the unnatural things about video calls can instead be devoted to active listening and thinking.

So now I‘ve added a new “location type” to my scheduling options for meetings with known participants:

Walk & Talk.

My Walk & Talk meetings are Microsoft Teams or Zoom-hosted, but with video turned off. Instead of sitting at my desk taking notes, or the person I’m meeting with feeling like they need to, each of us can choose whatever activity helps us operate at our best for the purposes of the call — some participants find folding laundry while talking soothing. Others find walking their dog creativity-inspiring. Others pace or ride a stationary bicycle or stare out a window. Sometimes, we schedule this meeting type and we still both wind up sitting at our desks — but at least we’re not looking at screens.

Whatever the choice on either end of the line, I’m finding these meetings incredibly productive (and early reports from test subjects confirm this approach is successful on both ends of the line).

From a mechanics standpoint, to enable us to break free of the desk (if we so choose), I record the meeting audio and then get a quick transcript so we’ve got a record of our time together. It’s quick and easy to scan the transcript for major takeaways and next steps, and meeting this way significantly reduces the performance anxiety and cognitive overload that can come with meeting “cameras on,” and helps reduce jitters on both sides of the line.

I don’t choose this meeting type for people, but I do offer it among the options people may choose when they schedule with me. It isn’t suitable for all meetings or all people, but it is helpful for a lot of meetings and a lot of people.

My scheduling form for existing / known clients lets people choose Walk & Talk as a meeting “location.”

I hope this plants a seed for you to consider what parts of your week you may be able to step away from the video screen. It may feel like (or be) a risk to try, depending on the culture of the organizations you work with. But as boundaries go, this is a relatively simple one to experiment with and may yield much higher returns than you realize.

I’d love to hear from you if you try it. What worked? What wasn’t as successful? Let’s learn, together.


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