Reducing the Negative Impact of Video Meetings

remote worker on zoom meeting

by Niamh Pentony, Ergonomist and Director at Boyne Ergonomics

The forced move in March 2020 to home-working and the requirement for social distancing saw a huge increase in the use of video conferencing and meeting software.

According to in July 2020, 80% of employees used video conferencing software for 1:1 calls, 75% of CEOs say that video conference calls will replace audio only conference calls and 78% of employees use web conferencing software for their team meetings. These are just a couple of statistics but I know from conducting virtual DSEs and changes to my own role in the last year, there are employees who have gone from never doing virtual meetings to full days of video calls and conferences.

There were certainly positives to using video for meetings when working from home. It offered connection between employees working from home and increased employee engagement. It helped new starters become familiar with their colleagues in the absence of the office. Even now, with the return to the office and hybrid working, virtual meetings remain a staple of the working week. They allow for convenient arrangement of meetings between people in different locations, reducing the need for travel (climate friendly too!) and allow employees to work from home while still linking in with their colleagues.

But from an ergonomic perspective, a high level of video calls and virtual meetings can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing.

In this article, I will identify the steps that employers and employees can take to reduce the negative impact of a high level of virtual meetings.

Negative Impact of Video Meetings

During virtual DSE assessments, the rise in the use of video meetings has been cited by employees as one of the main reasons that they are seated at the workstation for prolonged periods. Employees report that back-to-back meetings, feeling pressure to be visible on screen, lunch time meetings and lack of breaks in meetings as negatives in the use of video meetings.

Prolonged seated postures at the workstation can lead to an increase in musculoskeletal discomfort, eye strain and health issues associated with inactivity.

Employees engaged in a high level of video calls report a phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue”, a feeling of exhaustion at the end of the work day when working from home.

Why does this happen?

Researchers cite frustration from lack of eye contact, an increase in effort required to pay attention to what is being said, technical issues, non-work distractions, self-awareness, performance pressure and an increase in screen time as causing this increase in fatigue associated with high levels of video calls.

                                                 Look familiar!?

What Can Employers Do To Reduce The Negative Impact of Video Meetings

Employers and Team Leaders should look at what they can do to reduce the static postures and screen time associated with video meetings.

  • Create a Video Meeting Policy
    • Aim to ensure that breaks are inserted into video meetings if they scheduled to be over 60 minutes in duration. The break time should be long enough to allow attendees to get up and leave the desk for a bathroom break or to get a drink.
    • Reduce the length of video meetings to allow a break between back-to-back calls (e.g. reducing 30 minute meetings to 25 minutes, 60 minute meetings to 50 minutes etc).
    • Allow employees to turn off their cameras once the meeting has started.
    • Consider introducing meeting free days, if possible.
    • Team leaders and managers should aim to have their team members onsite on the same day and arrange regular or essential meetings to be conducted in person on those office based days.
  • Provide Employees with a Wireless Headset
    • This will allow employees to stay present in and contribute to the meeting while moving from the home workstation
    • It also ensures privacy of discussions and reduces background noise
  • Reduce The Amount of Camera Based Calls
    • Assess if the meeting can be conducted as an audio only call
    • If so, encourage employees to log into these calls on portable devices such as mobile phones or tablets to encourage mobility during the calls.
  • Introduce the Idea of Walking / Outdoor Meetings
    • As we move into the Summer, employees could log in to audio only calls from their mobile phones, using the associated earphones, and take part in the meeting while out walking or outdoors.
  • Provide Small Meeting Rooms In The Office
    • Small meeting rooms in the office provide an alternative location for the employees to use during office based video calls, encouraging movement from the workstation.
  • Consider Investing In Sit Stand Workstations
    • Virtual meetings are unavoidable in the modern workplace. While increased movement and mobility can be encourage at home by use of wireless headsets and mobile devices, this cannot be applied in the office. To do so would cause distraction for colleagues. Sit stand workstations facilitate changes of posture from sitting to standing during video calls, when taking microbreaks from the desk is not practical.
  • Lead by Example
    • If other meeting participants observe their Team Leaders and Managers moving around during video calls or turning the camera off intermittently, they are more likely to view it as an acceptable practice.

What Can Employees Do To Reduce The Negative Impact of Video Meetings

These tips apply also when joining in virtual courses, conference calls and webinars. It is all about increasing mobility from the workstation to reduce the risks associated with static loading, adverse postures and increased screen time.

  • Invest in a Wireless Headset
    • If your employer does not provide a wireless headset, invest in one for yourself. Your body will thank you! The wireless headset has become a very useful tool for increasing mobility when working from home.
  • Log into Calls from your Mobile Phone
    • If you are a logging into a call as a participant as opposed to a presenter, logging in via your mobile phone will allow you to move around or away from the work area while in the meeting.
  • Stand for Some of your Meetings
    • If you have a height adjustable work surface, use it in the standing position for some of your video calls.
  • Turn the Camera Off Intermittently
    • If you are in a private work area, you are required to be visible onscreen and you take your calls on speaker / have a wireless headset, turn the camera off for 30 – 60 seconds, walk around your work area, stretch, sit back down once you feel ready and turn the camera back on.
Virtual meetings are here to stay, but the potential negative impact to employee health and wellbeing can be avoided with careful planning, policy creation, implementation and fostering a workplace that recognises the importance of movement and mobility at work.
About the author
Niamh has been working in the area of workplace ergonomics since 2009, specialising in assessing and adapting workstations to reduce pain and discomfort, having completed a Masters in Applied Ergonomics from the University of Nottingham.
In June 2019 Niamh launched Boyne Ergonomics, an independent ergonomics consultancy company that specialises in virtual and onsite DSE Risk Assessments and workplace Ergonomic Risk Assessments. Niamh works with employers in corporate, industrial and educational settings to ensure their employees can work safely and efficiently, whether it is an employee returning from absence, an employee reporting pain at work, an employee with additional needs or a general preventative review of current workstations.
Since April 2020, Niamh has been working with employers in to ensure their home-based employees have the appropriate education, equipment and set-up to reduce their risk of musculoskeletal injury, eye strain and stress.
Niamh is a member of the Irish Human Factors & Ergonomics Society and the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors.