So-called Zoom fatigue is real – in fact, even Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan has been unable to avoid it.
It’s clear that having back-to-back meetings — especially in a virtual scenario where meetings no longer give you a screen break — is killing productivity, and therefore contributing to employee burnout, overworking, and a lack of work-life balance.
One method to tackling meeting fatigue — and re-focusing on employee wellbeing — that employers have begun to implement during the pandemic is introducing ‘Zoom-free’ afternoons or days.
Of course, this is not a new concept — for instance, Shopify has been doing this since 2018. “One of the values is to thrive on change, so our employees are asked to decline all internal meetings on Wednesdays and devote time to unstructured thinking, building, creating and gaining perspective,” David King, head of employee experience, diversity and belonging at Shopify, told Glassdoor.
However, as the pandemic seems to have led to an exponential growth in meetings – at least partly to try and supplement the loss of casual, water cooler conversations and office-based collaboration – more and more companies are realizing they need to do something.
Let’s take a look at some companies that have decided to outlaw internal meetings on certain days of the week to tackle employee burnout.
Earlier this week, Allianz’s ex-CEO – who now serves as COO and on the board — Barbara Karuth-Zelle shared on LinkedIn that the financial services company is trialing so-called ‘Silent Friday Mornings’ where no meetings are scheduled between 9 am and 12 pm. (Sounds dreamy!).
In addition to this, Allianz employees are encouraged to follow the example of new CEO Daniel Besendorfer when it comes to booking family time, lunch, and other activities into their calendar to support their work-life balance.
However, Allianz’s commitment to supporting employee wellbeing during the pandemic doesn’t stop with addressing over-meeting. At the end of last year, the company’s wellbeing officers organized a global, virtual wellbeing week that involved talks about nutrition and mindfulness.
At the end of April, French-headquartered virtual prototyping company ESI Group acknowledged that meetings were bringing stress and disrupting workflows for employees. With this in mind, the company decided to embrace a no meeting day on Wednesdays.
The aim was not only to give employees back time to focus and work efficiently, but also to introduce more flexibility into their working week.
ESI is very clear that for this initiative be successful it needs to be embraced by all of its 1,200 employees and that managers must lead by example.
The company’s director of HR Yannick Charron added: “Widespread home office has a significant impact on our professional ultra-connection and generates an intensive use of video-conference meetings.
“Based on this situation, we have set up this day without meetings every week. Reestablishing meetings best practices goes hand in hand with it.
“With this initiative, we want, above all, to continue to preserve our teams while knowing that the time saved will be a time of focus, restoring the importance of taking time, oriented toward efficiency.”
Back in June 2020, global consultancy Accenture recognized that its workers were burning out and wanted to make their lives stress free.
So over the summer, Accenture’s US employees were encouraged to limit the number of meetings on Fridays and end conference calls at the end of the working day at 5:30pm.
Accenture is focusing on employee mental wellbeing beyond just addressing meeting fatigue. For example, staff are receiving training to help them understand the psychology behind stress, and therefore enable them to figure out how best to manage their burnout.
Accenture market unit lead for the US Northeast Jack Asagury told Bloomberg: “We’ve been very focused on mental health and helping people make sure they take breaks.
“It’s not like we’re working from home — it’s that we’re living in the office. We do need to be very careful about people burning out.”
However, it is unclear if this policy is still in place at Accenture almost a year later.
Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser’s decision in late March to implement Zoom-free Fridays to tackle digital exhaustion dominated news headlines for days.
In a blogpost, Jane Fraser wrote:
“I know from your feedback and my own experience, the blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our wellbeing. It’s simply not sustainable.”
Citi designated Friday a day without video calls – although audio calls are still allowed – and encouraging employees to set “healthy work boundaries”. Fraser said: “Please try to limit scheduling calls outside of what had been traditional working hours pre-pandemic and on weekends”.
Further to this Fraser called on employees to take their holidays in order to refresh – and also introduced a company-wide extra reset day at the end of May.
This announcement was coupled with Citi showing its interest in embracing hybrid working – something which the banking sector has by and large rejected.
In the same blogpost, Fraser wrote that although the bank sees some benefits from working in the office, “we also recognize that our people have benefitted from aspects of working remotely, and we intend to create additional flexibility going forward.
Another banking giant that has similarly embraced hybrid working, and also designated time without video calls is HSBC.
HSBC is currently piloting Zoom-free Friday afternoons with UK staff in its commercial banking unit.
A spokesperson for HSBC told the BBC: “The trial will involve a number of people committing to not setting up Zoom meetings on a Friday afternoon to allow space for other work.”
This move came as Jonathan Frostick, an employee at HSBC, hit the headlines when he shared his thoughts about the need for work-life balance after suffering a heart attack while prepping for a workweek on a Sunday afternoon.