When the pandemic hit in mid-March, many of you faced uncertain times. You weren’t sure how long the situation would last, and although some of you had home offices, others worked on laptops while sitting on the sofa.

That was eight months ago, and we're all taking time to adjust to the new normal. Although some of you have returned to the workplace, many of you are still working partly or entirely from home.

In an attempt to keep us connected, we're all using Zoom for both work and social events. I recently attended an online conference where they had online trivia night, cooking classes, and Zoom karaoke to socially connect to other attendees.

But there are downsides to remote working, learning and socializing. We're beginning to discover that it’s not the same as seeing and meeting people in person. This may be leading to Zoom fatigue, missing communication cues and even brain fog. We are social creatures, and although we are substituting physical meetings with online meetings, they aren’t the same.

Clear and concise communication

When looking at screens, we usually skim the information we're receiving instead of focusing on the details. Reading from a screen can also be much more distracting.

Making an extra effort to create clear, concise communication in easy-to-read chunks will help your coworkers understand and absorb the information you're sending them.

It's also not easy to stop by and ask for clarification on a task, so be sure that your communication lines are open for further questions or concerns.

Non-verbal cues and body language

It's harder to read the non-verbal cues and gestures of several people on different screens. You either view the speaker and don't see the other people on-screen, or you have half a dozen chat windows on your computer at once. Unless you are having a one-to-one chat, virtual meetings can be very distracting and exhausting.

Virtual meetings feel a bit fuzzier for gathering information than in-person meetings. This could be because humans tend to take in three-dimensional information quicker. There's also the case that it's easier to tune out while on a computer versus in person. You can get away with scrolling through your email or checking chat much more than if you tried to do so in front of other people.


Speaking of distractions, when you work from home, distractions are rampant, especially if you are a parent. Being in a physical office insulates you from other parts of your life. Working from home doesn’t and you will have family members to care for, interruptions from various sources and days that blend into one another. It's important to remember to empathize with other people as we don't know what is happening in their households and lives.

So, what can we do for ourselves, our social groups and our families? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be respectful and empathetic.

    The first thing is to understand that people are fatigued easily by staring at a screen all day. Try to make meetings shorter with a clear agenda and outcomes. Trust that despite the lack of non-verbal cues you get from meetings, people attending have the same intentions as when you were meeting in-person. If someone takes their screen off, they may need a break or to tend to a family member.

  2. Manage work expectations.

    Managers are having a hard time with the pandemic and their employees. Some may have too much work to do, while others do not have as much. Some employees may need accommodations due to health, mental health or higher family demands. Trust that your employees can set realistic goals and decisions about what they can and cannot accomplish.
  3. If possible, find ways to meet in-person

    When I first wrote this article, SFU was in H2. Right now, SFU has moved to higher-level H1, where there are strict rules about coming to work and work meetings, and I cannot stress enough to be safe, especially with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases. However, I’ve also learned that meeting in-person helps with communication and connection. We will get through this time, but when restrictions lift, if you have a chance to meet with your safe six, or a co-worker and it complies with both SFU and BC CDC guidelines, it’s a great idea to do so. Please see the SFU COVID-19 resources and FAQs for more guidance.

    If you feel safer not doing so, just be aware of these extra communication barriers and be kind. If you’re experiencing any kind of anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, please access EFAP for help.