Virtual Meetings Stress

A Microsoft study looked at stress and fatigue created by virtual meetings. The study was conducted by Microsoft Human Factors Lab.

In the study of brain wave activity, researchers confirmed what many people sense from experience: Back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful.

Researchers from the lab, which examines how humans interact with technology, asked 14 people to take part in video meetings while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment—a cap to monitor the electrical activity in their brains.

The research showed that breaks between meetings allow the brain to “reset,” reducing a cumulative build-up of stress across meetings. As seen in previous studies, in two straight hours of back-to-back meetings, the average activity of beta waves—those associated with stress—increased over time. In other words, the stress kept accumulating. The research showed that taking time out between video calls prevents stress from building up.

Another finding from Microsoft’s research was that back-to-back meetings can decrease your ability to focus and engage. Without breaks, the participants were withdrawn, or less engaged in the meeting. This shows that when the brain is experiencing stress, it’s harder to stay focused and engaged. Breaks are not only good for wellbeing, but also improve our ability to do our best work.

Some of the practical suggestions were to:

  • Shift your mindset. While it might feel more productive to power through back-to-backs, research shows the opposite is true. View breaks away from your computer as an essential part of your workday
  • Keep participants engaged and energised
  • Create even more time for breaks

“Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings,” says Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, who oversaw the project.

 “The back-to-back meetings that have become the norm over the last 12 months just aren’t sustainable,” says Jared Spataro, CVP, Microsoft 365.

Our own experience at DISC Profiles Australia, while not as scientific as Microsoft’s research I.E. no EEG equipment, suggests that virtual sessions should go no more than 90 minutes. Thus, our virtual accreditation training sessions, while live facilitated to keep participants engaged and energised, are capped at 75 minutes; 2 a day, with long breaks between.

“The virtual training was very engaging, the sessions were sharp, we had great resources, I enjoyed the breakout rooms to consolidate learning,
and the real-life examples also helped consolidate the learning.”
Sascha Sanderson-Brown, People and Performance Manager