2 New Studies on Combatting Meeting Underload or Overload

Madelaine Weiss
4 min readNov 18, 2023

Table of Contents

What’s Wrong with Meetings?

I actually love virtual meetings just as much as in-person meetings. Okay, maybe I love them more just because of how incredibly convenient they are.

Other people say they are tired of virtual. And, that could be because virtual meetings really do make our brains tired. That’s what researchers are finding.

Before we get to that let’s talk a bit about the benefits. From an earlier post:

…virtual meetings make it possible for different types of personalities to contribute in ways that suit them.

From a Harvard Business Review article: Hybrid or virtual meetings are inherently more inclusive than in-person ones, as they allow participation from all kinds of personalities — those who would raise their hand and speak and those who would prefer to chat in their comments.

And here are some fun facts from that same post:

  • 71% of meetings are considered unproductive, costing $37 billion per year to American business.
  • 55 million meetings per week in the U.S., 11 million per week, 1 billion per year
  • 65% of employees agree meetings prevent work completion
  • 41% multitask during meeting
  • 91% daydream during meeting
  • 55% think the meeting could have been an email

Studies have found that less than 2% of conversations end at a point when both people want them to, and that only about 10% of the time did both people wish the conversation had lasted longer.

Advice from Zippia:

The ideal meeting length is about 15 minutes. Studies show that in meetings that are no longer than 15 minutes, 91% of attendees are paying attention. This number steadily declines until it reaches only 64% in meetings over 45 minutes….You improve work meetings by determining the reason for the meeting beforehand, setting and distributing an agenda before the meeting, and limiting the meeting attendees to 10, maximum. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “if you need more than two pizzas to feed everybody, there are too many people.”

Hope some of that helps with in-person getting together, in general. Now, what’s different about the virtual kind?

What’s Different About Virtual Meetings?

Here is what the 2 studies found. One found that video conferencing was significantly more exhausting than the in-person kind, characterized by feeling tired and alienated.

In addition to the subjective reporting of previous studies, these researchers tested the neurophysiology (EEG and ECG) of participants who either attended a 50-minute lecture in-person or by video conferencing, concluding that:

A better understanding of videoconference fatigue is important, as this phenomenon has a far-reaching impact on the well-being of individuals, interpersonal relationships and organizational communication.

The other study, reported by Science Daily at the same time, explored the drowsiness that occurred during 400 meetings of 44 knowledge workers. These researchers also used physiological methods, shadowed participants to link responses to events, and administered questionnaires to assess how engaged and enthusiastic participants were about their work.

What they found was that the better the participants felt about their work, the better they could stay actively engaged in a virtual meeting without fatigue. Less engaged and enthusiastic participants found virtual very tiring, and more tiring than the in-person kind.

Here are some possible reasons. Contrary to the commonly held idea that Zoom causes overload, if disengaged workers turn their cameras off, let’s say, the lack of cognitive and social cues can leave them underloaded (understimulated) instead. As in, bored.

So they start multitasking, and it is straining to focus cognitively on more than one thing at once that exhausts the brain. The brain doesn’t do two things at once very well.

For example, an MIT Neuroscientist explains what happens if we try to take a phone call in the middle of a writing project:

The brain has to stop focusing on writing, switch to listening, and then back to writing. But in returning to the first task, the brain has to use more energy to focus and get back into the flow. According to Professor Miller, the small interruption wastes time and increases the chances of making mistakes.

And yet, we are wired to try anyway because, back in the day when the modern human brain was being formed, it was good to be able to pay attention to a few important matters at the same time. Food over here, danger over there — stop whatever you are doing, reproductive opportunity right now.

Today, however, there are more than a few things calling on our attention, and the brain is just not designed to handle it all.

So, what’s the takeaway? What can we do to improve virtual and in-person meetings, lectures, and any other occasions where we have to pay attention when we feel like doing anything but?

What is the Takeaway?

The authors of the second study say to walk. Walking is automatic so the brain doesn’t need to strain to make it happen. And walking can energize and assist rather than impede concentration.

High-powered leaders must know this. “Walk with me,” they say. And it always seems so cool. But we can’t always do that. We can’t always invite people to walk around with us in the middle of a meeting, or a talk, or even to walk around going nowhere or somewhere ourselves.

No worries, there is something else we can do anywhere, any time. And that is to laser-focus our attention on the one thing we are there to do. You may think that disciplining the mind that way will take more energy and make you more tired than if you let your mind wander around all over the place. But I bet you would be wrong 😉

Practice, practice, practice…let us know what happens, and for help with this or something else, Contact Me at wessmadelaine@gmail.com



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Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC