Why Virtual Meetings Are Tiring — And It’s Probably Not Why You Think

Andy Hab
3 min readNov 27, 2023

You wrote about virtual meetings a few day ago — how is this different?

Yes, indeed, I wrote on recent research that showed that the social part of our brains responds differently to virtual and in-person meetings. Basically our social brains are less engaged and this ties in to this recent research into fatigue in virtual meetings.

Don’t we get fatigued because we have too many virtual meetings that are too long?

That is the general assumption — or that it is do with focusing on a screen rather than real people. There has been a lot more research into virtual meetings since the pandemic began. One piece at the start showed how not taking a break between meetings led to higher stress levels. As many of us know we can have multiple back to back meetings virtually with only very short breaks — not ideal from a brain functioning point of view. But then again that can also happen with in-person meetings.

The answer is different through.

Don’t keep me in suspense. Why then?

What Niina Nurmi and Satu Pakarinen of Aalto University in Finland found is that the reason we, or many people, get fatigued is the opposite to what we might assume.

We get fatigued not because of overload but because of underload!

Underload — we are not engaged enough?!

Precisely. They followed 444 knowledge workers in over 400 meetings and included biological responses such as heart rate monitoring and collected other data points such as sleepiness.

What they found is that with respect to sleepiness — this was not triggered by the amount, or length, or format of the meeting, but simply by engagement. So mental underload and boredom and this was in turn predicted by level of work engagement.

So, if you are engaged with your work it’s less fatiguing?

Precisely, work place engagement and enthusiasm predicted fatigue much better, rather than length, or format as already mentioned.

In virtual meetings there are less cues to keep people engaged and the social brain is activated less — as I noted in that previous article. Particularly if the…

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!