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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption to the ways we work.  Some of the changes wrought will remain in effect well into 2021. Virtual meeting software (Zoom, WebEx, GoTo Meeting and Microsoft Teams to name just a few) is now a significant part of the professional workday. Respondents to a survey by Robert Half reported spending 30% of their workday on camera with business contacts or colleagues. The software isn’t simply being used for scheduled business meetings, but for informal gatherings between professionals, socials, and interviews.

While such software allows many of us to maintain a sense of normalcy and connection to our colleagues, ‘Zoom burnout’ is a real problem. Twenty-four percent of people surveyed by Robert Half found “virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting and prefer to communicate via other channels like email or phone.” Many struggled to concentrate after too many meetings.

For job seekers and students in their final year of college, networking is still crucial to landing the right position, and Zoom is an important tool for that purpose. For workers not actively seeking new opportunities, Zoom allows them to stay connected with other colleagues working remotely and make new contacts.

Zoom as a job-seeking tool

Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, people are still graduating college, entering the workforce, and planning career changes. Fortunately, the biotech job market remains relatively strong and companies continue to hire. Networking remains an important part of the job-seeking process, and many networking events have successfully migrated to a virtual format.

If you’re hunting for a job, look for networking events run by professional science organizations, regional trade associations, or interest groups. Happy hours or networking socials are particularly helpful to attend as a way to meet recruiters and people already working in your target industry.

It can be difficult to network online in a large group, so many events either set up breakout rooms attendees can self-select into, or randomize participants to different breakout rooms during the social as a form of “speed networking.”

While networking online, remember it’s harder to read body language and detect social cues when looking at a person through video conference software, so be careful not to monopolize the conversation, and give other people a chance to share their thoughts. Consider sharing links to your LinkedIn profile in the group chat so others can follow up with you after the meeting ends — and copy the information quickly, because you probably won’t get access to the conversation afterward.

Zoom as a tool to connect with coworkers

Many virtual meeting platforms function equally well for business and personal gatherings. Zoom estimates 89% of its users are using its platform for work and 63% are using it for conversations with friends and family.

If you’re looking for novel but relaxed ways to connect with colleagues or employees, consider running a remote coworking event where participants socialize for the first 30 minutes then focus on their work for a couple of hours. This lets everyone have some company while they work. Another option is to schedule virtual coffee breaks or lunches with your coworkers.

Many workplaces have organized work from home socials where participants are sent the necessary components for an activity — escape room clues, wine or food tasting samples, a simple craft activity — that they can all enjoy together as a shared experience.

Avoiding Zoom fatigue

Burnout from too many online meetings is a real phenomenon, so use the software sparing for maximum benefit. Try to avoid scheduling too many meetings back-to-back, and consider spreading essential meetings out over several days. Of course, the best way to avoid Zoom fatigue is to not use Zoom; consider taking a step back and asking yourself if this virtual meeting could be an old-fashioned phone call (or even just an email!). Also consider other ways to manage your work-life balance.

When you do have to hop on a virtual meeting, try to reduce your number of available distractions and avoid multitasking. Though it can seem productive trying to complete several tasks at once, it will end up increasing your Zoom fatigue and making it harder to focus in the next meeting.