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With increasingly volatile markets and clients in distress, the past few months have required new levels of remote meetings – and that has left advisors with no choice but to take them on.

STEVE DEBENPORT/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Ron Harvey, senior financial advisor at IPC Investment Corp. in Ottawa, has learned to be strategic about scheduling video calls with clients and colleagues while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He only schedules two or three video meetings a day between Tuesdays and Thursdays and reserves Mondays and Fridays for administrative tasks and to catch up on his work.

Limiting the number of video calls he takes per week has worked wonders for curbing virtual meeting fatigue, more commonly known as “Zoom fatigue,” a form of burnout unique to conversing through a screen, Mr. Harvey says. Compared with face-to-face discussions, virtual meetings typically require more attention to pick up on non-verbal cues, allow greater room for distraction and increase our self-consciousness over our own image in the corner of the screen.

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“I find it helps a lot,” he says of his scheduling tactics, noting that his clients are generally amenable to these parameters as well. (His assistant, who typically schedules his calls, always offers clients three or four available meeting slots, which has proven effective.)

Zoom fatigue is by no means unique to the financial services industry. Workers across all industries are tiring from endless screen-to-screen contact. But for many advisors, virtual meetings are inescapable. With increasingly volatile markets and clients in distress, the past few months have required new levels of remote meetings – and that has left advisors with no choice but to take them on.

Mr. Harvey suggests that advisors struggling with virtual meeting fatigue experiment with their schedule and stick to whatever works. For example, he’s also found success in leaving windows of time before and after each meeting to do preparation and follow-up work.

Without the burden of a commute, he also starts his work-from-home days slightly earlier than normal, logging in at 8 a.m. and logging out by 4:30 p.m. He fills his calendar with opportunities to take breaks and go for walks, which keeps him from spending hours on end in front of the screen.

He also strives to keep his client meetings as focused as possible to limit the amount of time doing video calls. He writes an agenda, sends it to clients a few days in advance and sticks to it during the meeting.

“The client and I have a structured meeting; that’s how I think other advisors who are concerned about spending all their time on a computer screen [can avoid fatigue],” Mr. Harvey says.

Domenic Gallippi, regional director at Russell Investments Canada Ltd. in Toronto, takes a similar approach. He does upfront prep work to ensure that his meetings are “ultra-effective” and efficient. Attendees receive an agenda a few days prior, during which they can ask questions and or add items to the to-do list. Everyone knows going into the meeting what it’s for and all have the chance to make the most of the conversation.

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“We’re trying to avoid having those lumpy days during which you have, you know, 10 Zoom meetings and then you don’t have any for the next three days,” he says. “How you deliver a solid 15- to 30-minute conversation [when] by the time you’re at your sixth or seventh [videoconferencing meeting] of the day, you feel like or sound like a robot.”

Mr. Gallippi says that sending preparatory material to clients in advance of virtual meetings can also help earn back the trust that’s so often eroded without face-to-face contact. Research on “computer-mediated communication” shows that non-verbal cues are an essential part of establishing a sense of rapport with another person; while videoconferencing is an alternative to face-to-face communication, it’s not an entirely effective for the purposes of building client trust.

“Anytime that you take away the in-person interaction, it makes something a little bit more challenging. For a lot of people, the in-person interaction is what is what cements the trust in the relationship,” Mr. Gallippi says.

He strives to make up for this by showing the others on the call that he’s done his homework before meeting with them.

“[Make] sure that your audience understands there’s a level of preparation that you put into the meeting,” Gallippi says. “Something as simple as the calendar invitation. … If you have a copy of the deck ready, or whatever it is that you’re going to be sharing ... I think goes a long way in terms of them believing you’re a subject matter expert.”

Mr. Gallippi’s colleague, Julie Zhang, Russell Investments’ director of North America sales in Seattle, says she’s learned to treat Zoom fatigue the same way she treats other forms of fatigue.

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When life went into lockdown in March, she quickly grew overconfident about the efficiency of virtual meetings and packed “easily … 10 to 12 meetings a day,” into her schedule, all taking place over Zoom.

“At the end of March, I was like, ‘I can’t do this, I’m exhausted,’” Ms. Zhang says. She found relief in being more mindful about her schedule – respecting when certain matters could be kept to e-mail and working breaks into her day to step away from the screen.

Mr. Harvey echoes the sentiment, acknowledging that it can be difficult, at times, to respect breaks for what they are. Be disciplined about it if you have to, he suggests.

“Don’t spend all of your downtime reading articles online,” he says. “That’s how you can get yourself too glued to the screen at all times.”

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