Can AI tools help reduce Zoom fatigue?


I’m lucky. On average, I’m only on videoconference calls for about five hours a week. I have friends and colleagues who burn that many hours on camera every day!

I’ve been videoconferencing since the 1990s — when you needed a dedicated ISDN line and a $1,000 worth of audio-video gear to make it happen. Today, you open up your laptop and you’re ready to go, even if you’re in a McDonald’s. Back then, when it worked, it was exciting. Today…, not so much.

Though most people call it Zoom fatigue, you’ll find it on any videoconferencing platform. Another name for the same effect is MEGO, short for “My Eyes Glaze Over.”  You know how it goes. A combination of boredom, conversation drift, and a lack of meeting focus, and soon you’re as snoozy as grandpa after a big lunch.

Zoom and its rivals know all about this phenomenon. And lately, they’ve been trying to make meetings more lively and productive by combining visual tricks and AI. 

The visual games have been with us for a while. Who could forget the “I’m Not a Cat!” meme when a misused filter made a lawyer appear as a white kitten with gray markings and large eyes during a civil forfeiture hearing on Zoom in February 2021? 

Now, this kind of thing — for better or worse — has gotten more advanced. Apple Vision Pro users, for example, can now use CGI avatars (Personas) in Zoom meetings. Personas, you can remove the backgrounds of your meeting participants and “pin” their real-time avatars in your physical workspace. (I have no doubt that those avatars will soon be able to move around in your augmented reality space.)

I consider that more fun than practical for business meetings. But I can see how  Microsoft’s Mesh, when used with Microsoft Teams and spatial audio, could be useful by allowing avatars to “step away” from the main meeting for private conversations.

Another meeting technology I could see seriously taking off involves having your avatar, but not you, attend a meeting. Thanks to the Microsoft 365 Copilot chatbot and Google’s Duet AI for Workspace, we can already get meeting minutes from gatherings we didn’t actually attend. Why not make it “appear” that we’re there while we’re actually ordering a Big Mac? 

Other tools, such as Zoom’s AI Companion, are already making meetings more productive by presenting meeting summaries, identifying action items, and prompting people to share the next steps. Personally, I’ve been doing this for a while by running Otter.AI, my voice transcription program of choice, manually with videoconferencing programs. Today, Otter AI Assistant for Zoom Meetings can do this on auto-pilot. 

All that’s neat and nifty, but I remain unconvinced they’ll help much. For example, if I had my avatar record a meeting to boil it down to what I needed to know and act on, why wasn’t it an e-mail in the first place? 

Sure, if there’s a conversation — that’s different. But there’s no talk going on if our meetings are mostly attended by avatars. So what’s the point?

Avatars and AI aren’t really going to make videoconferencing meetings more productive. While they can be fun and helpful, they don’t address the real reasons so many meetings are deadly dull. 

As my friend Alfred Poor (he’s my video meeting advisor and founder of The 75% Solution), told me, “I firmly believe that there is no such thing as ‘Zoom Fatigue.’ Instead, I believe that people are observing ‘Bad Zoom Fatigue,’ which is not much different from ‘Bad Conference Room Meeting Fatigue’ that we’ve suffered from for generations. It’s just that the vast majority of Zoom (and Teams and Google Meet and webinars and all those other platforms) meetings are not prepared and executed with intention.”

Specifically, Poor believes you must properly organize “the meeting itself — ‘this meeting could have been an email’ — which requires analyzing the objectives along with the type and direction of information flow required to achieve those objectives.” 

For example, if a meeting involves the boss simply telling people what’s what in the next quarter, it could just as well be a webinar rather than a videoconference. Or, if there’s a meeting to determine what will happen in the next quarter, it should involve only the people planning what’s what, not everyone and their assistant. Your aides-de-camp will be fine with meeting minutes and action items. 

Yes, sometimes videoconferences are necessary and helpful. Yes, AI tools can make them more productive. And, yes, I, for one, would be happy to have a meeting where I was represented by an avatar of my dog Telly and my editor by his Lil Joe. That would be fun, at least once. But for videoconferences to really be useful, we need organization and planning, not technical tricks. 

Augmented Reality, Collaboration Software, Generative AI, Productivity Software, Videoconferencing, Zoom Video Communications

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