As we make our way through multiple waves of outbreaks and possibly more pandemic lockdowns, many companies are still grappling with the challenges of distance work. While some individuals take it all in stride, others are dealing with isolation, loneliness and disconnection.

On top of this, employees dealing with spouses and children have more distractions at home and some can find it harder to focus. Questions persist, such as: Can video conferencing be as effective as in-person communicating? Will workplace culture — and production — suffer from a lack of traditional human interaction?

Many companies and employees weren’t prepared for this major life switch. The pandemic has brought this on in a big way, and many researchers are studying this subject matter at great depth. But for this stage, you want to be sure that you’re driving productivity and efficiency, because you can’t have culture in chaos and you can’t drive productivity with exhaustion.

Companies became obsessed with maintaining their brick-and-mortar culture despite the fact their offices were completely deserted. I heard several horror stories about companies mandating that employees eat lunch on camera or co-work on camera all day.

Drawing from my experience of advising companies on how to work remotely and maintain performance, here are some tips to keep your employees from getting “Zoomed out”:

  • Flex your virtual meeting time. From managing hundreds of regional and global online events, I can tell you the maximum anyone should be in an online meeting is four hours. Two hours is much better for a maximum. When they run longer, your participants are going to experience significant muscle and eye fatigue, not to mention be tempted by the incredible distractions that come with working remotely.
  • Protest pointless meetings. Pointless includes inviting a whole host of people to a meeting who don’t need to be there. Don’t take valuable chunks of work time away from team members for a call they don’t need to be on.
  • Rather than a four-day work week, consider a four-day meeting week. I’ve been getting questions about a four-day work week, and honestly I think we’d be better off banning meetings one day a week. Try to work in blocks of time and meet in blocks of time. Otherwise, your day is a jumble, going from meeting to meeting. For productivity and creativity to happen, people need thinking time and quiet time. If you do that, regardless of whether you work at home or an office, you’re going to be much less stressed.
  • Have anonymous feedback mechanisms. Do you know how many thousand meetings I’ve been in that I’ve asked for an opinion and gotten dead air? If you have a meeting with various levels of management and introverts/extroverts, there are all kinds of reasons for someone not to speak up. Even if you go around the call and ask everyone for their opinion, do you really think someone is going to override their vice president? Or someone much louder than they are? The informal channels you see in offices just don’t exist virtually. Use anonymous surveys during calls, before calls, and after calls. Get honest input.
  • Have a “virtual-first” mindset. Although remote work is attractive to many, let’s face it: “out of sight, out of mind” is a big issue when half the employees are back in the office. If employers want to succeed with distributed work teams, they need to cater to the needs of people who no longer have interpersonal connections and influences. This includes meetings. Unless you have state-of-the-art teleconferencing rooms set up and well-connected home employees, for those meetings that are a mix of in-office and home-office, have everyone attend virtually. Having a disembodied voice in the room with co-workers just doesn’t work if you want a productive outcome.

Many companies are trying to replicate the in-person experience by wanting to get everyone in front of a screen for multiple hours over multiple days. However, they have the opportunity to rethink and re-engineer the experience in ways that make sense in a new world, when nobody is in the same room for a meeting.