Addressing the elephant in the zoom: screen burnout

As a team, we spend an average of 9 hours a week on work calls, 3 hours on zoom quizzes, 20 hours in front of the telly and 28 hours on our phones.

Granted, the phone time is likely comparable as we’re not commuting, but the uptick in work calls, box-set sessions and social calls has caused our team to feel torn between squared eyes and social interaction. In many ways we have never been more ‘always on’ than at any other time in our professional lives; our offices are mere steps away, our colleagues and bosses are no longer left at the office but take up a virtual and time-limited residence in our homes. Whether it’s a zoom call, teams huddle, whatsapp chat or ‘old fashioned’ phone call, we’re inundated with inbound traffic, and it’s a lot to adapt to.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that no matter how burned out from them you feel, calls are important. And to those battling with 15+ hours of them a week, hearing that they’re boring can send you into a frustration spiral as you know your industry simply wouldn’t function without them. We’re a digital communications agency, talking is what we do!

We’re solutions focused at Threepipe, as many agencies and brands have had to be in these strange times, but it’s been in our DNA since we began and this particular challenge is no different. With that in mind, we worked as a team to help those with high call volumes, creating a set of rules as we go to alleviate those suffering screen burn out. These problems are not industry specific, so we thought we’d share them here:

Waffle is limited. But not banned. Waffling through three points for an hour when they could be covered in 15 minutes is something we’re passionate to stop. However, chatting amongst the team about whether you can find flour or not, or whether Buzzfeed shutting it’s UK doors means our meme game will go to pot is important, creating moments of relatability that we treasure during these wobbly times.

Holding yourself to realistic standards. Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-CEO of My Online Therapy, says it’s easy to set high expectations when we have more time on our hands. She says: ‘We might feel the pressure to be especially productive or creative. But the reality is that we’re living through incredibly uncertain and stressful times. ‘The last thing we want to be doing is putting any more pressure on ourselves. Be mindful if you’re putting yourself under a lot of pressure and be compassionate with yourself.”  Yes, we have goals to meet but it’s ok to share tasks with colleagues and work slightly slower on foggy days.

Barriers between work time and life time are paramount. No, this isn’t about kids in zoom calls – those comical moments are treasured on our team. This is about switching off in the evenings and taking a break. You may be 2m away from your ‘desk’ but you don’t have to be constantly available, in fact as a team we watch out for those who may be stretching the day too far. For me, it’s about packing away your ‘office’ and putting it in a backpack at the end of each day. Weirdly, it brings me a sense of closure and mimics the laptop shutting moment at the end of a day in East India.

Routine. I often find myself drawing comparisons between my love of a routine and a toddler’s. I thrive off routine, and so does my brain. But not all routines are the same, meaning we need to flex our work day around our individual brains. For me, logging on early and taking a good lunch break with a bit of exercise gets me through, but for some mornings are a no go. As long as work gets done, we leave it up to the team to set their routines around what works for them.

Turning calls down and making time to think. American poet, Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal, “the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” There will be days when you need to switch off your email and get into a strategy or go for a ‘Walk Storm’ as the Creative Director in my past agency called it. It’s not possible to think outside of a ‘box’ when your day is defined by a series of calls, it’s also not possible to think creatively when every day appears the same. There will be days where this isn’t possible, but overall we can usually find a way to give someone the brain space they need.

This list is by no means exhaustive, with new challenges appearing every day. But for now, they’re helping us find a way through.

Jessica Shanks, Associate Director at Threepipe Reply