Written by Emily Fogarty

At Part and Sum, remote work has always been part of our toolkit. It supports our personal lives and lets us connect with clients no matter where they are. But now, like so many other professionals, we spend all day, every day on Zoom. Even our strategy workshops—which we describe as “getting the right people in a room”—happen in virtual rooms.

Recently, during an internal discussion about videoconferencing challenges, one of our team members mentioned that her five-year-old was going through a similar experience as he navigated first grade on Zoom.

We realized that kids have a lot in common with anyone who has to do remote work, and their teachers have developed some techniques that can help us work better together, even when we’re apart. Here’s what we learned from speaking with JJ, an elementary school teacher, and Julian, a first-grade student.

“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and bored on Zoom. And I think, I'd rather be riding my scooter right now.” -Julian, age 5‍

‍We’ve all seen that faraway look that says someone is reading email, responding to a Slack, or browsing wilderness retreats instead of focusing on Zoom. Maybe it’s even happened while you were leading the meeting (yikes). How can you prevent attention burnout?

Don't over-Zoom.

Video meetings are best for check-ins and relatively brief discussions. No one wants to be stuck on Zoom all afternoon. When a long Zoom is unavoidable, take steps to make it easier on everyone (keep reading).

Set an agenda.

Break your meeting into segments and share the outline with attendees. Keep key elements concise, and if necessary, define a time for open conversation or brainstorming.

‍Know your One Big Thing.

Make the most of your Zoom time by focusing on the one big thing you want to decide or get across. “I think about what I really want my students to get out of each lesson,” says JJ. “I know I have two or three minutes of their undivided attention, and then they’re off playing a video game.”

‍Set expectations.

Make sure everyone understands their role and purpose in the meeting, and how that connects to the project you’re working on. Nobody should wonder, “Why am I here?"

‍Use asynchronous work for presentations, learning and responses.

“We expect kids to log in once a day,” JJ says. “Then we’ll provide flexibility by recording lessons they can access whenever they want. That independent learning is more valuable than spending the whole day logged in.” To ensure continuous dialogue, JJ uses Flipgrid, which lets students record messages for teachers to review later. At Part and Sum, we like Loom for recording presentations.

“I don't want my friends to see my room if it's messy."

Zoom puts our living spaces on display, and that’s not something everyone is comfortable with. The house might be a mess, there may be piles of toys in the background, another family member may be trying to work. Or maybe you just haven’t brushed your hair in a while. Remember, too, that some folks are camera-shy, even if they have no problem with IRL meetings. Here’s how you can ease this stress.

Normalize audio-only participation.‍

Unless there’s an essential reason for everyone’s face to be on screen, let people know it’s OK to dial in without using the camera at all.