If you think that conducting business with others online full time is more tiring than when you did it in person (in the office) then you’re probably right.

When we were at work, a lot of engagement with others is unconscious (learned): on autopilot.  I don’t mean its passive, rather we can do it without thinking about it.  As an analogy think about how you can drive a car (safely) and hold a meaningful conversation with others in the car at the same time and; think about making dinner, kids school projects, shopping lists etc.

In contrast, when conducting business online, the process requires a conscious effort as it is still new and unfamiliar (unlearned).  Because it needs a greater effort, it uses more energy = tired.  Using the driving analogy think back to the time you first learned to drive. You had to think of all these new things at once: the pressure on the accelerator pedal, checking the mirrors, the road ahead, the road to the sides, the conversation with others in the car. In the beginning, having to remember all of this was overwhelming and a struggle and after a lesson you were worn out. Because it was conscious (short-term memory).

The equivalent to learning to drive is being new to conducting business online, full time. The pieces of information being consciously managed includes: is my video on, how do I look, who am I looking at, is the mic muted, who is talking, what are the others doing, what’s behind them (I wonder what room in the house they are in), did they understand me – was their voice different (confused) or was it the connection quality and so on.  When conducting business online there is no autopilot to engage and there are kids and pets in the cockpit too!

As the number of bits of information we need to process increases we start to expend our short-term memory.  The magic number related to this is seven.  This is from George Miller’s well-known and widely cited 1956 paper The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Essentially, 5-9 measured units (including ‘chunks’) of information can be processed/stored in short-term memory at one time. 

Back to driving and I remember my dad teaching me how to drive and me demanding he be quite so I could concentrate (most likely as the conversation with him was number 8 of the things I was having to consciously manage).

So, what can we do make business online more energy efficient?

Some suggestions include:

  • Get better at business online (learn to drive)
  • Become less conscious of peripheral details (ignore that animal skull on their lounge room wall)
  • Limit the number of online meetings per day (certainly no back to back meetings)
  • Ensure meetings have an agenda (one thing at a time)
  • Take breaks (replace those natural pauses when in the office for example empty the dishwasher)

What else would you add to this list?