Zoom fatigue

Feeling exhausted, irritable, frustrated or just plain tired?  Could it be Zoom fatigue?

We’ve all felt the benefits of video conferencing platforms over the last few years – and even more so during the pandemic as we used platforms such as Zoom for meetings, trainings, play and domestic catch ups.

We enjoyed some excellent benefits: savings on time and cost of travel; no waiting at cold bus stops or on crowded railway station platforms, no squashing yourself into the hell hole that is a tube train at rush hour. Then there’s no need to dress up, at least your lower half! You can share documents, work on documents together in real time, share ideas, brainstorm using jamboards and sticky notes. In many ways, a much more productive use of your time.

But sooner or later (in my case it took a while) we discover that there’s a downside, these undoubted benefits come with an emotional, mental and physical cost.

Do you feel emotionally wrung out after a Zoom session (especially if you’ve been leading it)? Stressed, tired, frustrated but not sure why?

Stanford researcher Professor Jeremy Bailenson has some answers. Bailenson has examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and analysed just why so many of us experience ‘Zoom fatigue’.

Zoom fatigue: it’s the stress and exhaustion we feel during and after zoom (or other video conferencing platforms) meetings or training sessions.

Bailenson has identified four reasons why:

  1. The amount of eye contact and the size of faces on the screen is unnatural. In a face-to-face meeting we might be seated around a table, our heads are more distanced from each other and we are not staring at everybody all the time.
  2. Another strange experience is seeing your own face as you speak. It’s like someone’s holding up a mirror in front of you as you try to share ideas and facilitate discussion, and can be extremely distracting
  3. Humans are designed to move around and sitting still constricts us mentally as well as physically. From my own experience I’ve noticed how different online training is from f2f training. I’m used to being able to walk around, using my arms and body language to convey meaning, this is not possible on a Zoom call where messages are restricted to facial expressions and language. It’s very limiting for everyone, not just the facilitator.
  4. As we have seen, non-verbal communication is restricted in a video call, so we have to work harder to make ourselves understood. Bailenson calls this a higher cognitive load.

But help is at hand! Professor Bailenson gives some handy tips to help us control and limit the negative impacts of video conferencing.

  • The standout tip for me is to click on the ‘hide self-view’ option, accessed by right clicking your photo once your face is framed properly in the video.

Phew, what a relief. I was unconsciously checking my appearance all the time I was online. Exhausting. Without my face popping up I am able to relax and interact with the group in a much more normal and less self-conscious way.

Other tips include:

  • set your screen to ‘gallery view’
  • minimise the Zoom window, so it’s not taking up the whole screen, reducing the size of the faces looking at you
  • during long stretches of meetings, give yourself an ‘audio only’ break
  • recommend to colleagues to turn video off periodically during meetings

There’s more detail in the article of course. And thanks to my colleague @nath_brown for alerting me to it!


We hate committees!

I hear it all the time, no-one’s got a good word for committees. Committees are domineering, inflexible and take too long to make decisions.

A camel is a horse desiClose up of the face and teeth of a camelgned by a committee, they say. Jolly well designed some might say (me) given their usefulness and amazing capacity to withstand desert heat and they have three sets of eyelids and two rows of eyelashes to keep sand out of their eyes and can completely shut their nostrils during sandstorms!

But seriously maybe it’s because people don’t know how to make a committee work well, or they’re only thinking about how to get their own way?

Not all committees are like that though. I give you one of the greatest committees in UK history – the Rochdale Pioneers! From the most uncertain beginnings, this committee of 28 artisans (half of them weavers) managed to put together £28 with which they bought butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and candles, and opened their now famous store in Toad Lane Rochdale in 1844. Three months later they added tea and tobacco and by the end of their first year, they had 80 members and £182 capital. Just 56 years later there were 1439 co-ops in every area of the UK.  There are now 3 million co-ops around the world, with 1.2 billion members*. Some committee!

Here’s 13 of them, in 1865, as the Rules of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society were adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance as International Co-operative Principles.


There’s more to this story here.

Wouldn’t you think that if we bring together a group of people with a range of different opinions, experience, skills and knowledge, they would be better at problem solving than one individual working on their own?

Sadly, this is often not the case as our aversion to the word ‘committee’ demonstrates. But does it have to be like this?

My experience working with co-operatives for over 30 years leads me to believe that it doesn’t, but that we need to learn how to work together. By that I mean building trust by having respect for each other; listening to others’ opinions, expressing ourselves clearly, establishing clear goals and agreeing working methods. We need to learn how to address conflict when it arises, not to fear it but to explore it, which we can do once we have built a foundation of trust and respect.

*not all of them inspired by our Rochdale Pioneers, but many of them with constitutions based on International Co-operative Principles, which in 1865 were themselves based on the Rules of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, founded in 1844.

Sociocracy for Co-ops – help is at hand!

There’ve been some changes at Co-operantics. Nathan has moved on to greater things and can now be found at our sister co-op: Culture Co-op . We hope to be able to continue our productive and supportive relationship.  Contact nathan@culture.coop

And I’m delighted to welcome Abbie Kempson as a Co-operantics Associate. Abbie is a member of Unicorn Co-operative Grocery where she has been a member for the past 8 years.

Abbie has 20 years’ experience in community organising and worker co-operation. Passionate about co-operative working and building social justice into the heart of our organisations, she has a long-held interest in participatory processes for collective decision making and action, and many years’ experience of delivering training in meeting facilitation and consent and consensus decision making.

Abbie is a Certified Sociocracy Trainer and has led on implementing sociocratic governance at Unicorn Grocery worker co-op. She is a founder member of People Support worker co-op, which provides a broad range of advice and support services to co-ops and is also run sociocratically.

Abbie is currently Leader of Sociocracy for All’s Co-op Circle. She was drawn to sociocracy by its practical approach to supporting democratic self-governance and its synergy with the core values of co-operation – from the self-help and self-responsibility of organising collectively to actively contribute to solving problems and improving our lives (whether in work, co-housing, activism, community organising), to supporting equality (one member one voice), equity (fairness through meeting the needs of all who engage) and solidarity.

Abbie is keen to share her skills and experience in implementing sociocracy in a large worker co-op with other co-ops. Please get in touch if you would like to book training or mentoring. Or watch this space for details of our next training course.


The theory and practice of sociocracy in cooperatives

Join us on February 19, 2021 (15:00-19:15 UTC) for an online conference on sociocracy in cooperatives.


  • How does sociocracy align with co-op values and principles?
  • Implementing sociocracy in co-ops
  • How to create sociocratic co-ops from scratch or implement sociocracy in an existing co-op, including case studies
  • The Nuts & Bolts of sociocracy in co-ops, practical tips, case studies, and sharing good practice
  • How sociocracy is evolving in the co-operative context and how sociocracy is relevant to new and exciting developments in the wider co-operative and social justice world

Abbie Kempson of Unicorn Co-operative Grocers and Kate Whittle of Cooperantics will be running a 90 minute interactive workshop Co-operative Sociocracy – making it work for your co-op”

Participants will explore:

  • why sociocracy is interesting for co-ops
  • practical steps for implementation – troubleshooting and pitfalls to avoid
  • adaptations for co-ops, including retaining a flat structure
  • Sociocracy as a tool within a strong co-operative culture



Collaborative Tools

A blog mainly intended for participants on the Barefoot Co-op Development programme, but may be of interest more widely.

In the first of two sessions on ‘Co-operative Ways of Working’ we looked at the typical governance problems that can arise and discussed a range of collaborative tools useful for working with co-operative clients to resolve governance issues.

Here are some of them. I have suggested how they might be used, but of course it’s up to you! I’m sure you will find ways to adapt them for different co-op clients.


3 tools for effective meetings

Different decision-making methods – pros and cons

Sociocracy tools

Seeds for Change on consensus decision-making

Seeds for Change consensus video


An exercise that can help a start up co-op decide what teams/departments it needs. However this exercise also be useful with an existing co-op where there is role confusion &/or conflict over who does what. There are five steps:

Step 1: In pairs or trios, ask them to think up a typical day (or week) in their co-op. Make a list of all the decisions that need to be taken. Share and make a list of all the decisions, there maybe duplication, discuss and reduce the list to 10 typical decisions. Number them 1 – 10.

Step 2: All together agree a list of the different locations in the co-op where decisions can be made (for example individual job description, ad hoc meeting with other member; monthly GM, AGM etc.) Identify them A, B, C etc.

Step 3: Again in pairs or trios (or larger groups, depending on the number of participants) the task is to decide WHERE each of those typical decisions currently gets taken (not where it should, but where it does).

Step 4: Share and be amazed at how different (or not) their responses are.

Step 5: Facilitate a debate about how effective their current structure and/or procedures are. What is working well? Where are the overlaps/gaps? What needs tweaking? Encourage them to delegate a person or a couple of people to make a note of the key points (perhaps under those headings)  and write up a proposal for the next GM.


Most online references are for software development firms using Agile management techniques. I learnt this technique from a colleague who had learnt it in a software environment. (Thank you @simoncopsey) One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s a way of confronting conflict in the team without calling it conflict. Here’s a blog from Toptal, that provides more detail about the process.


Rounds, consent decision making


This one is a favourite, a good warm up but with a rich vein of learning for everyone.

  • Get all the participants either in a large room or outdoors. As them to spread out and fill up the space. Then ask them to each pick two fellow members (they shouldn’t speak, or point, the people they pick should not know they’ve been chosen).
  • Explain that their job is to locate themselves physically in space equidistant from both people. Expect lots of laughter and giggling as the room moves around. Might take some time, but eventually it will settle down and everyone will stop moving.
  • This is your cue to ask them how they felt about doing that. Then ask what they thought was happening? What might we learn from this exercise? Hopefully someone will say that they didn’t know who was following them. (If no-one says that, ask if anyone suspected who was following them). This for me is the first learning point and one that we can relate to power and influence. We all have power to influence people, but we often have no idea who is being influenced by us. We influence others by our behaviour, as well as what we might say or write.
  • Now ask one person to step out of the group. And repeat your instructions of earlier. This will cause everything to change, as people need to find others to follow. Again, lots of laughter and moving around but eventually it will quieten down and everyone will stop moving.
  • Ask again, what happened when one person left the group? Everything changed. Remind them about the group dynamics model of forming, storming, norming, performing. These stages of group development (perhaps not all of them and not necessarily in that order) will happen every time people leave or new people join a group.
  • What can we learn? For me, one important lesson references co-operative culture. That if you understand the importance of a strong co-operative culture and do your best to build and maintain it, others will follow your example. You will be walking the talk.


The Mindtools explanation linked above is intended for private enterprise, but a SWOT analysis works well in co-ops too. It’s helpful to clarify that strengths and weaknesses tend to be internal to the organisation, while opportunities and threats are external. Also you will find that a weakness can become a strength, but of course you have to recognise and acknowledge it first.


Excellent warm up, especially in a big co-op where people in different teams don’t get to talk to each other much.

Get everyone in a line according to when they became a member of the co-op. Then divide them into ‘age’ groups – the old timers, maybe a couple of groups in the middle and the newbies. They can chat and reminisce or share confusion or whatever, but they need to record an overall impression, to be shared with the other groups, of what the co-op feels like for them. Then after 15 minutes (or longer if time) go round the groups getting them to share their stories. Expect revelations!


A blog by Nathan Brown, adapted for use as a tool for exploring motivation in co-ops by Bob Cannell.

Worker co-ops are set up for the benefit of members, but how do we know what members want? Herzberg says that people have different motivations for going to work, which he divides into four:

twohygiene’ factors:

    • pay & security
    • great place to work

& two ‘motivational’ factors:

    • ethics & respect
    • challenge & personal development

The exercise:

Draw up a flip chart with 4 quadrants:

    1. pay & security
    2. great place to work
    3. ethics & respect
    4. challenge & personal development

Give each person 6 sticky dots. They have to stick them on the quadrant that most closely describes what motivates them to come to work in their co-op every day. They can distribute the dots as they like.

Feedback and discussion might include:

    • different ways in which people are motivated
    • how can this information help us with strategic planning?


A positive, ‘glass half full’ approach, involving four stages:

    1. Discover:  Focus on what’s working, build on success. What are our strengths? What do we enjoy? What do we want to do more of?
    2. Dream:  Use our strengths and what we want to do to create a shared vision of the future – what might be?
    3. Design:  Co-create a design to make it happen, based on our values and principles
    4. Deliver:  What will be? Sustain the vision through empowering people, learning, adjusting and improvising

Co-operative online learning – a primer

This primer is written for teams or individuals tasked with organising &/or designing &/or delivery of online learning in a worker co-operative or co-operative network. It’s for people new to online learning or those who wish to review their practice.


Content summary

What do I mean by cooperative learning? How can we replicate those concepts and techniques in an online workshop? Benefits of online learning.

• skills audit &/or training needs analysis
• agree outline content and learning goals
• agree target audience
• decide which platform is most appropriate
• install the platform
• familiarise yourselves with the platform

• planning, learning goals, scope of the training
• review any existing face to face (f2f) materials and discuss and agree which materials can be used with no adaptation, which need adaptation for online use and which are not suitable
• adapt existing exercises and design new ones with the online medium in mind
• produce preparatory reading, an agenda or timetable, handouts and a guide to the platform you will use
• have the programme reviewed by other members of your co-operative or network
• agree the various roles: facilitator, tech monitor + +
• produce and send the agenda to the participants, along with any preparatory reading and the tech guide to the platform
• useful tools for online learning

• facilitation of online learning
• two processes to be aware of: task & group function
• techniques and methods
• hold a familiarisation session for participants before the start

Evaluation thoughts


Continue reading “Co-operative online learning – a primer”

Co-operantics guide to co-operative online meetings

Meetings are the life blood of a co-operative. They are where information is shared and discussed and where decisions are taken. Where members can get updates on progress of the various jobs and tasks that have been delegated and where people are mandated to take action.

It seems it is going to be a while until we are able to meet together f2f (face to face), thanks to the coronavirus attacking our communities, so here are some techniques and tips to help you make your online meetings as effective as possible. Continue reading “Co-operantics guide to co-operative online meetings”

from Conflict to Co-operation revisited

It’s hard to believe it was over 10 years ago that I wrote these booklets, together with the excellent cartoonist and illustrator Angela Martin and our patient and knowledgeable editor, Sarah Alldred (then at Co-operatives UK) now at the Co-operative College.

I’d started thinking some time before that helping co-ops set up effective democratic governance structures wasn’t enough – that within ‘flat’ organisational structures, different behaviours are needed. I realised that would-be cooperators will bring their own assumptions about the way work is organised and about the way decisions are taken, based on previous experience – in private enterprise, local government, education, or the charitable or voluntary sectors. Such assumptions if unchecked could lead to conflict or at the very least undermine attempts to establish a ‘co-operative culture’ in the workplace.

I’d also been working on conflict resolution in co-ops, and thought it would be useful to have an accessible and fun resource that people could dip in to for tips and techniques for handling conflict.

So the idea of ‘from Conflict to Co-operation’ was born. There are five booklets: Continue reading “from Conflict to Co-operation revisited”

Peer appraisal in worker co-ops

– or “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” (Hint: You don’t)

Many moons ago, at a worker co-op conference, someone asked me: “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” Good question, I thought, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it. Except I thought then – and still do – that you should never tell your co-op co-worker their work is crap!

Worker co-ops are run for the benefit of the employees – their members – so of course the very last thing you want to do is fire someone. But you do need a way of providing support to your members – and a means of getting everyone on board with quality, timeliness and commitment to your mission and aims.

Appraisals provide members with support as well as providing a structure for holding them accountable. Any kind of business with employees (or volunteers) needs to carry out regular staff appraisals. But it’s how it’s done that interests us here.  In a worker co-op you will find a flatter, more democratic organisation. You may find that all the employees are Directors and you may find a variety of organisational structure – management by General Meeting (GM) or Management Committee, which may have delegated powers, or be representative of different teams or departments. There is also a growing body of worker co-ops adopting Sociocratic tools and structures. So we are not looking for a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Continue reading “Peer appraisal in worker co-ops”

Who’s afraid of leadership?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to co-operative leadership, because there are so many varieties of co-operative, depending on co-operative type, organisational structure, and sector of the economy.

In a consumer retail co-operative for example, the hierarchical structure pretty much dictates who holds what power and while of course there are opportunities for career development and promotion, there is less flexibility and those at the top of the tree can control the way authority is delegated to those below them.

I often remember an early lesson in co-operative leadership – or the lack of it!  I was a member of a co-housing group, run as a co-operative and we held an event to promote the co-op and recruit new members. All the members – eight or nine of us – turned up at the community centre to arrange the room and get ready for our audience. Continue reading “Who’s afraid of leadership?”