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When life came to a screeching halt in New York City last year, I was grateful to have Zoom to stay connected with friends and colleagues. Videoconferencing had been part of my professional life for years, but suddenly using it to attend virtual group dinners, happy hours, dance parties, concerts, and yoga classes added some excitement during an otherwise scary time.

One year later, Zoom fatigue is real and widespread, especially among the WFH set. Stanford University published research about it last month. Even Saturday Night Live parodied the pandemic fantasy of “one day finally deleting Zoom” in its monologue last night.

The reasons are many, from the mental challenge of trying to process non-verbal cues via video to the psychological reminder of our forced physical distance from others.

So I was surprised – and delighted – earlier this month when nearly 8,000 people worldwide joined Zoom to attend a virtual forum hosted by my client, the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health. The online forum coincided with the original dates of the 6th International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), which had been scheduled to take place in Pattaya City, Thailand, but has since been pushed back to November 2022 due to the pandemic.

Entitled “Not Without FP,” the forum promoted the important role family planning plays in universal health coverage, and explored the impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide. There were 16 sessions over two days, including four plenary sessions, available in English and French, as well as a virtual exhibit hall and dedicated online spaces for community engagement. Here’s the wrap-up press release we issued if you’d like to learn more.

It was great fun to read the real-time posts in the chat box as participants expressed their enthusiasm and fostered connection. The love people shared on social media was also inspiring: on the first day of the forum, the #NotWithoutFP hashtag reached more than 3.6 million accounts thanks to 4,161 tweets from more than 1,000 unique contributors. The ICFP Facebook page quadrupled all of its previous metrics, increasing reach, engagement and page likes.

Perhaps most exciting was the fact that the majority (80%) of participants came from outside the United States. As much as I and others may bemoan Zoom, it is important to remember the increased access it can provide – and the need to ensure communities everywhere have reliable broadband connections and hardware to participate in as well as lead these vital global dialogues.

Because the world will not be deleting Zoom any time soon; in fact, videoconferencing is likely to continue to grow in usage, even after the pandemic.

Which means we need to keep getting better at virtual convening. A former colleague of mine from the International Fund for Agricultural Development recently sent me the virtual platform they developed to convene their Governing Council meeting this month, which usually hosts thousands of people from about 180 countries in Rome, Italy, each year. I’m excited to experience even more virtual experiences like this!

Hopefully soon we can attend by choice, not necessity. Meanwhile, while the pandemic persists, I will continue to use online platforms not only for work but to dine with friends in Miami, dance at clubs in New York City, attend HOA and board meetings, and gather with extended family during holidays. And I will spend as much time outdoors with real-life people in Colorado as I can.

p.s. One trick that I’ve started using during the work day to combat Zoom fatigue is requesting “audio only” meetings. I have found that many clients are eager to turn off their cameras as well to reduce our collective cognitive load.

p.p.s. Another reason the virtual forum Not Without FP was so energizing for me was this song. We played it in between most sessions and it was fun to stand up, stretch and enjoy a quick dance break before getting back to business. (Note to virtual meeting organizers: music is key!) It was produced for the last ICFP in 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. The video is great too!