Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Have you been wondering why you’re so exhausted after your typical work-from-home day? Even though you’ve barely left your desk and you’re doing less than before?
Well, perhaps your back-to-back Zoom conferences, all-hands meetings, and virtual check-ins are to blame. Psychologists have coined the term Zoom Fatigue to describe the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication.
While Zoom fatigue isn’t a formal diagnosis, this widely prevalent phenomenon is likely taxing a great portion of the 300 million daily Zoom users* (and so much more if we were to include those on Google Meet and Microsoft Teams). Hence, let’s take a closer look at how these video conferencing platforms affect us and what we can do about it.
How does Zoom fatigue affect us?
The first peer-reviewed study about Zoom fatigue was published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior* in February 2021. Here, we decipher the article’s four explanations about why video conferencing can feel so taxing.
1. Unnatural virtual interactions
In a normal office meeting, people are either looking at the speaker, taking notes, or looking elsewhere. Yet, on Zoom calls, you’re looking at everyone and everything, all the time. This includes faces, presentation slides, and Sam’s cat running in the background.
Suddenly, what’s usually scattered around your peripheral vision is now crowded into your fovea where stimuli are particularly arousing*. More so if you’re engaging in these video calls back-to-back or for prolonged duration.
2. Increased self-consciousness
Research* has shown that there are negative emotional consequences to looking at your reflection for an extended period. And in video conferences, you’re always conveniently looking at yourself while giving a presentation, making decisions, or having a discussion. Hence, most of us may end up feeling super self-conscious. Plus, it’s only normal to feel insecure knowing that people on the other side are looking at your face up close.
3. Reduced physical activity
When we’re at the office, we can stand up, stretch, and walk from one meeting room to the next. With video conferencing, we’re not just glued to our seats, but we’re forced to stay within the very tiny visual range of our webcam setup.
Most of us know the negative effects* of being sedentary. From physical ails like obesity and heart disease to mental woes like depression and anxiety. Thus, it’s obvious how these back-to-back Zoom calls can very quickly build up the time we stay inactive.
4. More mental effort
We interpret bodily gestures and nonverbal cues effortlessly in regular face-to-face conversations. But during virtual chats, we work harder to send and interpret signals because we’re just not used to it. Suddenly, one of the most natural things in the world, in-person conversations, has become something that involves a lot of thought.
Additionally, we’re dedicating extra cognitive resources to managing the various technical aspects of a video conference. Making sure your mic is working, your video doesn’t glitch, your internet connection doesn’t fail you. All these logistical worries are bound to cause more stress to an already stressful meeting.
How can we zoom out of Zoom fatigue?
1. Take breaks
During calls, implement mini-breaks by minimizing the window or looking away from the screen for a few seconds. It is possible to listen without staring at the screen for the entire 30-minute call.
On days you have back-to-back calls, consider scheduling 25 or 50-minute meetings. Deviating from the usual 30 minute or hour calls can give you enough time in between to get up and move around a little.
2. Move discussions to email
Fewer meetings = Less Zoom fatigue
Use written communication like email or chat messages to cut down (or shorten) meetings when you can. That helps to reserve your video calls for meetings that require active collaboration. So, before you send that calendar invite, try messaging them via Slack instead. Who knows, their reply could answer your question instantly.
3. Switch to audio calls
Many of us may treat video calls as a standard default for all communication. However, we should take advantage of phone calls and audio-only meetings too.
When communicating with people outside your organization, or those whom you’re meeting for the first time, suggest talking things over on the phone instead. Alternatively, you can set your default joining experience to audio-only in the Video tab in your Zoom settings.
4. Respect meeting start and end-times
As with any meetings in the office, Zoom meetings are not short of delays and overruns.
The way around this is to agree to an agenda beforehand and to start and end on time. If a meeting has to be prolonged for some reason, make it optional for those who are less involved to excuse themselves when they want to.
The meteoric rise of Zoom and other video conferencing tools have indeed been immensely beneficial in times of COVID-19. However, it’s important to acknowledge the mental demands of these virtual meetings to prevent further burnout.
As individuals, implementing the measures above can help us set better work-life boundaries. Employers can encourage flexible lines of communication to boost overall productivity and morale among your employees. Ultimately, we all have a role to play in combating the issues arising from remote work. Especially when video conferencing becomes a veritable lifeline in our new normal.
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