What is Zoom Fatigue?
Anyone who has had several back-to-back Zoom calls in a day, understands the feeling of utter exhaustion and feeling drained. Zoom fatigue is something many of us are dealing with. This is why asynchronous meetings are a great alternative, especially for teams working across different time zones.
Zoom brought us together
Over the course of the Covid pandemic, the number of video conference calls shot through the roof. With literally hundreds of millions of zoom calls happening around the world each day. This was due to various travel bans, working from home and social distancing measures that were put in place to keep us safe, yet ultimately keeping us apart.
As a relatively new phenomenon, Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab founder Professor Jeremy Bailenson, conducted research into the psychological consequences of spending so much time on video conferencing platforms each day. His findings confirmed what millions of exhausted people around the world already knew, having experienced it for themselves.
Zoom fatigue is a very real thing
What Are the Signs of Zoom Fatigue?
There are numerous symptoms of Zoom fatigue, but people suffering do not necessarily experience all the symptoms at the same time. Everyone is different and so too are their responses.
These are the most common symptoms experienced:
Difficulty concentrating, which is not surprising due to the cognitive load
Increased frustration and irritability with co-workers
- Muscle tension
- A Drop in Productivity
- Lack of Motivation
- Social detachment
- Headaches & Migraines
What Factors Contribute to Zoom Fatigue?
Back to Prof Bailenson at Stanford. In his research, he identified four main consequences of prolonged video chats, now popularly referred to as Zoom fatigue.
Let’s take a look:
Seeing Eye to Eye
The amount of eye contact on a zoom call is dramatically increased compared with an in person meeting. If you think about it, when we’re in an in-person meeting we tend to interact more naturally. We look at the speaker, briefly make eye contact, look away, glance at colleagues, make notes and look around us.
When we’re on a Zoom call, our eyes remain fixed on the screen and on the speaker. This is an unnatural lock-on stare. And, coupled with the unnaturally large size of faces on our screens – it can make for a very stressful experience, if you’re the speaker.
And of course, if you have a really large screen, faces appear even bigger. And so our brains interpret this as being in close contact with or having someone in our personal space. In real life, this would translate to either intimacy or conflict.
How do we reduce this?
Prof Bailenson suggests reducing the size of the Zoom window in relation to your screen’s size. He also suggests using an external keyboard. This creates physical space (and a psychological barrier) between you and the screen.
Usually if we’re on the phone, we can get up and move around but if you’re on a Zoom call you’re frozen in one spot. You don’t have the same opportunity to move around and this isn’t beneficial.
In fact, research points to people moving around, performing better cognitively.
What’s the Fix?
It’s a good idea to establish ground rules that make it appropriate to turn off your video from time to time so you can get up and move around. We’ve already established that you perform better cognitively if you are up and moving around. When you’re off-camera you can get up, stretch, move around, fold the laundry or make a snack.
Mirror, Mirror on The….Screen
This is something I find incredibly annoying – constantly seeing myself on the screen. I find it very distracting and am super conscious of how I appear to others. Do I look engaged and interested?
And while I’m considering these questions, I’ve missed out on the last 2 or 3 minutes of the call.
Prof Bailenson mentions that constantly seeing yourself up on screen, larger-than-life and in excruciating details is akin to someone following you around with a mirror and holding it up so you can see your reflection constantly. Take it from me – it’s unnatural, and incredibly stressful.
Is it any wonder that research shows negative emotional consequences from constantly seeing yourself in a mirror.
What is the solution?
It’s pretty simple. Right click on your photo and click on “Hide Self View”.
But remember, just because you can’t see yourself on screen, doesn’t mean other participants can’t. Remember to keep it professional. No dramatic rolling of the eyes or slapping your forehead.
When we’re communicating in person, body language and non-verbal communication is natural and it’s usually easy for us to interpret gestures. But when it comes to video chat, it requires a lot more concentration. Have you noticed that when you’re on a video chat and your face is visible on screen – we tend to exaggerate a head nod to show agreement? Or slowly shake your head from side to side?
When last, in real life did you give someone a double thumbs up?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. Because it just doesn’t feel natural.
Turn your video off for a short while. Consciously turn your body away from the screen, so you aren’t able to see the screen. You’re only listening. This gives you a brief respite from having to concentrate on exaggerated gestures, which actually don’t contribute much to the meaning of what’s being said.
How to Manage Zoom Fatigue
The fact is, we are all still trying to overcome a global health crisis and there is still the threat of a recession. We’re learning new ways to work and there are some incredible opportunities and advantages. There are also challenges which we need to learn how to navigate more effectively.
Focus on Mental Health & Well-being
Mental health and wellbeing needs to be at the forefront. Practice self care.
And this starts with quality of sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom of Zoom fatigue, so if you’re struggling, there are various ways to get a great night’s rest .
We all need to be flexible and respectful of others’ needs. This is true whether you’re an employee, a manager or a business owner.
Ask yourself whether face-to-face is strictly necessary? Would it work just as well, or perhaps even better as an audio call, or an email?
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