Remote working brought our attention to a new phenomenon called Zoom fatigue or screen exhaustion. And it’s real. Research from Superhuman found “email fatigue” to be the cause of rising dissatisfaction with remote work. More than one-third of employees said email and message overload may lead them to quit their jobs. The survey found half of remote workers (50%) spent their own money on tools to help manage their productivity, and another 17% plan to do so in the future. Plus, new Stanford research revealed how the shift from in-person meetings to virtual ones has taken its toll, particularly among women. Overall, one in seven women (13.8%) compared with one in 20 men (5.5%) reported feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls. Researchers found what contributed most to the feeling of exhaustion among women was an increase in what social psychologists describe as “self-focused attention” triggered by the self-view in video conferencing.
A new study published by the American Psychological Association examined the nature of video conference fatigue. And the findings might surprise you as much as it did the researchers who collected data each hour during five workdays from 55 employees who were working remotely. Results from 279 video conference meetings showed that video conferences are more exhausting when remote workers don’t feel group belonging. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, also found that turning off the microphone and having higher feelings of group belonging were related to lower post video conference fatigue. But being on video in and of itself didn’t impact feelings of fatigue, the study showed. Perhaps turning off for a few minutes allowed participants the relief from feeling as if they had to “be on” and built a sense of comfort with others in the meetings. Additional analyses suggested that higher levels of group belonging are the most consistent protective factor against video conference fatigue. These findings have practical implications for workers and organizations as they continue to navigate the new terrain of remote work.
The researchers thought longer meetings and being on video would cause the most fatigue, but their findings surprised them, said lead researcher Andrew Bennett, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University. “We expected that aspects of being on video would be related to fatigue, such as watching everyone’s faces closely on a screen or even watching yourself, but we didn’t find this to be true in our study. Longer meetings also didn’t impact fatigue,” Bennett said. “However, the importance of feeling a sense of belonging or connection with the group really minimized fatigue after a video conference.”
According to the researchers, group chatter may help build a sense of group belonging, which had an impact on reducing video conference fatigue. There also appeared to be a sweet spot in the early afternoon when video conferences caused less fatigue than at other times of the day. Based on these findings, the researchers made the following recommendations to help reduce video conference fatigue:
- Hold video conferences in the early afternoon.
- Enhance perceptions of group belonging, including time for small talk before or after the meeting or breakout rooms where people could talk about their interests (sports, movies, etc.).
- Establish basic meeting rules, such as whether to keep webcams on and refraining from doing other work.
- Take breaks by looking away from the screen, standing up and walking around.
“We know video conferences are helpful,” Bennett said. “We get more emotional and nonverbal information from them, but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be done in a video conference. Sometimes a phone call or email is more effective and efficient.”