Overcoming Zoom Fatigue


In the early months of the Covid pandemic there was a general sense of enjoyment around the remote working that was mandated by the various control measures introduced by governments to limit the spread of the virus. As the months have dragged interminably on, however, the lack of physical contact with colleagues has led to a rise in “Zoom fatigue”, as so much of our lives is now consumed via a screen.

A recent study from Stanford highlights the impact so much screen time is having on our energy levels. The paper identifies four distinct consequences before highlighting some strategies we can all use to counteract the risk of fatigue and stress.

Why Zoom tires us out

The first reason for Zoom fatigue is something unique to video chats. The researchers argue that when we have an excessive amount of eye contact up-close with people it is unnatural and therefore extremely draining. They suggest that when we meet people in person we often cast our gaze around a bit, whether to look elsewhere, take notes, or, of course, to look at our colleague. On Zoom, however, we tend to look at others the majority of the time.

It brings to mind the kind of emotions we feel when we’re delivering a speech, as we have so many eyes on us at once. What’s more, whereas in a speech it’s often hard to make out any of the faces staring back at you, that is certainly not the case on Zoom, where each face is all too visible. Indeed, if the call is one-to-one, you’re often seeing your colleague at a size that would normally mean they are incredibly close to you, and almost certainly at an uncomfortable level of proximity.

To remedy this, the authors advocate taking your conferencing platform off of full-screen mode and thus shrinking the face size of your colleague to a more comfortable level.

Constantly on display

When we’re engaged in a video conference we also see ourselves on screen throughout. It’s like being followed around with a mirror and is most unnatural.

This can have a significant impact on our self-image as we’re constantly assessing how we look and whether we’re satisfied with our appearance.

The researcher suggests changing the settings on your conferencing platform so that we’re only sending our video to our colleagues rather than to ourselves as well, or if that isn’t an option to use the “hide self” option.

A sedentary existence

It was, of course, frustrating to have our working day littered with so many meetings, but one happy consequence of our packed diaries was that it got us out of our chair and moving about. Indeed, even when we speak on the telephone we can move about as we do so.

That’s not an option with video calls, however, as the fixed field of view anchors us to our chair and forces us to stay put throughout. With a regular array of meetings throughout the day, it can result in a hugely sedentary existence.

There are a number of possible remedies to this problem, from standing desks to positioning an external camera so that you can pace and doodle in your virtual meeting just like you do in physical meetings.

A higher cognitive load

In regular conversations, we’re often taking in a huge number of nonverbal cues and signals to help us understand what the other person is saying. These gestures and cues are digested subconsciously in person, but it’s much harder to do so over video.

We’ve taken something that is largely a highly natural affair and made it something that requires a great deal of thought. Not only are we digesting what others are saying but we’re also ruminating on how we appear, whether we’re on mute, and how to turn subconscious signals, such as affirmation of agreement into something communicable via video.

It can all be quite exhausting, and the paper advocates a good way to mitigate this risk is to have periods that are audio-only so that you’re giving yourself a break from being on display at all times. This allows you not only to be off screen for a bit, but to even orient yourself away from the screen and move about.

Even when face-to-face meetings will become safe again, it is likely the culture has finally shifted enough to remove some of the previously held stigmas against virtual meetings,” the researcher concludes. “With slight changes to the interface, Zoom has the potential to continue to drive productivity and reduce carbon emissions by replacing the commute.”



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