Over the past few weeks, mentions of ‘Zoom fatigue’ have popped up more and more on social media and Google searches.
Since March, most of us haven’t had to get “properly” dressed, stand on a crowded bus, get stuck in traffic or wait in line for the lunch order. Indeed, since these global lockdowns were put into place, we’ve been working ‘comfortably’ from home – and yet we’re finding ourselves completely exhausted at the end of each workday. This is what’s now recognized, worldwide, as ‘Zoom Fatigue’.
What causes ‘Zoom Fatigue’?
‘Zoom fatigue’ stems from how we process information over video. Video communication means we have to work harder to process non-verbal cues. Our brains are more attentive than usual, scanning for facial expressions, listening for tone and pitch of voice, and observing body language. This consumes more energy than you’d think, and this dissonance between mind and body is unnatural.
Think of it this way: when you’re sitting in a conference room, you can rely on whispered side exchanges to catch you up if you get distracted or answer quick, clarifying questions. During a video call, however, it’s impossible to do this unless you use the private chat feature or awkwardly try to find a moment to unmute and ask a colleague to repeat themselves.
Seeing ourselves on camera can also make us feel anxious. We start overthinking how we look, what we say, how messy our surroundings may be and what our coworkers are thinking about the state of our homes. This, too, is energy-draining. In-person, we can use our peripheral vision to glance out the window or look at others in the room. On a video call, because we are all sitting in different homes, if we turn to look out the window, we worry it might seem like we’re not paying attention. Without the visual breaks, we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued.
Likewise, the problem isn’t helped by the fact that video calls make it easier than ever to lose focus. We’ve all done it: decided that, why yes, we absolutely can listen intently, check our email and text a friend. Also, adding fuel to the fire is many of our work-from-home situations. For those who don’t have a private space to work, it is especially challenging.
How you can reduce it?
If this all sounds like bad news, don’t despair. Here are some tips that we’ve found to make video calls less exhausting.
It’s easy to think that you can use the opportunity to do more in less time, but research shows that trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance. Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 per cent of your productive time.
Be sure to carve in transition periods between meetings, even video meetings. Breaks are proven to refresh us – try getting up and walking around a bit, stretching, grabbing some water or squeezing in a bit of exercise. You can also try to take mini-breaks from video during longer calls by minimizing the window, moving it to behind your open applications, or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds now and then. Your colleagues probably understand more than you think — it is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full thirty minutes.
Use different tools for different purposes
Check your calendar for the next few days. Are there any conversations you could have over phone or email instead? You can always try something like, “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone?”. Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, too. Moreover, if you’re constantly using Microsoft Teams for work, consider using Zoom for personal affairs. If Zoom is your employer’s preferred tool, suggest that you FaceTime your friends and family instead.
Avoid looking at yourself
As we already mentioned, seeing yourself observed by others, watching yourself speak and gesticulate during important meetings can be as cringe-inducing as watching a video of yourself. A lot of us don’t like it. An easy solve? Block the self-view feature. But if closing the self-view isn’t possible on the platform you’re using, you can cover it by taping a piece of paper or post-it note.
Limit your calls
Just because we’re all working remotely doesn’t mean we need to connect all the time. A quick message or old-fashioned call (no video necessary) might suffice. Especially when it comes to one-on-one conversations, or more casual check-ins (meetings that don’t require note-taking).
Some of these tips might be hard to follow at first. But taking these steps can help you prevent feeling so exhausted at the thought of another video chat. It’s tiring enough trying to adapt to this new normal. Make video calls a little easier for yourself.