How to Avoid Zoom Fatigue

Academics, executives, and mental health professionals are growing aware of something called Zoom fatigue. Zoom is a popular brand of online video chat, but the phenomena is not limited to that platform. People are reporting tiredness, worry, or burnout due to increased use of videoconferencing. This has accelerated over the past year as the pandemic keeps many of us working from home some or all of the time. Since many organizations and individuals want to continue enjoying the benefits of remote work, it’s important to figure out how to avoid Zoom fatigue.

What Causes Zoom Fatigue?

It’s difficult to know how much of Zoom fatigue we can attribute to the general stress of living through extraordinary times, and how much to the overuse of videoconferencing. If there were no pandemic, and if we were on video chat constantly for benign reasons, would it still be stressful? The psychological research suggests that to a degree, it would be.

One hypothesis is that Zoom fatigue results from the brain working harder to pick up on the other people’s meanings or intentions, as there are fewer non-verbal cues. Another likely reason is that we have a wall of eyes looking back at us, causing subconscious stress. Many of these apps make us see ourselves on screen also, which can be distracting or worse. We may experience stress due to perceived social threat as we expose our home offices to others, as this may reflect on our perceived status or professionalism.

In brief, some people are very uncomfortable with constant videoconferencing, and that’s not a safe or sustainable work environment. The good news is that there are quite a few simple, commonsense things we can do to avoid Zoom fatigue.

Break the Ice

Break Eye Contact

When is the last time that everyone was looking at you the whole meeting, even when you weren’t talking? Probably that one time you were in big trouble, wearing a costume, or never. There’s an excessive amount of direct eye gaze in videoconferences. We’re looking at other faces close up like we never do in person. During physical meetings we may glance out the window, at our notes, at another participant who asks a question, or whisper a question to a neighbor. The design of video chat interfaces don’t allow for this. Instead, they force everyone to stare at everyone else. Weird.

But luckily the solution is simple. Minimize the zoom screen. If your camera is on, everyone else can still see you, even if you aren’t looking at them. I don’t know why more people don’t do this. If it’s necessary to see a presentation slide, cover up the row of faces on the side with a piece of paper on your screen. Personally I find it much easier to focus and engage in video meetings when I have another document open for taking notes, which also blocks out the video of a dozen faces staring at me. It’s just one click to bring everyone back on screen when it’s necessary to make eye contact or smile at someone.

Break Into Dance

OK, not seriously. But we should at least make it normal to stand up and walk around during video calls. Replacing hallway conversations with video meetings forces us to spend more time sitting down. There are health consequences for every added hour of sitting. People stand up, stretch, or pace during meetings. Presenters often stand. Adding some motion into the video meeting would reduce the fatigue.

Break Your Fast Together

Part of the fatigue may come from the fact that videoconferences don’t allow for the positive social and personal interactions to the same degree as physical meetings. Without social interaction, it’s harder for people to feel connected to each other or to the organization. This makes it harder to recharge our batteries and reengage in our work.

What if we encouraged people to have breakfast, coffee, or lunch via videoconference? This can be one-on-one or in very small groups. These should not be working lunches with tight agendas, but social occasions when the aim is to catch up with the other person. The food is there to give us something to look at other than people’s faces, to participate in a shared activity, and to provide a natural end point when the meal is done.

Give It a Break

Long before Zoom, the tyranny of 24/7  email “CC” chains stressed out professionals working across time zones. Late night and weekend voice conference calls have been fatiguing managers at global companies for decades, blurring the lines between home and work. The truth is, excessive, unproductive, or ineffective meetings have always been a source of stress and frustration. The pandemic has accelerated our use of virtual and remote video communication without addressing basic faults of meetings in general.

It’s a classic hammer-looking-for-the-nail situation. We’re misapplying or overusing a tool that seemed very effective in its initial applications. Once we see its unintended consequences, we need to take corrective actions such as those mentioned above. However, it’s also a good opportunity to ask whether the videoconference needs to happen at all. Some leaders may be overusing video because it gives them power to summon people to hear them talk. Does this topic require a face-to-face discussion? Is a phone call just as good? Would a series of text messages or chats do this job? As the saying goes, the best way to kaizen a process is to stop doing it.

4 Comments

  1. Sandra Fernández

    May 19, 2021 - 11:37 am
    Reply

    Si es muy importante la información que se nos da en esta publicación, ya que expresa mucho de mi sentir a este tipo de nueva comunicación.
    Gracias por los tips, serán de gran ayuda.

  2. Blanca Estela Caltzontzin Gonzalez

    May 20, 2021 - 9:32 am
    Reply

    ok

  3. Thomas Radilla

    May 20, 2021 - 9:35 am
    Reply

    thank you very much ,the information is very important and of big help, if we know how this new system of communication can transform of labor job life ,and how us we can be affected ,utilizing this type topics of exercises and take a time for do it , would be mitigate the adverse effect and do our activities more efficiently and with less stress during the interaction with other users.

  4. Chulani Seneviratne

    May 24, 2021 - 12:54 am
    Reply

    This is really important for all of us including our children who have online sessions frequetly. My 13 years old daughter told me in the morning, she has 22 online classes in a week. It seems that there must be guidelines for participating in zoom meetings for both adults and childen in order to minimize the fatigue.

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