Recognising and counteracting Zoom fatigue

As our working environments have changed in the last few years, we have had to adapt to new technology and ways of being productive. In many cases there have been big advantages – less travel and outlay on rent, bringing people together who are far flung, maintaining relationships and wearing your pyjama bottoms.

Yet it has been shown that video calls are more draining than other forms of communication. Zoom fatigue is now a recognised term and condition, as google searches will show!

There are many things that contribute to this:

  • Intense concentration is needed to focus on what is being said (there is no one you can whisper to if you miss something). Non-verbal communication cues take more effort to give and receive – think maintaining eye contact – (referred to as non-verbal overload). Interestingly, women struggle with this more than men.
  • Distractions abound and we have all been guilty of texting someone, answering an email or patting the dog.
  • The only way of showing we are paying attention is to look at the camera, yet in real life we rarely stare at someone’s face. In Zoom we get few visual breaks without seeming like we have tuned out. Missing those breaks causes our brains to get tired quicker.
  • Tech stress! Those presenting will know all too well the feeling of having to not only provide an entertaining and stimulating presentation, but manage the many functions of using two screens, chatting verbally and by text, muting voices, turning cameras off and using break out rooms. It is all becoming easier but there is still a level of anxiety that it could all go wrong.

Yes, at times the format has provided unforgettable humorous moments but not without its challenges.

The additional cognitive processes have led in many cases, to burnout and exhaustion.

To counteract the effects of too much screen meeting time, here are some tips to reduce the exhaustion of video calls.

  • Avoid multitasking;
  • Build in breaks;
  • Reduce onscreen stimuli, (turn off camera, keep backgrounds simple);
  • Make social events on Zoom optional;
  • Use a facilitator to help order the contribution of attendees;
  • Go back to phone calls or email when appropriate;
  • Unless the call is with people you know, leave camera off. It can be too intimate and invasive in some situations.

Note from the future: to bring life to videoconferencing, virtual reality is being used where you can enter a meeting as a 3D avatar with photo, personalised background and ability to move around, wave and pat others on the back! What next?

On the positive side:

Let’s not forget the world that Zoom and other platforms have opened up to us.

  • In education we can now reach and run live sessions with people all over the globe. We have learnt how to share our presentations, put people in small rooms, move around and chat to them, use whiteboards, chat boxes and reactions so that everyone has the chance to be involved. We are learning about non-verbal cues that are different to what we would normally use and how to look like we are presenting from a tropical island or perfect designer lounge room instead of our messy office.
  • We have met each other’s dogs, partners and at times, a “Kevin from accounts”!
  • Families are now meeting and sharing news and remaining closer.
  • We are attending conferences that we could not have afforded to travel to and accessing training that was previously not available.

In other words, our communication options have increased.
So let’s just understand how to manage the challenges and be grateful for the opportunities that Zoom has created!

Beyond Zoom: The New Reality
Brenda K. Wiederhold
Liz Fosslein and Mollie West Duffy 2020
How to combat zoom fatique

Fauville, G., Luo,M., Queiroz, A.C.M., Lee, A., Bailenson, J.N., Hancock, J. (2023)
Video-conferencing usage dynamics and nonverbal mechanisms exacerbate Zoom Fatigue, particularly for women,Computers in Human Behavior (10)