What is 'Zoom fatigue' and why are video calls so draining?

The new way of working during the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on people’s mental health and increasing the risk of workplace burnout during the lockdown.

One potential factor that’s contributing to this is the increase in the use of video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype.

As a result, ‘Zoom fatigue’ has seen an increase in mentions on social media and also appeared in more Google searches.

So what is ‘Zoom fatigue’ and why do we find video calls so draining?

In the interests of maintaining the health and well-being of employees, we take a look at what it is and why you might be experiencing it.

What is ‘Zoom fatigue’?

It’s the feeling that many of us are starting to experience after a day full of virtual meetings on video conferencing apps.

In a recent National Geographic article about ‘Zoom fatigue’, a professor from Pennsylvania describes the exhaustion she felt after teaching her class over Zoom.

Many people are describing similar experiences. So much so, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is now being used as the slang term to describe this feeling of exhaustion.

But why is it affecting us in this way?

Why are video calls so draining?

In the same National Geographic article, an assistant professor of cyber-psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, says that research shows how much people struggle with video calls.

This is partly due to the many non-verbal cues that the brain focuses on when you speak to someone.

Whether they are facing you or turned away, how much they are fidgeting and even the way they breathe can affect the way you interact with someone.

Video calls mask a lot of these cues and it takes intense concentration (although often unconsciously) to look for them.

This extra focus means that we can’t relax into the conversation, which is what tires us out.

You’re also likely to feel anxious about being interrupted by members of your family.

Like the example from this TED article about 'Zoom fatigue', when a fashion guru’s live stream was interrupted by her naked partner!

Eye contact: Too much or not enough?

Eye contact is one of the strongest ways to gauge another person’s interest or general mood during a conversation.

Video conferencing can make this difficult.

When using a multi-person screen, video meetings can overload the brain.

And in one-on-one meetings, eye contact can feel prolonged and uncomfortable. It can often feel unnaturally intimate to be looking at someone else’s face in that much detail for so long.

In a BBC Worklife interview, an associate professor who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace also highlighted the increased self-awareness we experience on video calls.

It’s like being on a virtual stage, which comes with the social pressure and stress of “performing” in front of others.

The loudest voice on video

Another common problem with video chats is the fact that the loudest voices are often the ones that control the meeting.

This can also happen in physical meetings, but the very nature of video calls means that multiple conversations can’t happen. Otherwise, you just get a jumble of voices.

This can sometimes mean that non-active participants in a meeting will get overlooked.

For all of these reasons, and the split attention that is inevitable with video meetings, many people face the conflicting sense of being both drained and feeling as if little has been achieved.

So what can we do to avoid this post-meeting exhaustion?

How can you avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’?

Here are a few tips that can help make video calls less tiring. 

Phone or email instead

Video conferencing might be your automatic option during lockdown, but is it always necessary?

Could you replace a video catch-up with a good old-fashioned phone call?

Or would it be easier to send an email and share a file with detailed notes?

Avoid multitasking

It can be all too tempting to use a video meeting as an opportunity to check your emails or messaging apps.

Close all other tabs on your desktop and concentrate solely on the meeting at hand.

Cameras should be optional

You don’t always have to turn your camera on.

Sometimes it’s nice to take a rest from seeing your own and everyone else’s faces.

Take time to catch up

Use the beginning of a meeting as an opportunity to catch up and socialise informally before “getting straight to business”.

It can give you the short break you need to relax before moving on to the main point of the meeting.

Split up your day

Avoid having back-to-back video calls. 

Try and split your day up into different types of work activities and take plenty of breaks.

Combine physical activity with work and maybe have a “walking meeting” every now and then. 

A healthy balance

It’s worth recognising that the increase in video conferencing has certainly allowed us to socialise with others in difficult times.

It’s also encouraged people who are introverted and less likely to interact in a physical setting. Video calls give introverts a platform where they can feel comfortable to share their opinions through the filter of the video screen.

But when considering the mental health of employees, it’s important to make sure that you have a healthy balance of meetings both on and off video.

If you’d like to find out how the team at Fusion can help to support the mental health of your staff, contact us today.

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Categories: CoronavirusHealth & WellbeingMental HealthOccupational Health

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