Zoom Fatigue: What is it, how to fix it

Zoom fatigue.  Is this a real thing? Have you heard of it?  Even if you haven’t heard of it, you have probably experienced it during a video conference call.  That feeling that you have had enough of video conferencing?  After a while of sitting through yet another call, you get bored and your attention starts to wander? Maybe you get anxious, or even angry for having to sit there for extended periods of time? You are not crazy or lazy. This phenomenon is real, and it has begun to be studied and analyzed.  In popular literature, it is called Zoom Fatigue. There are reasons why it happens, and some quick things you can do to make it better!

Zooming has become a ubiquitous term that applies to all video conferencing. You may be on Microsoft Teams or Google Meet or GoToMeeting or any of the other video conferencing platforms currently available. The condition is called Zoom Fatigue, but it happens when you have just had enough of video conferencing, regardless of which platform you use.

There are four main causes of Zoom Fatigue, and some quick adjustment you can make that are very beneficial in mitigating the deleterious effects of this condition .

What causes Zoom Fatigue

Too much close eye contact

Jeremy Bailenson, a professor at Stanford, likened the experience of a Zoom call to be very much like having a conversation with someone standing very close to you. This is because our brains are registering faces that large on the computer screen as being very close to us in person. In normal conversation, if someone is standing less than two feet away from you in your personal space, researchers believe our brains perceive that closeness as either helpful or harmful.  In other words, if someone is that close to you it is because they want to either mate with you, or attack you. This can be anxiety producing in our brain, causing us to be in a state of hyperarousal during the entire call.

Too much of you!

Numerous studies have shown that for many people, especially those who have poor body image, gazing at themselves in a mirror can produce anxiety. We are not used to looking at our faces at that close distance in our normal existence, yet during a video conference call, our faces might be staring back at us, for hours at a time on the computer screen during a video call.

Too much brain power to communicate

Face-to-face communication is very natural in a face to face meeting.  We automatically pick up nuances from body language, gestures, para-linguistics and prosody, and by the reaction of other humans in the room.  Video conferencing takes much of that away, and we have to exert much more effort to gather clues about what people are really communicating in the room.  That can be exhausting.

Not enough mobility

Our bodies are not designed to sit for too long. If we sit too long, our blood tends to pool in our feet and our seat.  Move and to keep active during a call, or else our basic needs are not being met and we start to get inattentive, bored, listless and even anxious.  In regular, face-to-face, old-fashioned meetings, people could get up for some more coffee, go to the restroom, or just stand and stretch for a minute without disturbing the flow of the meeting. There seems to be an unwritten rule in video conferencing that everyone should have their cameras on and be at the screen during the entire meeting.  While your body might be on the screen, after a while, your attention could be a million miles away.

Those are the four main causes of Zoom Fatigue.  Now let’s talk about some simple things we can do during a meeting that can help make us less fatigued.

Zoom Fatigue: What can you do about it?

  1. Take Zoom off of full screen view. Adjust the settings so your face doesn’t appear at all, or shrink it to a thumbnail size, and not full screen view during the entire meeting.
  2. Take a break from being right in front of the camera. Move your chair back away from the camera and give your brain a break from looking at yourself so close, and other peoples faces so large.  When I started doing video conferencing, I thought for some reason that I had to be up close to the screen, and my face should be framed like a picture on the computer screen.  I don’t do that so much anymore.  Why should I? Think about a normal, face-to-face meeting. If you are sitting around the conference table, some people could be ten or twelve feet away from you. And that is ok.
  3. Avoid multitasking. We really can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time, although the temptation is always there to start doing something else during a video call. I am very guilty of this. In meetings, I tend to tune out and start answering emails and doing other mundane tasks way  more than I should.  I think I am still paying attention to the meeting and being productive, but the reality is when I am trying to multitask, I actually need more time to achieve the same level of performance in the tasks I am trying to accomplish. A more suggested way is to pay attention to the meeting 100% of the time, then move on to other tasks.
  4. Take a visual break once in a while.  Shut off your camera, keep listening to the meeting, and get up and move around your office. It is even better if you can have purposeful movement, like some stretches or a short walking path around your office, rather than just shut off your camera and stand there.

It seems like video conferencing is more popular than ever, and it doesn’t seem like it is ever going to go away, now that it has become a familiar thread in the fabric of our society.. If you are interested in strategies to reduce stress at work, check out our other interesting blogs on the topic.

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