Did you know, a report that tables statistics for the video conferencing platform, Zoom, indicates it has about 300 million meeting participants daily? This includes both paid and free users globally. Interestingly, the Zoom app was downloaded 485 million times during 2020, and the number of annual meeting minutes on Zoom is now over 3,3 trillion. So, it is safe to say that video conferencing has become a crucial tool for working remotely which has become the new working norm since the pandemic. Yes, video conferencing saves time, money, and effort but Zoom Fatigue, or otherwise known as Virtual Fatigue, is increasing among our remote workers and everyone will likely suffer from it at one stage or another.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
A very straight forward explanation is, that draining feeling you get after clicking “leave” when you are done with your video conference call. It is a unique feeling of exhaustion and tiredness, brought on by excessive usage of virtual conferencing apps and software. Although it is called “Zoom Fatigue” it is also referred to as “Virtual Fatigue” because it does not only include Zoom but all video conferencing apps and software, yes even Facetime or WhatsApp Video calling.
Why are we suffering from Virtual Fatigue?
Psychologists and researchers say that it might be because video conferencing forces us to become more focussed in meetings, compelling us to concentrate continuously and intensify our ability to interpret non-verbal communication cues. Although there might be numerous reasons why we can suffer from virtual fatigue, depending on your circumstances, Stanford researchers identified and explained below four causes in an article published February 2021:
1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact and ratio in sizes of faces on screens, is not only highly intense but unnatural because in real life you would not stand so close or be up in someone’s face like that. Therefore, your brain thinks it is weird and starts focussing on other things and leaves you with a feeling of discomfort.
2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time, giving feedback, communicating, making decisions etc., is fatiguing because you are constantly aware of your every move, facial expressions, and non-verbal cues. Seeing yourself will make you more self-conscious about how you look and how others perceive you. This is distracting and causes you to constantly force yourself to refocus.
3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility, because we were used to standing up when we gave our presentations, or made a quick cup of coffee, or even walked to the meeting room etc. Now we remain in front of a screen, not moving. You can literally just share your screen when you present.
4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats because we must work harder to interpret non-verbal communication.
Everyone will suffer from Virtual Fatigue at one stage or another and it will become an ongoing problem while we work remotely. The sooner you combat it and adopt certain coping mechanisms, the better off you’ll be in dealing with this feeling.
How to combat Zoom Fatigue with 5 quick tips:
Video conferencing is very draining, but these five quick tips might make it less tiresome as it comes and goes.
- Avoid scheduling virtual meetings back-to-back. Plan better and work in enough time to have a break in between. Try to space out meeting so that you have, at least, one entire day off from meetings every now and again.
- Don’t try to multi-task while you are in the meeting. Switching off your video and scrolling down your emails, trying to answer them, for example, takes away your full concentration during the meeting. Furthermore, it tires you out even more because you are not focussing on one thing at a time and therefore constantly have to regain focus.
- Before scheduling a virtual meeting, ask yourself if the issue can’t be dealt with over a phone call or email. Don’t schedule virtual meetings for every single thing.
- Keep the meetings brief and to the point. Stick to the agenda and make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and by when you will expect feedback.
- Opt for switching on the speaker only and if allowed rather switch off the camera. This will help you to not only gaze at your own face the entire time, but also limit distractions from others when they too switch off their cameras.
How do you know if you are suffering from Virtual Fatigue?
Workplace burnout poses a real threat to employees, companies, and their productivity. Virtual Fatigue contributes to burnout. The signs of Virtual Fatigue is pretty straight forward and in short it’s an intense feeling of exhaustion but can include:
- The inability to be ‘present’ in the moment
- Difficulty concentrating or focussing on what’s going on in the meeting
- Irritability with colleagues
- Feeling down when you know a meeting is coming up
- Physical symptoms might include headaches, muscle tension, watery or unfocused eyes (because of extensive, continuous time spent in front of a screen) etc.
Getchen Rubin said: “Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the Internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master.” You are being expected to be “on” the entire time. Use technology to your advantage but don’t let it take over. Don’t lose yourself to it. It is totally okay to take a break…especially if your mind and body let you know when it is time to take one.