Understanding and overcoming Zoom fatigue

Written by
Dr Nick Earley, Head of Psychology, Helix Resilience

22 Mar 2021

22 Mar 2021 • by Dr Nick Earley, Head of Psychology, Helix Resilience

What makes back-to-back Zoom meetings so tiring? Dr Nick Earley shares some top tips for making screen time less taxing for employees.

Zoom’s revenues grew by a staggering $206 million between Q1 of 2020 and Q1 this year which shows just how significant a part of our working lives video conferencing apps have become. As the world has adapted to remote working, many of us have had to get used to interacting with our colleagues on screen.

Now, roughly one year into working from home, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taking its toll. A recent study revealed that almost half of workers who use video conferencing tools are suffering from this newly coined ‘condition’. Of course, the issue isn’t exclusive to Zoom. Employees using Microsoft Teams or any other video conferencing apps can experience it.

While we may be heading towards the end of lockdown, video conferencing is here to stay in many businesses that are choosing to embrace hybrid or fully remote working, and will therefore continue to rely on using these apps to communicate with colleagues.

What are some causes of Zoom fatigue?

Seeing your own face during video calls constantly in real-time can be tiring. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab likens this to continually having a mirror held up near your face in every in-person interaction during an ordinary day in the workplace. According to Bailenson, being more critical of yourself is a common negative emotional consequence of being faced with your reflection.

Another cause of Zoom fatigue is the higher cognitive load that video calls demand compared with normal in-person interactions. Simply put, we have to work harder on video calls to send and receive signals. While an in-person conversation involves natural cues and gestures that we make and interpret subconsciously, video calls force us to consciously make exaggerated gestures and signals and this requires a lot more thought.  

It’s not just work that’s making people feel fatigued with screen time. People have been socialising with friends and family on video conferencing apps due to restrictions and spending more time watching TV, especially throughout the winter lockdown. In addition to Zoom fatigue, we could all be becoming tired of having our eyes being glued to screens. So what can we do about it?

What changes can we make to combat feelings of fatigue?

There are various steps we can take to overcome Zoom fatigue and it’s important that employers bear these in mind, especially where video conferencing is set to remain in place as part of a longer-term strategy. First and foremost, it’s worthwhile reviewing the volume of video calls that are held on a daily or weekly basis and determining if every one of them is absolutely necessary.

Cameras off can help reduce the cognitive weight of always being 'on'

Employees should also be encouraged to turn their cameras off when they feel like it, especially during days when they’re joining multiple calls. They can also reduce the cognitive load by minimising or hiding the conferencing screen entirely so they’re able to participate in the audible conversation without having to process what’s happening visually.

Dialling into a video conference on our phones and joining in as an audio-only participant can also give us back the mobility that video conferencing has stolen from us. When we’re sat in front of the screen, we’re restricted from being able to move freely we might naturally do during a phone or in-person conversation. For some people, these movements can help them relax or become more engaged in the conversation.

Finally, employees should be routinely reminded to take regular breaks from their computer screens to break up the working day and give their eyes and minds a rest from the demands of being part of the virtual workforce.

Spotting signs of stress and burnout early can help reduce fatigue

Zoom fatigue is just one example of the many challenges employees can face while working from home. The lines between work and home life can become easily blurred so it’s important to be able to spot the signs of stress and burnout early. This allows us to take a preventive approach rather than a reactive one, whether we’re recognising those signs in ourselves or our co-workers.

How to spot these signs when working remotely

Common signals of increased stress include a lack of motivation, being more withdrawn than usual, a change in body language or apparent distraction on video calls, and a change in the usual tone of voice someone uses. When considering our own wellbeing, we might also notice changes in appetite, staying in bed for longer, worrying or dwelling on negative thoughts, and experiencing heightened emotions such as irritability, anxiety or sadness.

Channels and platforms that educate on preventative strategies can help us become more aware of and able to deal with a decline in mental health and wellbeing. With improved mental resilience, we will be able to cope better when difficult scenarios inevitably arise, whether they’re related to Zoom fatigue or any other issues within the workplace or at home. 

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