The pandemic has shifted many people to full-time remote work and some will continue working remotely permanently. We’ve spent some time talking about some of the many ways that COVID-19 has impacted our work and our life. Today, we tackle the phenomenon of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and recent research to help us understand what causes it.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
Videoconference Fatigue (or Zoom Fatigue) is the degree to which someone feels exhausted or tired after engaging in a videoconference (Zoom) call. If you’ve been working remotely, you’ve probably experienced this! While the pandemic has led to more burnout and exhaustion for a variety of reasons, video calls area also a problem. Many of us went from in-person meetings or audio calls to the expectation of numerous video calls a day. But, why is this a problem?
Unfortunately, we have limited attention spans as humans and fatigue is caused by sustained attention. In other words, when you have to pay full attention for a long period of time, you feel drained and tired. Video meetings cause fatigue because you have to pay attention in a way you wouldn’t have to in-person or in an audio-only call. You aren’t able to move around and shift as much as you might sitting in a conference room. You might look down at your notes or play with your pen in-person. When you are on an audio call, you can get up, shift around, and you don’t have to pay attention to visual cues.
But on a video call, we all feel pressured to look directly at the camera and screen to show we are engaged. We also have to pay more attention to people’s facial cues via video. Not only are you focused on the content of the meeting but you are hyper-focused on visual cues from others and how you look. When we have to sustain that level of attention for an extended period of time, you can quickly reach exhaustion.
What Can You Do?
While there’s been some initial discussion on what to do about Zoom Fatigue, more research is needed to fully understand what we can do to fix this problem. However, recent research can point us to some things to try.
Time of Day
First, hold video meetings earlier in the day. Researchers are still figuring out what time of day is best. Yet, we know that we have fewer resources left later in the day. Some initial findings point to avoiding calls after 1:30 pm. While that can be hard if you are working with different time zones, it’s worth a shot! Try to hold video calls early and try to keep them short.
Second, focus on group belongingness. People feel less exhausted after video calls where they feel like part of the group. This makes some intuitive sense. If you are comfortable with everyone on the call, you feel less pressure to present yourself a certain way. You also don’t need to put in as much effort to catch visual cues. Thus, enhance your team’s sense of belonging to make more effective and less exhausting video calls.
We don’t yet have the research to know how to improve belongingness virtually. So we encourage you to get creative! Think of some fun activities – like a wine paint night with the team. Make a book club. Figure out ways to connect outside of work tasks to build those connections! And, if you can, avoid too many video calls with new people. A full day of meeting new people via video can be extremely exhausting. Think hard about onboarding new team members virtually as they are set up for burnout as they start to get to know the team!
Finally, take breaks! We know breaks are always helpful. Back-to-back video meetings are worse than having breaks between them. You need to get up, shift in your seat, and take a second to change gears. We know breaks are so important so we’ve talked about them a lot! Any time we participate in an exhausting activity, we need time to recover. Take the time and avoid having a ton of video calls all in a row. If you are a leader, create a norm to block breaks on calendars and allow people to say ‘no’ if there are too many calls in a day.
While more work is needed, preliminary evidence points to Zoom Fatigue being a real thing. As we learn more, we can have even better advice on how to address it. For now, take those breaks, build group belongingness, and avoid video calls later in the day!