The disruption caused by COVID-19 is expected to have several long-lasting effects on workplace culture. The shift towards remote working, for example, is likely to stick as employees embrace the flexibility it offers and their managers look to reduce the frequency of business travel.
Despite the many benefits of remote working – including flexible working hours, no commuting, and an overall improved work-life balance – many employees have found working from home to be especially exhausting, thanks to a condition known as “Zoom fatigue.”
What is Zoom fatigue and how does it affect employees?
In April, National Geographic reported on the weariness felt by employees who are spending too much of their time on video conferences – be it Zoom or another platform such as Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime. Research has found that this fatigue can result in a drop in energy levels and productivity, and have an impact on employees’ mental health.
During an in-person conversation or meeting, it’s natural to make eye contact, analyse body language and gestures, and interpret subtle facial expressions. Via video conference, participants must work twice as hard to construe these visual cues and emotions expressed by their colleagues and to communicate their own feelings. This is especially challenging when the video quality is bad or the technology keeps cutting in and out. Add into the mix that it’s typical for participants to speak over one another, parallel conversations are impossible, and attendees are distracted by the video frames of perhaps dozens of their colleagues, and it’s the perfect storm for Zoom fatigue.
Essentially, employees are exhausted by their efforts to interpret the emotions of others, express their own emotions, and process too much information in one go.
Zoom fatigue can also refer to the physiological impacts of excess video conferencing. The result of staring at a screen and sitting on unsupportive furniture in the same position for hours on end can result in back pain, headaches, and eye strain
5 tips for avoiding Zoom fatigue
For employees feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, and exhausted by the frequency of video conferencing calls, here are five tips to help alleviate the strain.
1. Switch to audio-only chat (in some cases)
Video conferences do serve a purpose in today’s workplace, with the potential to facilitate more intimate and personal conversations. However, this does not apply when employees have multiple back-to-back calls and energy levels are running long. Instead, employees should save the video feature for when it is really necessary and turn off their cameras the rest of the time, especially for external calls where participants might be less familiar. Audio calls help to ease the cognitive load and can often be more productive.
2. Try a walking meeting
Walking meetings lead to clearer thinking, increased creativity, and more meaningful interactions. Walking during a video conference isn’t feasible, which means there is all the more reason to strike a balance between audio and video calls. Employees should consider turning their audio meetings into walking audio meetings to mix up their routine, get some fresh air and sunshine, and relax.
3. Don’t multitask
It’s tempting to multitask during conference calls of any kind but this is proven to negatively impact performance. Research shows that switching between different tasks can cost employees 40% of their productive time. Not only that but those who multitask often struggle to retain information.
4. Take regular breaks
During long video conferences, employees need to take regular breaks from gazing at their screen, even if it’s to simply minimise the window for a few minutes to concentrate on active listening. Similarly, try to avoid back-to-back calls with no gaps in between. The importance of employees being able to get up and stretch their legs or enjoy some fresh air between calls should not be underestimated.
5. Turn off self-view
One of the key drivers of Zoom fatigue is the self-view feature, which is typically open throughout an entire meeting. It’s unnatural and uncomfortable for employees to have to stare at themselves while they talk and it has the potential to trigger anxiety and self-consciousness. Employees should switch off the self-view feature and focus their attention on their colleagues instead. For those who are conscious about being on video calls, take a few minutes before the call to adjust the camera angle and lighting, but it’s not healthy for employees to spend an entire call effectively looking in a mirror.