Many remote and hybrid teams are starting to experience the growing phenomenon ‘Zoom fatigue,’ which sees employees becoming mentally drained after increasing numbers of video calls. Below, JOIN explains the science behind this condition, what can cause it and how you can combat Zoom fatigue.
- What is Zoom Fatigue?
- What causes it?
- What are the symptoms of Zoom Fatigue?
- How to combat Zoom Fatigue
What is Zoom Fatigue?
Fatigue is a deep, overwhelming tiredness that cannot be relieved by resting.
The Zoom fatigue definition, therefore, is a state of mental exhaustion caused by frequent zoom conferences. Of course, you could just as easily call it Teams, Hangouts, or Skype Fatigue, as this severe mental exhaustion can be brought on by overusing any of these popular video call tools.
Employees who are confronted with too many video calls have been proven to tire faster, experience higher irritability and are consequently significantly less efficient.
Why is excessive video conferencing so tiring?
As useful as this communication technology may be, studies conducted by Stanford University (Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab) and the Institute for Employment and Employability (IBE) on this topic have clearly proven something remote teams have suspected for a while: hours of video conferencing, not only tires us out but can lead to psychological damage if the symptoms of Zoom fatigue go ignored.
There are several specific factors that can increase the risk of Zoom fatigue. These include interactional, organizational and technical stress drivers. Below, we go into a little more detail:
Lack of interpersonal communication
The lack of genuine interactional communication is one of the main stress drivers found during Zoom meetings. This is largely due to the elimination of valuable social components that are present during in-person meetings:
• Zoom leaves no room for natural small talk and networking.
• No direct eye contact with speakers.
• No visible gestures, body language or natural facial expressions.
• The impression of constant observation by others.
• Constant opportunity to stare at your own image.
Video conferencing eye contact means that rather than making occasional eye contact with the person speaking, as is natural, you’re constantly observing a number of people. This also gives you the impression that you’re being observed by several sets of eyes at once.
This unnatural situation means that your personal bubble feels restricted, and causes you to constantly feel ‘on edge’ and unable to relax. While this isn’t too big of an issue for short periods, repeated long video meetings can quickly wear your team out and begin to risk burnout.
Being able to stare at your own image is also a factor that isn’t present in usual meetings, and can make you painfully aware of your own behaviour, appearance and presence. This can cause you to zone out of meetings and focus instead on adjusting your own appearance, which can increase anxiety and decrease motivation and productivity.
Another equally important stress factor contributing to Zoom Fatigue is the organizational deficits that can come from video conferencing. This means, for example
• Creating a schedule too tight for the meeting length.
• Not factoring breaks into the meeting.
• Not factoring in breaks between video conferences.
• Including unnecessary members.
• Lack of time frame.
• Lack of meeting moderation skills.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are some of the more common organizational deficits found in video conferencing. Of course, these factors can be found within in-person meetings too, but are much more likely to be found in video conferencing meetings.
The flexibility and impersonal nature of video conferencing means that invites can be sent without thought, meetings can run over due to not needing to book a room and breaks can easily be forgotten about.
Not everyone has access to high-speed internet, and the rise of ‘work from home’ culture has made this fact more apparent than ever. Technical hitches can be annoying at the best of times, but when they interrupt a vital meeting or cause embarrassment during a presentation, they can quickly chip away at an employee’s mental state. Some examples of these include:
Outages, delays and frustration caused by unstable Internet connections.
Poor picture quality.
Poor sound quality.
Technical issues during in-person meetings can usually be resolved quite quickly and laughed off due to the more social nature. During video-conferencing, a small problem can quickly escalate due to a whole team talking at once!
Typical Zoom Fatigue Symptoms
Now you know how this illness creeps in, how can you tell if you or your team members are already suffering from Zoom Fatigue?
Unfortunately, the symptoms can often fly under the radar. However, with a little mindfulness, you can keep an eye out for the common Zoom fatigue symptoms and catch them before they develop any further.
The symptoms include:
• Clear concentration problems e.g. zoning out, lack of focus.
• Irritability and impatience
• Headaches and/or migraines
• Back and limb pain
• Vision problems e.g. eye pain or increased floaters in the eyes.
• Sleep disturbances e.g. insomnia
• Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach ache or nausea.
The symptoms can also be classified into different stages of zoom fatigue, based on severity and how long the employee has been experiencing the problem.
Stage 1: concentration problems, irritability and impatience.
Stage 2: headache, back pain, pain in the limbs, and visual disturbances
Stage 3: sleep disturbances and psychosomatic reactions.
Phase 1 is the most common symptom group, while phases 2 and 3 are still relatively rare. However, the more noticeable the signs of mental fatigue become, the more urgent action is needed as if Zoom Fatigue is not counteracted early, it can quickly develop into full burnout.
Our tips and tricks for mental exhaustion from video conferencing can help you with treating and preventing future Zoom fatigue and improve the way you use this useful tool.
Combating Zoom Fatigue
The following tips can help to ease the more tiring aspects of video conferencing and introduce more healthy practices into your meetings.
As previously mentioned, many employees can feel burdened or as though their privacy is invaded by the constant “observation” aspect of Zoom.
This is easily fixed, as their camera doesn’t have to be on for every meeting. Short calls or questions can be answered with the call function of communication tools like Slack. This is more personal than a message, but less time (and energy) consuming than a full video call.
Use zoom meetings wisely
Of course, a shot call solution doesn’t work for meetings that include the entire team. When all members need to be involved and brought up to speed this is where Zoom is much better suited. In this case, however, it should be weighed up whether a Zoom meeting is essential. In less time-sensitive matters, for example, it could be possible to meet again in the office and bring the natural social component back on board.
It is also important to distinguish whether the entire team is really needed or perhaps only those involved in a specific project. All too often, a Zoom video conference involves far more people than it should. It is therefore advisable to reduce the number of participants to the necessary minimum. This reduces the number of eyes on each person, minimizes the likelihood of the meeting running overtime and means productivity is unaffected for the unnecessary individuals.
Stick to the time limit and structure
Just because a Zoom meeting isn’t limited to the time you have a room booked for, it doesn’t mean you need to drag it out!
A meeting that drags is much more stressful than a well-structured one… and increases the likelihood of developing Zoom Fatigue. Prevent this by giving Zoom meetings more thought. Assigning a fixed time slot to individual topic points, and setting a realistic time limit on your meeting duration will help to avoid digressions and naturally limit the stress of video conferencing.
Plan for a Break
Stringing together unnecessarily long Zoom meetings is becoming a bad habit in an increasing number of workplaces.
The fact that employees don’t have to rush back and forth between physical meeting rooms doesn’t mean they can just cheerfully jump on to the next virtual meeting and give it their full focus. Allowing for at least a 15-minute break between Zoom meetings will give a little breathing room to your team. More importantly, in longer meetings be sure to schedule a small break, where employees can relax and recharge before coming back ready to contribute.
Reduce Visual Stimuli
An additional reason for mental exhaustion in Zoom meetings can be the participants’ spatial backgrounds. As humans are naturally curious, interesting or exciting backgrounds can invite individuals to analyse and explore them. Adding this task to the brain, in addition to taking on board the meeting’s conversation, can be quite tiring. Plus, it’s a struggle for our eyes to be in several rooms at the same time.
The good news? This problem is easy to solve with the below quick fixes.
Having all visible participants enable a decent monochrome or blurred backgrounds will be much easier on the meeting guests’ eyes. As an added bonus, this is a great privacy booster for your team!
Some video conferencing tools will have an option that means only the person who is currently speaking can be seen. This also means participants don’t have to see themselves all the time, which can again ease the impact of Zoom fatigue.
This is an option for the brave! Microsoft Teams, for example, has an exciting feature called ‘Together Mode’ which simulates all participants being together at a meeting table. This is a great chance to try out a meeting in virtual reality… without investing in the expensive VR goggles.
Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t play on your phone or in Slack while your teammate was talking to you in real life. However, this is increasingly common in virtual meetings.
The problem is: multitasking in meetings means that you’re not focused and you miss important nonverbal cues and valuable information. This can easily stress out fellow participants and can mean the meeting drags on longer than it needs to. Ensuring a team gives their full attention to a meeting means that they’ll be finished faster!
If you’re finding your team regularly zone out in certain regular meetings, or in meetings set at a certain time, it might be time to rethink your schedule!
Don’t be too serious
Getting to the point quickly is good and important. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some entertainment. After all, meetings in everyday office life thrive on social interaction.
In Zoom Calls, people often wait briefly and silently until everyone is present, and then jump right into the thick of it.
Our tip: Plan a couple of minutes at the beginning of the call for small talk. This can quickly lighten the mood and keep everyone feeling as though they are part of a real team.
Communicate about communication!
Zoom meetings are not only an integral part of the modern work routine but are critical for decentralized remote teams that need to communicate and collaborate across large distances. Zoom, Skype, Teams and other video conferencing software are designed to facilitate this collaboration, not hinder it!
So, in order to keep communication flowing and productivity soaring, measures need to be taken to prevent Zoom Fatigue in the long term and avoid health consequences.
Ask your team what they perceive and feel are becoming stress factors among them. Together with your employees and the help of the above tips, you can develop a strategy to keep Zoom Fatigue at bay and make your collaboration more pleasant and sustainable for everyone involved.
Do you want to learn more about holding better Zoom meetings? Then check out our virtual meeting and Zoom etiquette guide for business professionals.