Zoom fatigue: how to make video calls less tiring

Dear Readers,

For this week’s blog, we have tried to examine why Zoom meetings are so exhausting? Shouldn’t it be less of an effort than in-person meetings? Not necessarily. Is there something we can do to reduce the harmful effects of online video meetings?

For many of us, working from home during COVID-19 has meant we are spending a lot of time on video meeting applications like Zoom. The effects of this have taken us by surprise.

Many new phrases have entered our vocabulary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. “Zoom fatigue” refers to the mental exhaustion associated with online video conferencing.

Introduction

We can change how we interact on video calls with adapted social behaviors such as scheduling shorter meetings. But theories from audio and sound research tell us that a lot of what determines how fatigued you become is based on what you are listening to.

The voices transmitted through the internet in real-time are unedited and therefore crude to our ears. That is why we can while away an hour listening to a podcast interview but feel drained after a video meeting – even if we didn’t have to contribute.

The good news is each one of us can contribute to reducing Zoom fatigue. You can change some simple things to improve everyone’s video meeting experience.

If this all sounds like bad news, don’t despair. Harvard Business Review has five research-based tips that can help make video calls less exhausting.

Avoid multitasking.

It’s easy to think that you can use the opportunity to do more in less time, but research shows that trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance. Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive time. Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers. The next time you’re on a video chat, close any tabs or programs that might distract you (e.g. your inbox or Slack), put your phone away, and stay present. We know it’s tempting, but try to remind yourself that the Slack message you just got can wait 15 minutes and that you’ll be able to craft a better response when you’re not also on a video chat.

Build-in breaks.

Take mini-breaks from video during longer calls by minimizing the window, moving it to behind your open applications, or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds now and then. We’re all more used to being on video now (and to the stressors that come with nonstop facetime). Your colleagues probably understand more than you think — it is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full thirty minutes. This is not an invitation to start doing something else, but to let your eyes rest for a moment. For days when you can’t avoid back-to-back calls, consider making meetings 25 or 50 minutes (instead of the standard half-hour and hour) to give yourself enough time in between to get up and move around for a bit. If you are on an hour-long video call, make it okay for people to turn off their cameras for parts of the call.

Reduce onscreen stimuli.

Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face. This can be easily avoided by hiding yourself from view. Still, onscreen distractions go far beyond yourself. You may be surprised to learn that on video, we not only focus on other’s faces but on their backgrounds as well. If you’re on a call with five people, you may feel like you’re in five different rooms at once. You can see their furniture, plants, and wallpaper. You might even strain to see what books they have on their shelves. The brain has to process all of these visual environmental cues at the same time. To combat mental fatigue, encourage people to use plain backgrounds (e.g. a poster of a peaceful beach scene), or agree as a group to have everyone who is not talking turn off their video.

Make virtual social events opt-in.

After a long day of back-to-back video calls, it’s normal to feel drained, particularly if you’re an introvert. That’s why virtual social sessions should be kept opt-in, meaning whoever owns the event makes it explicit that people are welcome, but not obligated, to join. You might also consider appointing a facilitator if you’re expecting a large group. This person can open by asking a question, and then make it clear in what order people should speak, so everyone gets to hear from one another and the group doesn’t start talking all at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if we don’t know what’s expected of us, or if we’re constantly trying to figure out when we should or should not chime in.

Switch to phone calls or emails.

Check your calendar for the next few days to see if there are any conversations you could have over Slack or email instead. If 4 PM rolls around and you’re Zoomed-out but have an upcoming one-on-one, ask the person to switch to a phone call or suggest picking up the conversation later so you can both recharge. Try something like, “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone?” Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, too.

For external calls, avoid defaulting to video, especially if you don’t know each other well.

Many people now feel a tendency to treat video as the default for all communication. In situations where you’re communicating with people outside of your organization (clients, vendors, networking, etc.) — conversations for which you used to rely on phone calls — you may feel obligated to send out a Zoom link instead. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations. For example, if you’re asked to do a career advice call and you don’t know the person you’re talking to, sticking to the phone is often a safer choice. If your client FaceTimes you with no warning, it’s okay to decline and suggest a call instead.

References:-

https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-zoom-fatigue-is-taxing-the-brain-here-is-why-that-happens/

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting

https://theconvivialsociety.substack.com/p/a-theory-of-zoom-fatigue

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