Zoom fatigue

Feeling exhausted, irritable, frustrated or just plain tired?  Could it be Zoom fatigue?

We’ve all felt the benefits of video conferencing platforms over the last few years – and even more so during the pandemic as we used platforms such as Zoom for meetings, trainings, play and domestic catch ups.

We enjoyed some excellent benefits: savings on time and cost of travel; no waiting at cold bus stops or on crowded railway station platforms, no squashing yourself into the hell hole that is a tube train at rush hour. Then there’s no need to dress up, at least your lower half! You can share documents, work on documents together in real time, share ideas, brainstorm using jamboards and sticky notes. In many ways, a much more productive use of your time.

But sooner or later (in my case it took a while) we discover that there’s a downside, these undoubted benefits come with an emotional, mental and physical cost.

Do you feel emotionally wrung out after a Zoom session (especially if you’ve been leading it)? Stressed, tired, frustrated but not sure why?

Stanford researcher Professor Jeremy Bailenson has some answers. Bailenson has examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and analysed just why so many of us experience ‘Zoom fatigue’.

Zoom fatigue: it’s the stress and exhaustion we feel during and after zoom (or other video conferencing platforms) meetings or training sessions.

Bailenson has identified four reasons why:

  1. The amount of eye contact and the size of faces on the screen is unnatural. In a face-to-face meeting we might be seated around a table, our heads are more distanced from each other and we are not staring at everybody all the time.
  2. Another strange experience is seeing your own face as you speak. It’s like someone’s holding up a mirror in front of you as you try to share ideas and facilitate discussion, and can be extremely distracting
  3. Humans are designed to move around and sitting still constricts us mentally as well as physically. From my own experience I’ve noticed how different online training is from f2f training. I’m used to being able to walk around, using my arms and body language to convey meaning, this is not possible on a Zoom call where messages are restricted to facial expressions and language. It’s very limiting for everyone, not just the facilitator.
  4. As we have seen, non-verbal communication is restricted in a video call, so we have to work harder to make ourselves understood. Bailenson calls this a higher cognitive load.

But help is at hand! Professor Bailenson gives some handy tips to help us control and limit the negative impacts of video conferencing.

  • The standout tip for me is to click on the ‘hide self-view’ option, accessed by right clicking your photo once your face is framed properly in the video.

Phew, what a relief. I was unconsciously checking my appearance all the time I was online. Exhausting. Without my face popping up I am able to relax and interact with the group in a much more normal and less self-conscious way.

Other tips include:

  • set your screen to ‘gallery view’
  • minimise the Zoom window, so it’s not taking up the whole screen, reducing the size of the faces looking at you
  • during long stretches of meetings, give yourself an ‘audio only’ break
  • recommend to colleagues to turn video off periodically during meetings

There’s more detail in the article of course. And thanks to my colleague @nath_brown for alerting me to it!