Photo: Girts Ragelis (Shutterstock)
During the pandemic, many former office workers were inevitably glued to their computer monitors. With work migrating online, video tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts have become the rare place for regular conversations with coworkers. However, video conferencing is not an alternative to seeing your employees with no screens in the way and has created a “zoom fatigue” epidemic.
According to a new study by Stanford researchers published in the journal Technology, mind and behaviorZoom fatigue is basically what it sounds like – resulting from the increased stress of keeping connections at a distance through video chat – and leads to burnout, stress and monotony at work. However, there are ways you can lessen the stranglehold video conferencing can have on your mood.
What is zoom fatigue?
This isn’t specifically true of Zoom, and company executives would likely argue that the term does a disservice to their marketing efforts. According to Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, the problem applies to all video conferencing services. In general, it describes the fatigue caused by having to constantly feel turned on when switching between browser windows for different online meetings. It also makes sense given that studies have shown This longer screen time – especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle – increases your chances of developing moderate to severe depression.
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Typically, when you suffer from this, you are drowning in a large virtual meeting schedule feeling like you can barely keep your head above water.
What causes it
Bailenson’s research reveals four reasons why video conferencing can be so mentally stressful:
- Intense eye contact is exhausting. Turning a blind eye to your co-workers to show that you are paying attention can be a challenge. Doing this several times a day can feel oppressive. If you don’t make concerted eye contact during much of the meeting, your co-workers may think your attention is falling.
- Watching yourself during video chats is exhausting. Watching yourself in a meeting only increases performance anxiety. The psychological cost of living during the pandemic is onerous enough – why worry about how you look to your co-workers?
- Video chats mean we move less. When you’re constantly chained to a desk, you’re not moving nearly as much as your body needs. In a traditional office setting at least, you may need to go to a conference room on a different floor. When we switch between different video meetings, we sit more and move less. to the detriment of our mental wellbeing.
- Nonverbal cues are harder to interpret. The challenge of deciphering nonverbal cues only adds to the stress video chats cause. This can lead to what Bailenson calls “cognitive overload,” where your head may float in the supposed subtext of the conversation.
Ways to Combat Zoom Fatigue
Fortunately, Bailenson did not uncover the problems without offering solutions.
- In case of eye contact: The researcher recommends not using the full screen setting. That way, your coworkers will at least look a little smaller so you won’t feel so pressured to keep your eyes on theirs.
- For self-confidence: It is not essential to leave the camera on every time you meet. If you don’t present something, what’s the point of filming yourself? If you need to keep your camera on, Bailenson recommends adjusting your settings so that only the other person can be seen in the chat, rather than having both videos available to both parties. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to turn off the camera.
- For mobility: Bailenson recommends using a different camera that you can link to your feed so you can still move around and possibly present from a standing position if you so choose. Another option is to turn the camera back off and wear bluetooth headphones so you can walk around your house or apartment.
- If you are afraid of non-verbal cues: Turning off your camera also works fine. However, to reinforce it even further, the researcher recommends listening to the meeting outside of your computer. That way, if all you have to do is use audio and feel comfortable joining the meeting while putting away the dishes for example, you no longer have to worry and analyze any micro-cues that routinely pop up.