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What Is “Zoom Fatigue” and How Can You Reduce It?

 Person at laptop with head in hands
It’s thought that spending too much time on video conferencing calls may lead to feeling excessively tired

I was due to have a conference call with three people from the same company the other day and when they called, I automatically got my video and audio up and found myself talking to their names on screen. They were surprised to see me in person and said that their team had got “Zoom Fatigue” so quickly that they have started doing voice-only calls. So, I switched to voice-only and actually found myself relax a bit, even though I hadn’t noticed I was tense.

With the increase in video calls because of Covid-19 people are starting to report an increase in anxiety and tiredness about video calls. Also known as Videoconferencing Fatigue, past studies have shown that video calls can cause a kind of mental exhaustion. The BBC spoke with two associate professors Gianpiero Petriglieri and Marissa Shuffler (who between them study sustainable learning, development and workplace wellbeing) to find out more.

According to Petriglieri and Shuffler, talking physically face-to-face is easier than on a video call because even a one-second delay between the sound and visuals. This make it harder to comprehend facial cues and body language which our brain works harder to compensate for. Apparently also, our minds perceive the people whose responses are delayed as unfriendly or unfocused. Add to that the natural anxiety most of us feel when we are on camera, especially if we are watching ourselves, and it is understandable we feel exhausted.

Of course, there is also the pressure we are under because of the lockdown. All the worry about our friends, families, communities and the world in general, that adds to our ever-growing plate of things on our mind. Petriglieri and Shuffler say that the confinement means we are having to deal with all the different aspects of our lives that are usually separate, like work and play, in the same space, and that also takes a toll.

For many people, social distancing and working from home is going to continue for a currently undetermined amount of time which means video conferencing is not going to go out of style soon. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can help beat the fatigue and continue enjoying using the technology for those all-important human face-to-face connections.

  • Zoom has a feature for hiding your “self view” which means you don’t have to watch yourself.
  • The closer you sit to the screen and camera, then look at the camera and not the screen, the more it looks like direct eye contact to the other person.
  • Turn off your cameras and just have a voice call. It is good to have a face-to-face call with your line manager when you check in, but for the next group meeting, get everyone to call voice-only and switch it off for calls with people you don’t know.
  • Avoid distractions – don’t go on the call and do other tasks at the same time, it’s harder to stay focused.
  • Pin the main speaker to your screen so you don’t have to watch everyone else watching them.
  • Change the settings to only show the person speaking so you only have to concentrate on them.
  • Take regular breaks from the screen and don’t schedule too many video calls in one day.
  • Encourage everyone to blur their background or have a blank wall or a calm background on the call to reduce the number of objects on screen to look at.
  • Make video calls optional – don’t force anyone to join a social event and rethink whether you need to have a visual meeting or if it could be done on the phone or through a chat tool.
  • Fix technical problems asap and ask others to do the same. If someone has got very slow internet speeds or other issues affecting the quality of their video stream, ask them to fix it before calling again.

In addition, be mindful of how you feel – make sure you are comfortable and as relaxed as you can be. If you’re struggling, feeling low, more tired than usual or stressed then reach out to your healthcare provider and have a chat with them, it might not be video calling that is the problem.

About the author

Rebekah Frost

A champion problem solver; whether it’s a board game or a tricky computer conundrum, Bekah's attention to detail is second to none. Her interesting and varied work experience across different sectors means she always has a story to tell, a love of people and a way to fix any issue.