As the pandemic forced the world to switch to virtual modes of communication and interaction, Zoom became one of the most-used and relied-upon tools for video conferencing. Zoom saw over 200 million daily meetings in March 2020. The figure had risen to 300 million in April 2020, while in December 2019, the number was just 10 million . The video conferencing tool is being used everywhere, in schools, colleges and office meetings. Consequently, we’ve been spending a lot more time than usual on the video meeting application which is ultimately causing “Zoom fatigue”. What exactly is Zoom fatigue, what are the 4 causes behind it and how can one cope with Zoom burnout? Allow us to break it down for you.
What is Zoom fatigue?
According to a Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson, if you’ve been feeling more exhausted than ever because of the never ending loop of Zoom meetings, you are not alone. Zoom fatigue can be described as tiredness, burnout or worry associated with overusing virtual and video platforms of communication. Just like other changes and experiences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom fatigue is extremely prevalent, intense as well as completely new.
Is Zoom fatigue real? It very much is. According to Healthline, the tell-tale signs of traditional exhaustion are feeling apathetic and generally exhausted, reduced work performance. Moreover, some key signs of burnout may also include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty maintaining relationships as well as irritability with co-workers. Other symptoms include muscle tension and pain, fatigue and insomnia. Zoom exhaustion and fatigue have very similar ways of showing up. However, the main difference being that it also actually contributes to overall burnout.
But what exactly causes Zoom fatigue? In his paper for Technology, Mind and Behaviour, Bailenson examined and outlined the psychological consequences of using Zoom and other video conferencing platforms for hours on a daily basis. It is important to note that Bailenson stressed that the goal behind his research paper is not to defame or belittle any particular video conferencing platform, he appreciates and uses video platforms like Zoom on a regular basis. The goal is solely to highlight how current implementations of video conferencing tools and technologies are exhausting. Moreover, he also provides recommendations and suggestions for consumers as well as organizations on how they can leverage the current features of video conferences in order to decrease Zoom fatigue. Bailenson said that Video conferencing is a nice thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium, just because you can use video does not mean you have to.
In his paper, Bailenson identified 4 primary reasons behind Zoom fatigue and explained in detail why video chats fatigue individuals.
What causes Zoom meeting fatigue?
1. Increased amount of close-up eye contact
The first reason behind Zoom fatigue can be broken down into two parts. First, the excessive amount of eye contact we’re engaging in because of Zoom meetings. In any normal offline meeting, people are looking at the speaker, making notes or looking at other people at the conference table. In Zoom calls, everybody is looking at everybody, all the time. Even the listeners are treated like a speaker. Meaning that even if you aren’t speaking, you’re looking at faces staring at you. Because of this, eye contact has increased dramatically. Bailenson said that social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest fears that exists. He added that when you are standing up there and everyone’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.
Second, the size of the faces seen on screens is unnatural. Depending on the size of your monitor, faces on video conferencing calls can appear too large for comfort. Bailenson said that in one-on-one video conversations, you are seeing their face at a size that simulates a personal space that you usually experience when you’re with someone close. In real life, when a face is that close to us, our brain interprets the situation to be intense that’s either going to lead to conflict or mating. Bailenson said in effect what’s happening when you are using Zoom for so many hours is that you are in a hyper-aroused state.
2. Seeing yourself constantly during Zoom video calls
In most video conferencing and communication platforms, you can see yourself in a square during a call and that’s unnatural, according to Bailenson. He says in his research paper that this is as if someone was following you around with a mirror all the time in the real world. And that’s happening while you are in conversation with other people, making decisions, getting feedback and giving feedback. In his paper, Bailenson cited several studies showing that people are more critical of themselves when they see their reflection. So many of us are now seeing ourselves on camera during video chats for hours on a daily basis and this is highly contributing towards Zoom fatigue.
3. Dramatically reduced mobility
Before work from home was announced because of the pandemic, you had to get up at 6 o clock, perform your morning routine, make your breakfast and lunch, get ready for work and commute to your workplace. As the world shifted to work from home and more meetings started happening on platforms like Zoom, we got fixated at a place that has the best lighting and optimal network coverage. Most cameras have a set view and people usually stay in the same spot which has limited our movement drastically and this is not natural, according to Bailenson. He cites studies in his paper that say people perform better cognitively when they are moving.
4. The increased cognitive load
In regular face-to-face interactions, how we humans communicate using non-verbal signals and cues, such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, posture, gestures and the distance between the communicators, are quite natural. Moreover, the non-verbal signals made by us are subconsciously interpreted. In video chats, we work harder to send as well as receive those signals. We need to pay more attention and energy to look attentive. We also make extra efforts to understand what the communicator is trying to say and all of this significantly contributes to Zoom exhaustion.
The basic human need You also got to make sure that you are within the frame, that you are being properly heard, you want to show someone you agree with them, you need to nod or put your thumbs up. All of this adds up to extra cognitive load which results in your brain using up more calories to communicate and ultimately, Zoom fatigue.
Here’s how you can cope with Zoom fatigue
Now that you know what causes Zoom fatigue, it is time to learn how you can cope with it.
- Until the video conferencing tools and platforms change their interface, Bailenson suggests using Zoom out of the full-screen mode and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size
- He also recommends using an external keyboard that will allow an increase in the personal space between you and the Zoom grid
- Bailenson suggests that, in order to tackle Zoom fatigue, platforms change their default practice of beaming the video to both, others and self, when it only needs to be sent to others. Meanwhile, users can use the ‘hide self-view’ button, which can be accessed by right-clicking their own photo, once they make sure their face is completely inside the frame.
- Bailenson recommends that people pay more attention on things like the room they’re videoconferencing in, where’s the camera positioned and if things like an external keyboard can help in creating more distance and flexibility.
- Turning off your video off periodically during Zoom video meetings is also a great ground rule to set for formal groups to give people a brief nonverbal rest
- Bailensen also recommended taking ‘audio-only breaks. This doesn’t mean simply turning off your camera. It also means that you move your body away from the screen so that, at least for a few minutes, you aren’t consciously thinking about the non-verbal cues you are giving out there
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 Yuan, E. (2020) “A Message to Our Users” Zoom [Online] Available from: https://blog.zoom.us/a-message-to-our-users/ [Accessed March 2021]
 Bailenson, J. (2020) “Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom fatigue” Technology, Mind, and Behaviour [Online] Available from: https://tmb.apaopen.org/pub/nonverbal-overload/release/1 [Accessed March 2021]