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Understanding and Preventing Zoom Fatigue

Physical distancing due to COVID-19 has dramatically changed how we interact with our friends, family and work colleagues.  Even as we’re being permitted to slowly expand our in-person social bubbles, many of us are still relying heavily on video conferencing.  This has led to the growth of a new psychological phenomenon: Zoom fatigue.

 

Named in reference to the popular video conferencing platform Zoom, “Zoom fatigue” is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion from the overuse of video conferencing applications such as Skype, Google Meet and Zoom itself.  Anxiety about having to participate in video chats and one’s performance during such chats is also common.

Video chatting helps people stay connected while in isolation. However, it’s far from a perfect substitute for the in-person interactions we’re used to.  It’s these differences that are at the root of Zoom fatigue.

  • Unless there are mirrors around, we can’t usually view ourselves while we’re speaking, nor see the non-verbal reactions we’re exhibiting to what others say.  However, video conferencing platforms typically include a window of the video feed you’re sending out. This can lead to performance anxiety, preoccupation with our appearance and the feeling that all eyes are on us even when we’re not the one not speaking.
  • Non-verbal cues can be lost or distorted over video.  We use our entire bodies to communicate, but video chats focus entirely from the shoulders up.
  • Poor video and/or audio quality cause frustration and require greater concentration.
  • Regular eye movement is disrupted by having to focus on a screen and having someone’s face closer to you than would normally be the case.  We’re also not used to staring into other peoples’ eyes for long periods, causing emotional unease.
  • Keeping track of multiple people in gallery view, with their different backgrounds and lighting, is eye straining and confusing.
  • Side conversations, whispered comments, overlapping interjections etc. are typical during in-person group interactions but only lead to chaos over video chat. We therefore hold back our normal verbal reactions.
  • Having more time on our hands and missing people may be causing us to over-schedule video calls and remain on calls longer.
  • Even if you’re not experiencing Zoom fatigue, the people with whom you are video chatting may be. Their unconscious behavioral changes can cause dissonance vis a vis your normal relationship and expectations.

Here are some strategies for mitigating Zoom fatigue:

  • Have realistic expectations of your video chatting.  It will never replace in-person interaction. Evolution has accustomed us to certain behaviours that cannot be re-programmed in a few months. In particular, we biologically crave the physical contact that often accompanies in-person communication.
  • Save video chatting for when absolutely necessary.  Meet in person with those in your bubble.  Don’t use video chat for something for which you would have just picked up the phone prior to self-isolation. Try group texting and having fun with emojis.
  • Suggest going audio-only sometimes or having only the person speaking turn on their video.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for breaks during long session.
  • Minimize or hide with a sticky note you own video feed.  Groom and dress as you normally would around the person with whom you are chatting.  Show yourself in the best light – literally – by adjusting your lighting and playing with different filters.  Chose an attractive yet non-distracting background.
  • Set up different spaces for your work and social video chatting.  Have where you video chat with friends and family be somewhere casual where you feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • Ask your boss to pre-circulate and stick to an agenda to keep meetings short and on-topic.
  • Feel free to turn down virtual social gatherings with work colleagues and set a limit for the same with friends and family.
  • Spread out the schedule of your video chats throughout the day and week.  Do some stretches or physical exercise after/between chats.
  • Centre social video conferences around an activity, such as a game or meal together, then end the call when that activity is over.
  • Use the chat feature to offer reactions, indicate you want to speak and have off-side conversations.
  • Try digital detoxing other parts of your life to balance out the extra screen time spent video chatting.

As challenging as it may be, video conferencing is a technology that’s here to stay – especially in the workplace. Having had no choice but to work from home these past months, more and more employees and employers are coming to the realization that working from home is a sustainable, profitable and productive model that’s worth continuing even after the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. So many of us would do well to improve our level of comfort and skills at video chatting.  Best of luck with yours and in the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry, “be kind, be calm and be safe.”



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