When people were initially forced to work remotely due to the shutdown, taking Zoom meetings was more of a novelty for many.
But a year into the shutdown, employees find that being on videoconference calls all day is taking a toll.
The effects of prolonged video chats — known as "Zoom fatigue" — and its causes and solutions were recently highlighted in research by Stanford University Communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson.
"In general, Zoom fatigue is the feeling of being drained and exhausted after a day of multiple video conferences," says Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which studies virtual communication.
But Bailenson is not just highlighting fatigue on the Zoom platform.
While Zoom "is an amazing piece of software…they’ve become the generic form of the verb for video conferencing," he says, noting Zoom fatigue can occur on any videoconferencing platform.
Key Zoom fatigue drivers he identifies are:
• Staring at yourself in "an all-day mirror," which leads to greater scrutiny of oneself;
• Looking at "huge staring faces," almost like being stared at by people very close up all day long;
• Being "caught in the camera/cone," meaning in order to be seen you have to essentially be in the camera’s view, greatly reducing mobility throughout the day, and;
• "Cognitive load," meaning people have to work harder to interpret nonverbal cues and gestures that happen naturally in-person.
Of course, there are fixes to help mitigate the effects of such fatigue, says Bailenson, including:
• Electing within the platform to "hide self-view," so others see you but you don’t see yourself;
• Minimizing the Zoom window so faces appear smaller;
• Using audio-only when possible to avoid staring at yourself and others and making mobility possible (bosses can help by mandating in certain meetings that cameras stay off), and;
• Having an external keyboard that creates greater distance between you and your computer.
Susan Gatti, CEO of ImmixID Consulting in Rockville Centre, a performance-focused business consultant, says fatigue can set in if you’re not careful.
She’s been working virtually for about a decade and has learned some helpful tips. Among them: using a still shot of herself in video meetings vs. a live shot so she can move around while speaking (she uses a wireless headset); using the audio function for the same purpose; and making sure she changes locations throughout the day such as between her home office and her couch with a window view.
"You have to make time for that movement," says Gatti. With the pandemic, she says, people lost parts of their daily routine like even just walking to their car at the day's end.
Since most people are home-based, it’s also good to get a change of scenery, which is why she recently reconfigured the desk in her home office so instead of staring at the same wall, she now sees three different views of the room.
Those with space limitations can make adjustments, too, says Wendy Weiss, founder of TechTime, a Syosset-based tech training company.
There are simple things people can do such as working at the kitchen table for a period of time and then switching back to your home office. If possible, Weiss says, move to a spot with better lighting and/or better view.
Also, Weiss says, consider using a pedal bike under your desk for motion, and don't schedule back-to back calls, giving yourself breaks in between.
Some of her Zoom calls can go an hour and a half, says Weiss. "After that, I need to take a break for at least a half hour."
Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor and a professor of counseling at Northern Illinois University, says it’s essential to block off times daily to "make time to reflect."
"You need to take a screen break," she says.
She also suggests using your phone when possible and taking handwritten notes during calls, which she says helps with retention, and staying "physically connected to the meeting."
Also try creating some separation between personal life and the workday, Degges-White adds.
Degges-White does little things to mark the line between work and home. For work she’ll use a red Hydro Flask coffee mug she’ll wash at the end of the workday. At night, she’ll use a different mug.
Experts say while videoconferencing can take its toll, there are positives to using this platform.
"I found driving to be more stressful than being in Zoom meetings," says Jillian Weston, owner of Jillian’s Circus, an Oceanside-based online marketing company. "I used to do five to six meetings a day in-person so I’d have to drive to all those meetings."
She’s now on Zoom several hours a day, but uses tactics she says are helpful. During presentations, she breaks up the screen from just faces and adds visuals to a portion of the screen like a slideshow.
"It takes away from that staring into people’s faces kind of thing," Weston says.
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Top Tips for Reducing Zoom Fatigue
• Hide self-view and/or minimize Zoom window
• Use audio only, when possible
• If using audio, make time to be mobile and move around when you’re talking
• Change up your work setting and perhaps work from your home office for a period and then another area (ie. outside in warmer weather)
• Make time for mental and screen breaks (ie. take a drive to the water)
• Create a ritual to mark the end of the workday
• Break up the screen from just faces with helpful visuals (ie. slideshow presentation)
Sources: Bailenson, Gatti, Weiss, Degges-White and Weston
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