Zoom fatigue. It's that feeling of anxiety you get when you're pinged about an unplanned meeting about to start in ten minutes or ending your day exhausted after back-to-back calls.
It's when endless virtual meetings affect you mentally, emotionally and psychologically, to the point where burnout, stress, anxiety and depression becomes inevitable.
Virtual fatigue is so present in our lives that it's been unofficially recognised as a genuine threat to mental wellness, presenting symptoms that threaten our health, happiness and productivity.
For over one and a half years, video conferencing has blown up and isn't going away. Although we've learned to navigate the platform and stopped talking over each other, we still have some work to do to alleviate fatigue and stress caused by overwhelming amounts of screen and people time.
But, like any new invention, we have to find ways to make the product work for us without hurting mental health or productivity.
This article will look at why "Zooming" can trigger people and how negative associations and emotions can be countered for the future.
How Do I Know If I’m Struggling with Zoom Fatigue?
Researchers at Stanford recently created what’s called a Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue scale. The aim of the downloadable 15-part questionnaire helps people to recognise symptoms of Zoom Fatigue while getting to the crux of the problem.
Zoom Fatigue sufferers might experience exhaustion in general or deal with specific types of fatigue like mental, social, emotional, physiological or psychological, or a combination of a few.
Zoom Fatigue may include the following signs:
- Physical symptoms like persistent eye strain, headaches and exhaustion even after rest
- Avoiding social interactions post-work
- Not having the energy for anything else after video conferencing
- Feeling easily distracted or fidgety
- Anxiety about turning on video camera
Zoom Fatigue sufferers might experience exhaustion in general or deal with specific types of fatigue ...
Seeing Ourselves in real-time is Disconcerting
At critical times during the pandemic where people were advised to seek out necessary medical attention only, appointments for appearance-related treatments surged disproportionately.
Given the limited social time, this might seem puzzling. But not to the remote worker.
That little square on Zoom showing individuals what they look like might not seem all that consequential. However, for users who feel hugely self-conscious about their appearance and actions, it’s a highly confrontational and unavoidable feature that can result in Zoom Dysmorphia.
The effect of the mental health issue causes sufferers to have distorted self-images, which explains the uptick in cosmetic surgery.
Although not everyone is a victim, the reality is that that little square is highly distracting and doesn't add value to video conferencing. You might not worry about how your face looks to others, but constantly turning on your video and seeing yourself on screen might be distracting.
Puts A Strain On Your Mobility And Posture
Having multiple conference calls in a row can impact your mobility. You’re forced to sit in a cone, in the direction of your camera, so that other participants can see you properly.
Being unable to move for hours isn’t just bad for you physically but can also affect your ability to be creative and productive if you can’t get up, move around, clear your head and change your scenery every so often.
Your posture might also suffer if you’re stooped over in the same position for long periods.
Having multiple conference calls in a row can impact your mobility.
Pressure To Be More Engaged
Has your mind ever drifted in meetings? You’re in the majority. Having lapses in concentration is something you can get away with at in-person meetings when a slight nod of the head or smile is enough to show your participation or agreement on something.
Now that we’re faced with the realities of pixelated imagery and hard-to-read gestures, our non-verbal cues have had to become a whole lot more pronounced to be seen. That slight nod of the head has become a whole lot more dramatised while enthusiastic thumbs up have replaced affirmative smiles.
Not zeroing in on conversations could lead to embarrassing scenarios where you don’t follow your cue.
To surmise, you’re expected to always be on, ready to join in on every Zoom call, and showing your enthusiasm and your opinion. All that pressure and expectation is enough to tire people out.
The Desire To MultiTask
It’s challenging to appear focussed when you’ve got a laundry list of things to do. The desire to multi-task might be too strong to ignore with remote work, especially if your activities are interrupted by never-ending video calls.
Multi-tasking while on these calls might seem like a solution to work piling up, but engaging in it can lead to mental fatigue. Moreover, according to the Association For Psychological Science, your productivity could be severely impaired by multi-tasking.
How Can Zoom Fatigue Be Beat?
Zoom Fatigue is driven by the duration and frequency for which Zooming takes place. With that knowledge, the most obvious solution would be to end Zoom video conferencing permanently.
But despite its flaws and irritations, businesses working remotely need the online platform to run their companies, and employees benefit from it.
The question that needs to be asked is, “how can businesses adapt their policies to prevent the onslaught of Zoom fatigue? We’ve outlined a few suggestions that might help.
Schedule Fewer Video Calls
Arranging a few audio calls might ease the pressure off individuals who hate to turn on their videos out of fear of being looked at and judged.
Scheduling these audio phone calls won’t hinder people’s mobility, meaning they have more flexibility over where they participate in business meetings.
Take More Breaks
Having back-to-back meetings isn’t healthy. Block off times in your workday for short breaks so that you’re not constantly on the phone.
Block off times in your workday for short breaks so that you’re not constantly on the phone.
Turn Off Self View
Not everyone knows this, but you don’t need to be staring at yourself if it’s causing you discomfort or piquing your anxiety.
Right-click your image and push the hide self-view button. Though you can’t see your reflection, you are still visible to others.
Protect your vision with this neat trick
Prevent eye strain and irritation by following the 20-20-20 rule. It works like this: for every 20 seconds, you stare at the screen and spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away to give your eyes a break.
Make sure Zoom meetings have end times
Whether it’s for business or pleasure, ending Zoom meetings can be frustratingly difficult. Running over meeting times only to be late for the next is stress-inducing, and being part of a Zoom call that continues on-and-on a little aggrieving.
If you’re the host, keep meetings short and to the point, and send an agenda to ensure that participants don’t go off on tangents.
Can We Tackle Zoom Fatigue?
The first step to addressing Zoom Fatigue is acknowledging it exists.
For the employee, this means recognising the symptoms and making minor changes to improve their user experience of Zoom. This might include turning off self-view or minimising full screen if you feel uncomfortably close to others, even if over the screen. You can also distance yourself and others by installing an external web camera or using a keyboard.
What employers can do to improve the lives of their workers is replacing some Zoom calls with phone calls if video isn't strictly necessary and shortening the duration and regularity of calls in general.
Additionally, having a workday filled with phone calls where employees have zero time to themselves isn't helpful. Breaks between these calls to grab a coffee or a snack are necessary for staff who feel they're drowning and can't keep up with the influx of meetings.