How to Fight Zoom Fatigue While Working From Home
Over a year has passed since we’ve all begun remotely working. It’s no surprise if you might already be sick of it. Zoom meetings are draining our energy and these video calls are giving us unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety. Video calls day on day whether on Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype, have given rise to a phenomenon called ‘Zoom fatigue’.
Mental health is an unsuspecting suspect of the widespread isolation and depression resulting from the global health pandemic. ”Zoom fatigue”, a virtual epidemic to match the worldwide pandemic, is sweeping the world that is leaving employees sometimes feeling exhausted and defeated.
Video conferencing has become a valuable tool to have in your business tech arsenal as it has replaced physical office spaces but it is getting tiresome for users that have to sit through endless virtual meetings.
Humans are social animals that weren’t built to socialize through a computer screen. “Zoom gloom” is a natural result of us staring at our screens all day. The unprecedented explosion of the use of video conferencing interfaces in response to the pandemic has been taxing for our brains, and emotions. Recent figures show that 40% of remote employees are suffering from physical and mental exhaustion due to prolonged screen engagement.
Zoom fatigue can also affect students accessing virtual learning via Zoom or other video conferencing apps. It’s not just classes, but group study sessions and even virtual job fairs are affecting the mental well-being of students. As students try to complete their education requirements online, the back-to-back Zoom classes are making students tired and overwhelmed.
WHAT CAUSES ZOOM FATIGUE?
No matter what video conferencing platform you use, the cognitive overload of trying to make human communication via a camera and a computer screen has its consequences. Working at home leads to high levels of mental demand that reduces productivity, especially for parents or people with a shared workplace. Having to manage your roommates or kids while working leads to higher anxiety levels as well.
The biggest reason for frustration during and after video calls is that we are unable to pick out non-verbal cues which are essential to good communication. 55% of communication is body language and in Zoom meetings we are limited to people’s faces. We spend a lot of unconscious brain power looking for nonverbal communication clues.
Eye contact is minimal, everyone is usually looking at their own video and taking guesses as to what is going on or what the mood of the meeting is, leading to an overall feeling of exhaustion. Zoom makes it hard to have a human connection with those on the other side of the screen, and the need to keep things human can make workers tired.
Video meetings also make you anxious about how you look, especially for female workers. During in-person meetings, like the good ol’ pre-Covid days, you did not know how you looked when you gave a presentation. You assumed you looked your best. Now you can constantly see your self-view during a Zoom meeting and that is detrimental to self-confidence.
Another reason for Zoom fatigue is that you’re always available. You can be summoned for a Zoom call at any time, even on weekends. There is no down time, you do not get time to unplug from work because you are working from home. Home is your office, your office is your home, and there are no boundaries. Zoom calls amplify this. You’ll find yourself zoom calling with international remote teams during off hours, while before the pandemic an email would suffice.
Another reason why Zoom frustrates people so much is the technical difficulties and the related delays. Sometimes your connection is giving you trouble, sometimes there is a connectivity problem at the other end. Even when your internet connection is perfect, there is a slight lag in a video call that is inevitable.
Just 1.2 seconds can make you seem less approachable, according to a study conducted in 2014. The human mind tends to give immediate reactions, when those reactions are delayed it triggers a false lack of empathy.
What if you cracked a joke and the laughs came a second too late? Or, someone was speaking and you interrupted but you didn’t stop immediately. Social etiquette gets muddled with the tiniest delay. Zoom calling is happening in real time, sometimes with lengthy delays and that is one reason why making video calls is frustrating.
SIGNS OF ZOOM FATIGUE
Zoom affects our mental and physical health. The following symptoms of zoom fatigue can help diagnose it so you can seek help:
- Zoom beats down your body. Numb legs, throbbing heads and constantly strained eyes. Staring at a screen for hours on something that’s not designed for long-term sitting can leave you feeling muscle strain
- You feel tired between calls
- By the end of your working day you are worn out, when all you’ve done is sit in your chair and speak to a camera
- You don’t pay attention in meetings and have been caught daydreaming
- Regular headaches or migraines
- Turning on your camera gives you a certain feeling of anxiety
Here are a bunch of ways you can fight the design flaws in video conferencing apps and combat the exhaustion (or avoid these symptoms altogether):
1. Turn Off Self-view
Looking at yourself during a video call leads to heightened levels of video self-consciousness especially in women. Some people fixate on themselves to cope with the stimulus overload of video chatting and end up being distracted. You’re too focused on if your hair looks perfect or if you have spinach in your teeth and you miss what another person has to say.
We are not used to staring at our faces when talking to others. It is not normal and managing our expectations around our appearances adds to the things frustrating our brains during a video call, leading to more fatigue. You assume everyone is paying close attention to every move you make, but in rea;ity everyone is just as obsessed with their own self-views to notice what’s not perfect with your appearance.
You can change the settings on Zoom or whatever video conference call services you use, so your own video is not visible to you. Hide yourself so you can concentrate on others.
You can also hide everyone else’s video if you have a hard time making or keeping eye contact. It will reduce eye strain, but only if you can manage with just audio. How does web conferencing work? Through audio and video. Sometimes audio works just fine and we might just want to add video because the option is available.
2. Take a Break
What good days those were. You came back from a long meeting and stopped by to chat with a co-worker. Gossiped with a friend on another floor, made exciting lunch plans and de-stressed on the way back home. If you took a break or two, it made your work day more relaxing. To make your work from home schedule more productive and less tiring, you need to take breaks.
Zoom meetings are not difficult; it is back-to-back meetings that are breaking our backs. Make taking breaks necessary. It is natural to want to relax after a meeting, and you should not schedule one meeting immediately after the other.
Do you remember walking from one meeting to another, and grabbing a cup of coffee on the way? Replicate those breaks in your online environment. Get up, move around, grab a snack from the kitchen after one meeting and come back refreshed for the next one.
If you do not take breaks in between and do not have periods of time with no scheduled online meetings, our day will feel like one long, monotonous task. Break your day into manageable segments. Video meetings also constrain your mobility so make sure you get up to stretch (turn off the camera for that). Squeeze in short bursts of movements to feel more energized.
3. Avoid Multitasking
You might feel like you can get multiple things done in a short span of time while you are multitasking but the truth is that you might be wasting to 40% of your time by multitasking. Schedule your days so that you’re not browsing your emails while you’re on a phone call or a video call. It is best to give one task your 100%.
If you focus on the video call instead of worrying about unread emails, you’re less likely to be frustrated by the call. Multitasking makes simple tasks harder and more taxing. Have a to-do list and give the tasks on it attention one after the other, but not simultaneously. You might have busy days where multitasking might be hard to resist, but even on one those days prioritize and focus on the task at hand.
4. Make Video Calls Optional
Before the pandemic hit and life as we know tuned upside down, how did we collaborate and communicate with teams in different time zones? Emails were handy, of course, and the occasional phone call. Perhaps a Skype video call maybe, if it was a really important matter. The advent of Zoom has made video calls a necessity. We’re scheduling Zoom calls for absolutely everything these days.
We do not need to have our teams on video the whole time. If you’re training, just like we record a phone call, you could record the video call so others can watch it at their convenience without having to sit through the zoom meetings. Participants of video calls should also be able to switch off their video if participation is not expected. Keeping video on does not equate to greater engagement.
We need to cut down on video calls and use other media for communication. There are multiple business phone apps that offer text, email or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), all of which are less irritating than video calls. Video calls are a chore; you have to straighten up your background as well as looking presentable. Also, try to have group meetings instead of multiple calls if the same issue has to be discussed.
Learn to say no to video calls that are not valuable and try to have one day a week where there will be no video calls.
5. Wear Work Clothes
Changing your clothes to sit down for work at home might seem odd but it can trick your subconscious. It will associate your work and home clothes differently, so when you wear your work clothes, you’ll be in a “go” frame of mind. When you switch back to your home clothes, your brain will switch back into “off” mode. Condition your brain to switch gears depending on what you wear.
Wearing your work clothes will make you look professional and you’ll feel like you’re at work too. If you have self-view on, you’ll look good to yourself and that can boost your confidence. Your peers will also appreciate that you look like you’re at work despite not being in the office.
Wearing your work clothes is the best thing to signal the start of a work day, especially when all you have to do is get up and switch on your laptop. Preparing for the day like you’re going to work can make you feel better about the day.
6. Reduce Eye Strain
Extended screen time is not only bad for eye health, but general morale as well. A break would be good for your eyes too. Give your eyes some rest. Try the 20-20-20 rule where, after looking at a screen for 20 minutes, you look at something around 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. This practice can help relax your eye muscles, protect your vision and improve sleep.
You could also try the following tips to make sure your eyes are not too strained:
- Implement a blinking exercise
- Use lubricating sterile eye drops
- Switch on your PC’s night mode during evening hours to limit blue light emission
- At night, opt for a lower screen brightness level
- Avoid overpowering light from windows or fluorescent lights
- Use an anti-glare screen cover
- Up the text size on your screen
7. Meet and Build Connections
Coworkers made our office spaces fun and exciting. Sometimes you get up to go to work because you love what you do, sometimes you get up so you can work with your friends. Lack of interaction with co-workers is the reason why the working of home has been an absolute nightmare for many.
We cannot replicate the same connection and closeness of physically working together on Zoom. You may see your colleagues on video every day but it Is just not the same. The laughs on Zoom do not seem as real. Video meetings cannot capture the energy of traditional video meetings
You could schedule virtual happy hours or have a video meeting during lunch, where you do not talk about work. The best alternative would be to meet in person, keeping Covid SOPs in mind, especially since many companies will start to implement the hybrid working model to improve business processes. In a hybrid model you work from home half of the week and report to the office for the other half.
Reinforce a friendly company culture and have a Zoom meeting or two just to create camaraderie and coherence in a team.
8. Agree on a Close of Business Time
Our meetings at the office would overrun, but because we had homes to go back to, we all had some sense of urgency to finish those meetings. With Zoom and the whole team already being at home, the meetings are going on longer online. Always ensure there’s an end time. If the call was scheduled for 40 minutes, it should really finish within 40 minutes. If close of business is 5pm, there should be no calls scheduled after that.
Long working hours can push a healthy person towards burn out, regardless of him working from home. If you’re having a struggle to stick to the meeting schedule, try to use a shared agenda. Agree on it before the meeting starts and stick to it. Ask HR to send our feedback survey on the maximum time for a video call. Standardize that time and ensure everyone sticks to it.
Remote work and online learning are here to stay. In fact, most organizations are willing to let employees work remotely even after the pandemic ends, meaning Zoom fatigue isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Addressing this epidemic head on will help you prevent Zoom fatigue and manage it as well.
Video calls wear us out, it’s just not work, we’re even attending weddings and birthdays on Zoom. While they are a veritable lifeline and they have helped us stay connected with work and loved ones, we lose a little bit of ourselves every time we connect with someone over video. As an alternative, video can supplement in-person meetings, except when it affects team members negatively. When it is a burden and you’re fighting to engage, stay alert and contribute positively to a virtual meeting.
Just like website downtime needs to be zero, human beings need to strive to keep their productivity and engagement at high levels with zero chance of burn out. Keep your exhaustion levels in check and follow the tips above to prevent Zoom fatigue from keeping you alert, attentive, and well-rested.
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Here is her LinkedIn.
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