5 Reasons for Zoom Fatigue and how to overcome it

5 Reasons for Zoom Fatigue and how to overcome it

Aakash Shetty

May 11, 2021

With the rise in remote work due to the current pandemic, more and more of us are spending time on video conferencing tools. And many of us find it exhausting. If so, you are not alone. Many of us are experiencing something called zoom fatigue or virtual fatigue, a kind of tiredness and exhaustion felt after a video call. But why exactly we feel that way?

Reasons for Zoom Fatigue

1. Highly intense and unnatural eye contact

Within in-person meetings, our eyes constantly move - between the speaker, taking notes, reading documents or anywhere else. Opposite to that, our eyes are staring at faces on the screen during video conferencing. As a result, the amount of eye contact in video meetings drastically increases social anxiety.

Another reason for such fatigue is the increased size of the faces on the screen. In real life, our brain takes this as an arousal or threatening situation and throws our brain into an intense state - causing us to feel stress and discomfort.

2. Continuous mirroring of yourself

Another big reason for zoom fatigue or virtual fatigue is a constant mirror image of us during video conferencing. Such a mirror image is unnatural for our brain. Many studies have concluded that constantly seeing our reflection makes us more critical of our thoughts, decisions and ourselves. Constant reflection results in a negative emotional state - draining out our energy, productivity and joy.

3. Reduced mobility

A growing number of studies have concluded the importance of movement and mobility in our cognitive process. Walking, drawing doodles, or playing with a pen are few activities that are natural during an in-person or audio conversation. Such movement or mobility helps us to think and come up with more creative ideas. Opposite to that, video conferencing tools makes us stay in one place due to the camera frame. Unless the camera is at a distance, it drastically reduces our mobility and fixes us at the same spot for a longer period.

4. Higher cognitive load

Our human brain is designed to understand non-verbal communication. During in-person interaction, it comes naturally to us. We make, understand, and interpret nonverbal gestures and cue from each other without additional efforts.

But during the video chat, this work becomes difficult for our brain. Users need to work harder to send and receive nonverbal communication. For example, one 2019 study compared in-person interaction with video chat and showed that people speak 15% louder when communicating via video chat. Other times important non-verbal communication is lost in technical glitches or poor quality of the video. Overall, all that extra work results in a higher cognitive load on the brain to understand and interpret non-verbal communication.

5. In-between Silence due to delay

A brief pause or silence is a natural part of our speech process. During in-person meetings, our brain picks up such pause as thinking or others based on context. These become particularly difficult during video conferencing. Such a pause during a virtual meeting can happen due to slow internet or technical glitches. One study from 2014 showed that even a 1.2-second delay on a conferencing system can create conflicting feeling and make us feel as if the responder is an unfriendly or a less focused person.

Solution for overcoming Zoom Fatigue

1. Meeting-Free Days

Just because you can use the video conferring tools doesn’t mean you have to. Even before the crisis, meetings were already taking a lot of time. On average, most employees attends 62 meetings in a month. 1/2 of those meetings being considered time waste. Many companies have started meeting-free days for remote workers or have dedicated hours when employees work in focus mode without anybody disturbing them. For example, at FREE NOW, they introduced “no-meeting afternoon” within their company to help employees stay focused and increase productivity. The response from the employee is eye-opening. 52% of the employee responded to continue no meeting afternoon while 38% mentioned extending it to one additional day.

2. Continuous mirroring of yourself

Few video conferencing tool has options to hide the self-view, to tackle constant reflection during a video call. Such a feature stops the mirroring of your video without turning off the camera for others. These will help you to focus on meeting and listen to others. Rather than constantly checking your reflection and feeling self-conscious.

3. Reduced mobility

When a video meeting is unavoidable or scheduled for an overlong period, consider taking an audio break in between. Discuss this ahead or ask in between to switch to an audio-only meeting for 10-15 mins. Such an audio break will allow you to provide some relaxation to your eyes, move away from your video frame, and create an opportunity for some mobility & light stretches.

4. Switch to audio-first channels

Video conferencing is good, but it is not always necessary. Studies have shown that interacting over video chat requires a significantly higher cognitive load compared to interacting over audio chat. Productive meetings and team collaboration can be more efficient over audio channels - without turning on your camera. Audio-first channels will help you to reduce your anxiety and increase your opportunity for mobility.