The coronavirus pandemic forced offices to close and meetings to be held online, creating a new phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue.’
The term, named after the popular video chat platform, is used to describe the exhaustion that comes with participating in video conferencing, whether on Zoom, Google Meet, or another app.
A researcher at Stanford University has investigated this idea to determine what might cause people to become exhausted while simply sitting in front of a computer.
Professor Jeremy Bailenson determined that excessive eye contact, decreased mobility, video chats increase cognitive load, and constantly looking at yourself leads to “Zoom fatigue.”
However, the expert has also provided solutions for each of them to help employees revitalize themselves while spending hours video chatting at least five days a week.
A researcher at Stanford University recently investigated this idea to determine the reasons that might cause people to become exhausted while simply sitting in front of a computer.
Bailenson stressed that his goal is not to vilify any particular video conferencing platform: he appreciates and uses tools like Zoom regularly.
But he wants to highlight how exhausting current implementations of video conferencing technologies are and suggest changes to the interface, many of which are easy to implement.
“Video conferencing is a good option for remote communication, but let’s think about the medium: just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” Bailenson said.
The first reason was identified as “an excessive amount of close eye contact is too intense.”
Video conferencing requires users to keep their eyes glued to screens for hours a day, which can be exhausting.
During in-person meetings, the audience typically looks only at the person speaking, but when events are held online we tend to look at everyone in the chat room and it seems as if everyone is looking at you.
“Social anxiety about speaking in public is one of the biggest phobias that exist in our population,” said Bailenson.
“When you’re standing there and everyone is staring at you, it’s a stressful experience.”
He goes on to explain that when someone’s face gets close to ours in real life, our brain processes the action as an intense situation that leads to mating or conflict.
“What happens, in effect, when you’re on Zoom for many, many hours is that you’re in this state of hyperarousal,” Bailenson said.
To combat intense, close eye contact, he suggests reducing the size of the video chat window.
The second cause of Zoom fatigue is seeing yourself on the screen.
“In the real world, if someone constantly followed you through a mirror, so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving and receiving feedback, you saw yourself in a mirror, it would be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” Bailenson added.
Bailenson cited studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself.
Many of us now see each other on video chats for many hours every day.
“It is a burden for us. It’s stressful. And there is a lot of research that shows that looking in a mirror has negative emotional consequences,” she stated.
To avoid looking at themselves, users can activate the “hide own view” button by right-clicking on their own photo: everyone else can see you, but you can’t.
Since employees no longer have to walk to a conference room during meetings, many have experienced a decrease in their mobility.
Bailenson has identified this as a trigger for Zoom fatigue and recommends setting the camera further away from the screen to give yourself room to walk or pace as you would at a real-world event.
And the last reason is that “the cognitive load is much higher in video chats.”
Bailenson points out that in face-to-face interaction, non-verbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets non-verbal gestures and signals subconsciously. But in video chats we have to work harder to send and receive signals.
However, he suggests taking an “audio-only” break by turning off the camera so you don’t have to decipher non-verbal activity “so that for a few minutes you’re not overwhelmed with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”