5 research-backed tips to prevent Zoom fatigue.

Husain Sumra profile image July 13, 2021 | 5 min read

Do you feel tired after a video meeting? If so, you might be suffering from Zoom fatigue. According to Stanford University research, “Virtual meetings have skyrocketed, with hundreds of millions happening daily.” The research found four reasons why video chats are exhausting and offered some solutions that can help.

Video meetings tire people

According to Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson, there are four reasons video chats can be tiring. While the research focused on Zoom specifically, these challenges can occur with other video conference systems.

  1. Too much eye contact can make people uncomfortable.

Video conference tools can significantly increase the amount of eye contact people experience, which can contribute to anxiety. Further, using video conference tools in full-screen mode can make others appear “too large for comfort.”

Jeremy Bailenson suggests a few ways to reduce this problem. Reduce the size of the video chat window and avoid using the app in a full-screen mode. It can also be helpful to use an external keyboard because it “allows an increase in the personal space bubble” between yourself and others.

  1. It is tiring to constantly see yourself in real-time video calls.

Before the age of video calls, you might only look at yourself in the mirror for a few moments each day as you got ready for the day. That practice has changed because of video calls – we can see ourselves in those calls hour after hour. Bailenson’s research found that “Many of us are now seeing ourselves on video chats for many hours every day. It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful.”

There is a technical way to address this difficulty. Check if your video conference software has a “hide self-view” button.

  1. Using video chat reduces our normal mobility.

Have you ever walked around while talking on the phone? Due to the limitations of video conference software, a person generally has to stay in the same spot for the call duration. Bailenson cites some research that suggests that mobility can improve the quality of thinking for some people.

If you are somebody who likes some flexibility and the ability to move, there are a few solutions. You might decide to turn off the video camera feature from time to time. In addition, Bailenson suggests using an external keyboard if you’re using a laptop, so you have room to stretch out. Further, using an external video camera where you can easily change its position can allow you to walk around. Finally, Bailenson suggests doodling during a meeting can help as well.  Alternatively, you might switch to a video conference calling mobile app which would give you the chance to move around more than if you were at a desk. However, don’t go overboard as too much movement can be distracting for some people.

  1. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

In face-to-face communication, it is easier to pick up on gestures and other nonverbal communication. For example, you might notice a person shake their hand silently to disagree, a gesture that may not translate well through a video meeting. Nonverbal communication in a video meeting can require extra effort, like an exaggerated nod. Likewise, there is added mental work involved in understanding the other person in the video meeting. Finally, video conference calls make it more difficult to communicate via gestures because participants are usually only shown from the shoulders up.

Fortunately, Jeremy Bailenson offers a simple solution to reduce the heavy demands of constant video meetings. Use audio-only communication from time to time.

Other ways to prevent video call exhaustion.

The Stanford University research cited above is a great starting point. There are some additional ways you can proactively avoid video call exhaustion.

Find another way to communicate.

Instead of relying exclusively on video conference calls, make a business phone call instead. If you have a headset, your hands will be free to take notes. You could even pace or move if that helps you feel comfortable. This lets you take a break from trying to interpret and send nonverbal cues.

Likewise, you might decide to use email instead of making a video conference call. Taking a few minutes to write an email might be better than a video conference call in some situations. For example, you could think of three ways to increase sales, email those ideas to a colleague and ask them which idea they like the most.

Add breaks to long video conference sessions.

Harvard Business Review suggests “making meetings 25 or 50 minutes (instead of the standard half-hour and hour) to give yourself enough time in between to get up and move around for a bit” if you have a full day of back-to-back meetings. In particular, it is important to give your eyes a rest.

Resist multitasking during a video conference call.

Imagine you were attending an in-person business meeting and somebody read a magazine during the entire meeting. That person would be unlikely to participate in the meeting fully. Alas, multitasking is a problem in video meetings as well. To reduce the temptation to do other things on your computer during a video meeting, Harvard Business Review suggests you “close any tabs or programs that might distract you (e.g., your inbox or Slack), put your phone away, and stay present.”

By avoiding multitasking during a video call, you may be less likely to ask people to repeat information. As a result, you might be able to finish your video meetings more quickly.

Avoid mandatory virtual social events.

At the end of a long week of attending many video conference calls, people may get tired. The prospect of attending another video meeting, even a social event, might not be appealing. Harvard Business Review points out that “virtual social sessions should be kept opt-in, meaning whoever owns the event makes it explicit that people are welcome, but not obligated, to join.”

It is also helpful to provide some kind of structure or have a facilitator run the social event. It can be tiring or stressful to participate in an event when you don’t know what is expected of you.

What to do next to avoid video conference call fatigue.

Choose one or two tips from this article and discuss them with your colleagues at your next team meeting. You might be surprised to discover that other people face a similar challenge and appreciate the tips. For instance, you might decide to change your company habits to strike a balance between phone calls and video conference calls.

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