With remote work becoming the “now” and the future of everyone’s work life, the way the human body and mind function has completely changed. There was a time when backache was the biggest concern of the workforce. Almost everyone who worked in a brick and mortar setting had to sit in one chair for about 8 hours and more. Zoom is the new doom because Zoom fatigue is real.
When we say Zoom, we aren’t necessarily singling out Zoom, the videoconferencing company but are taking into account every video chat platform that professionals use for communication within remote teams.
Consequences of Spending Long Hours on Zoom
Videoconferencing is different from staring at a laptop screen for hours. In a videoconference, employees face each other. They talk to each other and there are brainstorming sessions. There is not just a lot of physical effort that goes into a remote video meeting, through Zoom or other Zoom apps, but a lot of mental energy is also expended. This is why Zoom fatigue is real.
This doesn’t just come from a unanimous opinion and experience of our remote team. Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab research conducted by Professor Jeremy Bailenson concludes the same. Professor Jeremy studied the overall consequences of spending many hours a day on videoconferencing aka “Zooming” (a term used interchangeably with videoconferencing). The term “Zooming” isn’t specifically for targeting Zoom but is to describe any kind of of videoconferencing.
“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to.” Professor Jeremy Bailenson
Zoom Fatigue – The Problem and The Solution
1. Eye Contact and Close-ups
While in a traditional office setup, teams are able to move their eyes from the speaker to their notebook and other people or objects in the room, on a video conference, that’s impossible to do. People are constantly looking at the screen and on the cameras with no other option. The eye-contact frequency increases.
“Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population. When you’re standing up there and everyone’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.” Professor Jeremy Bailenson
This is why everyone is always in a mentally stressful state for hours and hours without probably realizing it at all. This is one of the major reasons for Zoom fatigue.
There’s not much one can do about it until the change happens at the software interface level in some way. As a way to minimize this kind of an experience, switch off the full-screen mode. This will reduce the Zoom window size which in turn will make faces appear smaller and less intimidating. It is also advisable to use an external keyboard to create more personal space between oneself and the screen full of people.
2. The Self-Conscious Mirror Image
Videoconferencing screens enable the user to see themselves too. It is crazy to imagine someone going around doing their work and living their life with a camera constantly in front of their eyes. It is extremely uncomfortable because it causes a lot of self-criticism which is mentally stressful and unhealthy. Many studies also reveal that looking at oneself in the mirror for too long can have negative consequences on mental health.
Again, videoconferencing platforms need to change something here. They need to probably not have the self-viewing setting as a default setting. When someone is the speaker on the video call, they should automatically switch to the listener’s screens/camera view. At the user’s end, one needs to be disciplined about hiding “self view” in order to stay away from Zoom fatigue.
3. Zoom Fatigue from Not Moving Around
This one is obvious. When a remote team is attending long virtual meetings, their physical movement drops dramatically. Movement isn’t just about one’s physical health but also helps with better cognitive performance, claimed by many growing researches. Even in traditional setups, employees were stuck to a chair for hours but could still take out time to go for a break or just a walk to the cafeteria. This is not a possibility during a video conference.
This one is entirely on the user. It is best to find ways to place the device far away from one’s body. This could not only help with more arm movements but one could also possibly take a walk around the room while brainstorming, just like in an actual face-to-face meeting. Again, this all depends on how one places their device/camera during the meeting. As a hygiene practice, remote teams can also allow for “off video” times during the virtual meeting where participants can switch off their cameras from time to time in order to take movement breaks.
Stanford’s ZEF Scale
Jeff Hancock, founding director of Stanford Social Media Lab, along with Professor Jeremy Bailenson, Geraldine Fauville, former postdoctoral researcher at VHIL; Anna Queiroz, postdoctoral at VHIL and Mufan Luo, graduate student from Stanford devised a method to measure fatigue that arises out of videoconferencing – the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue scale.
According to Stanford experts, the scale’s results can help transform technology in a way that is more beneficial than harmful in the long run.
Since remote work is here to stay, it is best to take zoom fatigue into consideration and follow best practices to reduce it as much as possible. Let’s aim to see happier and healthier faces (including our own) when it’s time for the next video conference!