Written by Andrew Johnson, MD at PowWowNow
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a fundamental alteration to the way we work, leading to unprecedented numbers of employees working from home. In a remote environment, organisations are making use of technology to carry out business processes and tasks, with nearly two-thirds of workers having increased their use of remote collaboration tools.
Though video calling, in particular, has enjoyed a significant uptick, people are reporting feeling exhausted from video calling in recent months. Known as ‘video fatigue’, the explosion in the use of video-calling interfaces is indicating extended that virtual interactions, if healthy workplace processes are not adhered to, could be tiring for the brain. Video calling is an incredibly useful tool to enable businesses to continue as normal, so here I take a look at some simple protocols to follow in order to alleviate video call fatigue in your workforce and ensure your team remains as happy and productive as possible during this difficult time.
Why the fatigue?
Human communication is usually achieved through non-verbal, as well as verbal, cues. Since humans evolved as social animals, picking up on these cues is easy for most of us, and enriches and informs everyday interactions. However, your regular video call prevents you from picking up on these non-verbal cues as easily; the video quality might be poor, or the person might be only partially in view. This means facial expressions are harder to read, while non-verbal cues around body movement are also more difficult to understand.
Multi-person screens then exacerbate this problem. According to the National Geographic, this can challenge the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that communication for long periods of time can feel more challenging than usual. Moreover, being unable to pick up on the behaviour of those you aren’t speaking directly to as you might in a face-to-face interaction, is harder, and brains can feel overwhelmed by this excess stimuli as they seek non-verbal cues they can’t find. However, there are some easy ways to implement healthy video working practices and ensure such interactions are a positive experience for all.
Opt-in camera usage
When organising and hosting a video call, leaders should be encouraged to make it clear that participants are not expected or required to keep their camera on for the entire duration if they don’t wish to. By reducing the number of people visible, this can help anyone struggling with video fatigue to concentrate. As well as this, experts suggest that positioning your screen slightly to one side instead of straight ahead can be an easy fix to improve concentration, especially in group meetings. Such positioning can help you feel you’re experiencing the video call in an adjoining room, resulting in a less tiring effect for your brain.
Is a video call always the only tool for the job?
Consider if organising a video chat is always the most efficient option for the task in hand. Sometimes a simple conference call without using video is equally useful, and can therefore ensure participants won’t experience any of the potential video fatigue by having to search for non-verbal cues.
In other circumstances, using web chat tools or document sharing platforms might be helpful for carrying out some collaborative interactions between colleagues, meaning a shorter video call can then be used to set this up or discuss things afterwards, reducing the pressure on all workers. Encourage managers and workers to think about the most effective ways that information can be shared and presented, and make sure you have invested in suitable technology so that your team can carry out all the demands of their job productively.
Take a break
Ensure that your workforce is educated about the need to incorporate adequate transition periods in between video calls, and make this a company-wide process. Back-to-back video calls should be discouraged from occurring unless unavoidable as they could result in a loss of concentration and an increase in fatigue for workers. A short gap between calls can help employees to refresh and ready themselves for another call.
Motivate your workforce to take a proper lunchbreak that involves them getting away from their screens and also their workspaces. Encourage people to share anything fun they did while on lunch- walks they took, or culinary concoctions they achieved. During this period when work and life are intruding on one another somewhat, it’s important everyone gets some headspace.
A culture of trust
Learning to trust in your team and believe that even though they’re out of your physical sight, they’re doing the work you need them to do, is key. Turning to video calling to allow you to ‘keep an eye’ on your workforce and check in on them isn’t always a wise idea, as it can erode any sense of trust and risks seeming like micromanagement.
It is of course important to ensure that you’re aware of your team’s wellbeing, how they work, individual challenges and progress, so that you can manage effectively. However, you can do this by checking in without relying overmuch on video calling. Try to mix up the mediums you use to catch up with your employees, taking advantage of the multitude of tools available to communicate online. Build a culture of trust where you reward hard work and not simply presenteeism.
Video calls are needed- but know your limits
Video calling is enabling human connections to flourish while the country is suffering under Covid-19, and proving an invaluable tool for businesses in their bid to remain productive during this challenging new environment. It’s important for video calling to continue to be taken advantage of to maintain connections and productivity, and it’s also possible that people will adapt to the tougher mental demands extended periods of video chatting may ask of us. However, it is also vital that business leaders encourage workers to raise issues with fatigue, and for companies to put in place processes to alleviate such symptoms wherever possible. That way, employees can continue to enjoy the sense of togetherness video calling can engender, and businesses can flourish.