Dr Nick Earley, Head of Psychology, Helix Resilience, discusses the phenomenon of Zoom fatigue and gives Business Leader his top tips for easing the pressure on employees.
Zoom enjoyed a sales increase of 370% in the last three months of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, as use of video conferencing platforms exploded due to the need for remote working. Communication with colleagues via video calls has now become part of the standard working day for many.
One year on from home working, ‘Zoom fatigue’ has well and truly kicked in. The sensation is widespread and has even been shown to contribute to overall work burnout. Of course, those using Microsoft Teams or any other video conferencing apps are not immune to the ‘condition’. For many businesses, hybrid or fully remote working is now the future, so this form of communication is here to stay.
What is Zoom fatigue and how does it materialise?
Being able to see your face during video calls is a source of fatigue for many people. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, makes the comparison of having a mirror held up to your face during every in-person interaction in an ordinary working day in the office. Bailenson states that being more critical of yourself is a common negative emotional consequence when faced with your reflection.
Zoom fatigue also materialises from the higher cognitive load required from video calls than in-person interactions. We naturally make gestures and interpret cues subconsciously during face-to-face conversations, but video calls force us to make exaggerated gestures and signals, which requires a significant amount of brainpower.
For many people, this issue is not just exclusive to work time. People have been socialising with friends and family on video conferencing apps due to restrictions. They’ve also spent more time watching TV, especially throughout the winter lockdown. On top of Zoom fatigue, our eyes could also be tired of having to look at screens much more than we usually would. But what can we do about it?
Battling Zoom fatigue
There are some simple steps that people can take to battle the dreaded Zoom fatigue, and it’s crucial that employers take these into account, particularly in organisations that will continue to use video conferencing regularly. Reviewing the volume of video calls that are held on a daily or weekly basis and determining if certain calls aren’t needed is an ideal first step.
Although many employees understandably want to show their involvement in a call, employers should allow workers to turn their cameras off when they feel more comfortable doing so, particularly on days when they have multiple calls. The cognitive load can also be reduced by minimising or hiding the conferencing screen entirely so they’re able to participate in the audible conversation without needing to process anything visually.
Participants should also remember that they can dial into a video conference on their phone as an audio-only participant so they can avoid the need to communicate visually. When you’re sat in front of a screen, your movements are restricted and you may not naturally move in the way that you would during a conversation over the phone or in-person. Allowing these movements can help some people to be more engaged by helping them relax.
Last, but most certainly not least, is the need for employees to take regular breaks from their computer screens. This helps add structure to their working day and allows their brains and eyes to take a rest from a demanding virtual day.
Looking for early signs of stress and burnout
While Zoom fatigue has become a prominent issue for home workers, it’s important to remember that it’s one of many challenges that people can face while working away from the office. The increasing lack of separation between work and home life means that it’s more important than ever to look for early signs of burnout and stress. This allows a preventative approach to dealing with these issues, whether it’s noticing it in a colleague or recognising the signs in ourselves.
It’s important to be aware of the common signals that are associated with increased stress. These include being more withdrawn than usual, a lack of motivation, distraction or altered body language on video calls and a change in voice tone. When analysing your own mental health and wellbeing, staying in bed for longer in the morning, changes in appetite, dwelling on negative thoughts and experiencing heightened emotions such as anxiety, sadness or irritability can also be signs.
Using the right platforms and channels can help educate employees on preventative strategies, which can help to support their mental health and wellbeing. Whether it’s Zoom fatigue or other issues, improved mental resilience will help us all cope better with difficult scenarios in the workplace and at home.