The concept of “Zoom Fatigue” is unique to the COVID-era work environment. Since so many of us are working from home, meeting with our colleagues over Zoom is the most practical way to get face time and almost feel as though we’re in the same room with them.
However, many people have started noticing feeling exhausted and frazzled after a day of Zoom meetings. Why is this? We’re just meeting with our colleagues, aren’t we? Isn’t it the digital equivalent of meeting in person?
Not quite. I found this article on New Atlas that explores just why a day of Zoom conferencing is so much more exhausting than a day of in-person meetings.
How Much Time do You Spend on Zoom?
This topic is so prevalent that I caught a segment on The Today Show talking about how workers can mitigate the effects of Zoom fatigue.
In the segment, they mentioned that our use of video conferencing software like Zoom, Teams, and others has increased by at least 50% since pre-pandemic days. Anecdotally, I have many clients who report being in 8-10 hours of Zoom calls EVERY day. Not only are they expected to be present in these meetings, but while the meeting is being conducted, they’re also receiving emails, IMs, text messages, Slack messages, and LinkedIn messages… not to mention that many people also have Facebook and Instagram open all day and are being hit by notifications on those “for fun” sites.
Oh, and let’s also throw in the fact that many of us are working from home while our kids are being schooled in the other room, and our spouses are also working from home. Let’s not forget that our furry friends demand attention, too.
People in Zoom meetings are multi-tasking like never before. And we’re becoming totally drained by it.
Why is Zoom so Exhausting?
The amount of non-verbal communication and stimulation going on in a Zoom meeting is immense. Aside from the inputs I mentioned in the last section when you gaze into a sea of faces on Zoom, you’re not just seeing the other people. You’re also noticing their environment: the room they’re in, things on the walls behind them, their cat strolling by at one point. There’s so much more going on than there would be in a conference room.
Now let’s factor in the multiple sets of eyes staring back at you — at least, it looks like they’re staring at you. They could be typing, or online shopping, or scrolling through Instagram. There’s no way to tell, but it seems like everyone is staring at you the entire time.
As humans, we also encounter an increase in self-consciousness when our own image is displayed on the screen. Imagine if you were in the office and your assistant followed you around all day with a mirror. Yikes! Well, when you’re in a Zoom meeting for hours at a time, staring at yourself, it’s likely you’ll become self-critical. It’s human nature, and guess what? That takes an energetic toll, as well.
To sum it up, these are some contributors to Zoom fatigue:
- Staring at blue light all day causes heightened levels of anxiety and fatigue.
- The overwhelming input of non-verbal communication (including messages on other websites) contributes to exhaustion.
- Being stared at (in actuality or just in our perception) by colleagues in the Zoom meeting brings on self-consciousness.
- Gazing at our own image for hours creates ongoing, low-grade distress. I recently read that plastic surgery for the neck and face is on the rise, likely as a result of so many people staring at themselves all day.
- Finally, sitting at a desk for hours causes stagnation and inhibits our creativity and productivity.
Solutions for Zoom Fatigue
So, what can we do to counteract the effects of Zoom? Try some of these suggestions.
Turn off self-view. You don’t have to stare at yourself all day long. Try turning off self-view in your Zoom settings and see if that makes a difference in how you feel after the meeting.
Get an external webcam. Many of us use the camera embedded into our laptop, which forces us to sit close to the computer. An external webcam allows you to sit farther from the screen, which will also make a difference in how others experience you; in a conference room, you see more than someone’s head, you see their whole body. The webcam will mimic that to an extent.
Use speaker view. As opposed to gallery view, where you see everyone at once, set up your Zoom display so you see one speaker at a time. It will be less overwhelming.
Schedule audio-only meetings. Remember conference calls? We did that all the time before the pandemic, and it was fine! If you’re in charge of setting up a meeting, consider making it audio-only. Audio allows us to tune in to what the person is saying without the distractions of the non-verbal cues, the background input, pets, kids, etc. It also allows people to move around, and pace while they listen, or go on a walk. For some people, movement actually allows the brain to process information more effectively.
This works especially well for 1:1 calls or small groups. If you have a presentation to share, you can still use the phone or Zoom. Either email your presentation ahead of time or require that everyone turn off their camera on Zoom while someone presents.
I encourage you to try out some of these Zoom hacks this week and see if it makes a difference in your experience. I hope that you’ll find you have more energy at the end of the day.