Combat Zoom Fatigue

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have video meetings on average four to five times each day. I’ve gotten used to the platform and GoogleMeet has allowed our business to function successfully while our entire staff works remotely. But there is something unnatural about these digital meetings that I never experienced back in the days of in-person meetings. Scientists point to the fact that video calls disrupt the natural rhythm of human dynamics, forcing everyone to stare at each other. Worse, people are often forced to stare at themselves while they’re talking. Video chats also reduce our usual mobility, as one has to generally stay in the same spot.

“From an evolutionary standpoint, if somebody was very close to you and staring right at you, this meant you were going to mate or get in a fight,” says Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, in a recent Wall Street Journal article. And constantly being on high alert creates stress.

Mr. Bailenson has identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that contribute to the feeling known as “Zoom fatigue” and offers some practical solutions:

1.) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense. Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, and using an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.

2.) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others when it only needs to be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use the “hide self-view” button, which one can access by right-clicking their own photo, once they see their face is framed properly in the video.

3.) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility. Solution: Bailenson recommends people think more about the room they’re videoconferencing in, where the camera is positioned, and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther away from the screen will allow you to pace and doodle in virtual meetings just like we do in real ones. And of course, turning one’s video off periodically during meetings is a good ground rule to set for groups, just to give oneself a brief nonverbal rest.

4.) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats. Solution: During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an “audio-only” break. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

Mr. Bailenson and fellow Stanford researchers have created the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue scale, or the ZEF scale. You are invited to participate in their study.

• Why Zoom Meetings Can Exhaust Us by Jeremy Bailenson
• Zoom Burnout Is Real, and It’s Worse for Women by Alisha Haridasani Gupta
• Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes by Vignesh Ramachandran

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