Zoom Fatigue

Posted March 11th, 2021 by Urban Legal Recruitment

Initially, teleworking was something of a relief amidst all the pandemic uncertainty. For those of us lucky enough to work from home, mornings took on a more relaxed pace without worrying about the commute or how we’re dressed (from the waist down anyway!). For many of us, however, the novelty of teleworking has definitely worn off. 

According to Stanford communication professor Jeff Hancock, spending hours video conferencing every day is "...like walking around with a mirror hanging around in front of us.”

Zoom fatigue is real

Spending a good part of your day staring at yourself and others on a screen is taking a toll and is now commonly referred to as Zoom fatigue (also applies to platforms like MS Teams, Google Meet, Skype and others). The phrases ‘can you hear me’, ‘I think you’re on mute’ and ‘your camera’s not on’ - and for some of us, ‘sorry that’s my dog, there’s someone at the door’, have become mantras frequently repeated throughout our work days.

While some of the hardier folk refer to Zoom fatigue as overblown, first-world problems, there is actual science behind why telework may not be ideal long-term. 

Many home-based employees are reporting that routine meetings they attended without effect pre-pandemic are now exhausting them in the virtual world. So why is that? Stanford University researchers have identified four causes of Zoom fatigue. 

Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense. It’s never clear where you should be looking, and everyone is looking at everyone all the time. Eye contact is dramatically increased and the size of faces is unnatural and may feel too close. 

It’s exhausting to constantly see yourself in real-time. Research shows there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror so seeing a reflection of yourself on your monitor for hours every day is unnatural and stressful. 

Our usual mobility is significantly reduced. In an office or even on a phone, we are able to stand and walk around. Not only is being this sedentary harmful physically, research shows people perform better cognitively when they are moving around.

In video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals. In regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and we make and interpret gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. A sidelong glance to someone during an in-person meeting means something very different than a person on a video chat looking off-screen to their child who just walked into their home office.

Minimize the effects

The exponential rise in the use of virtual meeting technology has now added an element of performance anxiety to our day-to-day interactions with coworkers. As much as we try to resist, it’s hard not to become hyper aware of how often you twirl your hair, play with your earlobe, or scrunch your face when listening intently. 

While video conferencing platforms like Zoom continue to improve human factor elements, there are some things you can do in the meantime to alleviate the discomfort, which can be particularly intense for people who struggle with social anxiety or are introverts. 

  • Each video conferencing platform has unique features so test out and become comfortable with whatever technology you’re using (and maybe practice with an equally challenged coworker)
  • Minimize your window and opt out of the full-screen option whenever possible 
  • Increase the personal space between you and your monitor (may require a separate keyboard if using a laptop)
  • Use the ‘hide self-view’ button or turn your video feature off and give yourself an audio-only break 
  • Recommend setting new company norms which can include limiting the number of video call hours a day, encouraging the use of a phone for one-on-one calls, mandated breaks for meetings over 1 hour, use of headsets, etc.

There’s more 

Life outside of work can further add to your screen time depending on where you live and the level of lockdown. Book clubs, academic and training courses, hobby groups, fitness classes, family visits and celebrations, socializing, entertainment, shopping, medical appointments and almost all other aspects of our lives have gone virtual. 

Excessive screen time can result in weight gain, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety, eye problems, and back, neck and shoulder pain. Adam Alter, author and business and psychology professor, discusses how screen time can actually make you less happy. 

Awareness and setting limits are crucial to managing your physical, mental and spiritual health. Schedule screen-free times and avoid any activities that involve a screen before bed. Get outside whenever possible. Engage in activities that don’t involve technology like baking, reading books, puzzles, taking up a musical instrument, or gardening. 

Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you. 
At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have experienced, along with our clients, the impacts of COVID-19.  We’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our team members and our clients.