The Struggle is Real: What to do about Zoom fatigue

I recently heard a report on NPR about a phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue.” If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably experienced it. Why is it that a day spent hopping from one videoconference to the next seems so draining?

It turns out, that feeling is legitimate. And according to research by Stanford University, there are four primary reasons we experience Zoom fatigue.

The Size and Scale Are Off

The first reason has to do with the size and scale of someone’s face in a Zoom, Google Meets or other videoconferencing platform. I hadn’t thought much about that. Until I did. The scale is way off. The study noted that if you were looking at someone in real life that close to you with that amount of continued eye contact it would be … well, weird. It’s far closer and with more intensity than it would be during a normal business conversation. Their solution? Take the videoconferencing platform out of full-screen mode to help reduce the size of the talking heads. They also suggested using an external keyboard to create even more space between you and others in the meeting.

That’s What I Look Like?

Another reason we are experiencing fatigue is watching yourself for the duration of a meeting can be exhausting. I am 100% guilty of this. Someone is talking and my gaze drifts to … me. Why did I leave on my blue-light glasses? What is with my hair? Is that the best outfit I could have worn today? So. Many. Questions. The thing is you wouldn’t carry a mirror around with you all day long to note your every expression or reaction to what others say or do. That’s kind of the equivalent here so while you can choose to not broadcast video, the researchers suggest you may want to consider simply hiding the self-view instead. That way, you still participate but don’t harshly judge yourself for the way in which you interact – like in the before-times when all of this wasn’t even a thing.

Lack of Mobility

The third reason for fatigue is our mobility is limited. We sit in one place the whole time. Truth is in a meeting, I often am a mover. I get up to illustrate a point, write on a board or even get a glass of water. The only way I move these days, though, is to shift from looking at one screen to another. It’s not the same and as odd as it sounds, not moving around is actually draining. The researchers suggest a reconfigured set-up could help with this but honestly, I feel like lack of mobility is just one of those trade-offs we have when we meet up in this manner.

My Brain Hurts

The fourth reason the researchers claim we feel fatigue is due to cognitive overload. When you break it down, being on a videoconference call is a lot like being interviewed on television. While watching yourself respond. While looking for non-verbal cues. While trying to concentrate on what is being presented or discussed by others. That’s a lot for even this ADD brain to process. The researchers from Stanford recommend taking an “audio only” break. They are clear that this is more than “… 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 so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

Personally, I like the addition of videoconferencing to our arsenal of methods to meet with one another. It’s been a nice way to see and hear someone instead of simply hearing them. Plus, it removes some obstacles to regular in-person meetings like lengthy time commitments, physical distance issues and certain aspects of meeting prep. On the flip side, it does create some other concerns that really indicate going forward we should use videoconferencing as one way to connect but certainly not exclusively.