You’re not imagining it—video calls are tiring.
Video conferencing tools have become the default remote meeting option for employees accustomed to working in offices. And, with many employers considering extending flexible work options post-pandemic, they’re likely here to stay.
But, after more than a year of working (and, arguably, even living) online, “Zoom fatigue” has become a common complaint. Zoom fatigue describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication—in particular, video conferencing options.
In this article, we explore why Zoom fatigue is affecting so many employees and what you—as an employer, HR professional, or manager—can do to help.
What’s causing it—and what’s it doing to your employees?
Mentally, video calls are doing a number on us. We’re having to pay more attention to non-verbal cues—while also knowing that our every facial expression and minute posture shift is being analyzed too.
“Because we’re missing out on a lot of the emotional cues that happen in person, our brains can go into overdrive trying to compensate for this lack of information, leading to even more energy drain.”
–Thea Orozco, author of The Introvert's Guide to the Workplace
A team of researchers at Stanford put it best when they said that, non-verbally, every participant on a call is essentially treated like a speaker. Even when just listening, you’ll have faces staring at you, paying attention to your non-verbal cues.
The result is that people’s minds are forced to work harder than they otherwise would in a more organic, face-to-face setting.
“When you're on a video conference, you know everybody's looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful."
– Marissa Shuffler, Associate Professor at Clemson University
The fear of being misunderstood or misjudged is high, too. That’s why people tend to exaggerate their reactions and manner on video, in order to project the tone or reaction they want others to notice. They’ll also sit straighter or more still than they would in-person, adding physical strain to the mix, and be more careful about maintaining consistent eye contact than they would in person, in order to seem engaged.
All of this puts a significant cognitive load on people and adds to feelings of mental and physical exhaustion.
And the result?
Exhaustion. Headaches. Migraines. Eye irritation. Blurred vision. Backaches and neck pains. Zoom fatigue comes with a laundry list of physical ailments in addition to the general listlessness and tiredness that results from the mental strain.
So, what can be done?
Simple tweaks to help you reduce Zoom fatigue and keep your teams comfortable
There are a number of easy—but effective—ways to instantly help your employees lessen their video conferencing and meeting exhaustion.
Don’t default to meetings as the first option
The office default is to turn every question, challenge, or clarification into a meeting—simply because talking things out tends to lead to a faster resolution. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary—or even best—for every situation.
In fact, overdoing meetings can lead to more stress, less productivity, and shallower decision-making. And we are doing more meetings. A study by researchers at the Harvard Business School found that people now are attending 13% more meetings and working longer hours.
So, instead of going down the meeting route each time, try and explore other methods. Use chat apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or similar to ask questions and brainstorm. Consider returning to classic options like email.
Even if it turns out you do need that call, sending questions and relevant materials beforehand can shorten the length of time required for the call and will allow the other party to thoroughly consider their answer and prep the needed materials beforehand.
If you do need a meeting, allow people to choose to have their cameras off
The video part of video calls is undeniably the biggest cause of stress. There are a number of reasons for this; people feel obliged to be hyper-attentive throughout, video calls don’t lend themselves to natural pauses, people hate being confronted with how they look on camera…
There’s a simple, obvious fix. Normalize turning cameras off.
The simple act of turning cameras off can be a big relief to those who don’t feel at home on video. Even if it’s not for every call, just having the option can mean considerably less buildup of video-induced stress.
Of course, there are some who prefer to be able to see the faces of the people they’re on call with. A simple compromise could be to encourage people to have cameras on in smaller team meetings, but allow them to remain off for larger group meetings. Another option could be to have people set profile photos of their faces, so that people have the illusion of someone to talk to—even when cameras are off.
Have shorter meetings
Many employees find themselves sitting through hours of successive meetings without reprieve. This is particularly true for project leads and decision-makers, as they tend to have their fingers in more pies.
Unsurprisingly, these “never-ending” calls lead to exhaustion, are less effective, and can result in physical problems like bodily aches.
Try experimenting with shorter meetings. Try establishing new default timings—make 25-minute meetings the new half-hour, and 50-minute meetings the new hour. This gives your employees built-in time to stretch, get a refill, and breathe between meetings.
Alternatively, you could try “sandwich” meetings—where the meeting includes time in the middle to go off-call and process thoughts and ideas before going back on-call to discuss ideas and concerns.
Encourage breaks between meetings to allow people to decompress and take a moment to themselves
One of the best ways to tackle any sort of fatigue or burnout is to make it possible for people to step away when they need to, and to prioritize self-care at work. We cover this in detail in our blog on Creating a Culture of Self-Care in the Workplace.
As much as possible, try to encourage people not to book meetings back-to-back. Or, alternatively, suggest they actually block off time in their work calendars to take a few minutes to relax here and there.
Calm offers many short meditations and mindfulness exercises to help your people recharge between meetings. Want to know more? Book a demo.
Allow people to join meetings from different locations
In-person and audio phone conversations allow people to walk around, move, and sit more naturally. But, with video calls, people generally have to stay in the same position to stay within the field of view. The result is that movement is limited in ways that are not natural—and that leads to added strain.
Combat this by encouraging your employees to switch up their location for less formal meetings. Connectivity allowing, why not allow employees to join meetings from a nearby park, or from a more comfortable position on the couch?
Introduce no-meeting days
It’s not just about meeting time; meetings require employees to prepare pre-call and get their brains back on track post-call. Atlassian found that the average person spends 31 hours in unproductive meetings a month—and that was pre-remote working conditions.
If you’re feeling ambitious, consider experimenting with having no-meeting days. Like the name suggests, these are days where your employees’ calendars will be kept clear of any meetings—meaning they’ll be able to better focus their time and be more productive.
Tackle burnout at its heart
Any sort of work fatigue or burnout can be a big drain on your employees’ mental health and enjoyment at work. As we embrace more asynchronous ways of working, it will become increasingly important for managers to know how to recognize and address employee burnout symptoms.
By creating a culture of care, you can help your employees build their resilience and embrace better, more sustainable, working habits. Calm’s library of resilience-building, good-habit-setting content can help too.
Find out how Calm can help employees strengthen their mental fitness. Book a demo.
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