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Zoom Fatigue and What to Do About It

Aug 25 2020 • 4 min read

During lockdown, many of us have found that at the end of the day we’re more tired than we used to be.

This phenomenon, which has become known as ‘Zoom Fatigue’, at first seems puzzling. Without a long commute, and no walks to meetings or to get lunch, we might have expected to feel less, not more, tired.

But Zoom Fatigue is real. And there are good behavioural and neurological reasons why it occurs. Understanding these drivers enables us to adopt strategies to avoid it.

So in this blog we outline three of the main reasons why so many of us are suffering from Zoom Fatigue, and three simple things we can all do to avoid it.

Factor 1. Seeing yourself on screen is cognitively draining.

Research shows that, when we are on a video call, we spend most of our time staring at our own face. This is a cognitively exhausting thing to do for any period of time, partly because it makes us hyper aware of our performance; and partly because the unnatural act of consciously controlling our facial expressions for sustained periods requires considerable cognitive effort.

Factor 2. Decoding non-verbal cues is much harder online and can sap our energy

In face-to-face meetings, we constantly interpret non-verbal cues – such as body language, tone of voice, gestures – to help us judge the credibility of a message. But in virtual meetings, we are forced to rely predominantly on verbal information to infer other people’s emotions. Gallery views on conference calls exacerbate this tendency, by presenting us with multiple facial expressions simultaneously. Again, the result is additional cognitive effort and the sapping of our energy.

Factor 3. We have back-to-back meetings with no breaks

Many of us are discovering that we are now having days filled with back-to-back online meetings. As soon as one meeting stops, the next begins. With fewer breaks programmed in; no informal catch-ups with colleagues in the work kitchen; and no thinking time between meetings, we again find that our energy levels are drained more quickly than we might have expected.

So what can we do about it?

The good news is that we can tackle each of these phenomena with a few simple changes to our working routines. Here are three of them.

Strategy 1: Turn off self view and turn-on speaker view.

On platforms like Zoom, Teams and Google Meet, you can change the view settings in ways that avoid many of the pitfalls of Factor 1 and Factor 2. By turning off ‘self view’ and turning on ‘speaker view’, you will only see the image of the person doing the talking (rather than the faces of 8 colleagues simultaneously) and reduce the amount of time you spend looking at yourself.

Strategy 2: Create new meeting defaults and programme in breaks.

Our lives in home-working lockdown have become overly-guided by the settings of our Google and Microsoft calendars, which encourage us to accept invites for 30 or 60 minute meetings whenever there is space in our diary.

You should take back control of these default settings by, for example, programming in a ‘lockdown lunch’ for 75 minutes every day. And having meetings that last for 50 minutes not 60 (you magically build a 10 minute tea break into your scheduled meetings).

Strategy 3: Build diversity into your daily routine.

One of the best ways of fighting Zoom fatigue is to abandon the video call at least once a day and adopt new ways of communicating. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing you can do is to plug some headphones in for your next one-to-one meeting, and take it on the phone while strolling round a local park or streets. You will find it a great way to recharge the batteries, while getting some exercise at the same time.

Each of these three strategies are simple to implement. But like most other behavioural phenomena, they will be even more effective if all colleagues seek to implement them together. So pass on the message to your friends and colleagues and let us know how you get on!

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