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How can we deal with Zoom fatigue?

Nov 27, 2020

It’s Monday morning, and you’re already exhausted at the thought of having to attend yet another video call. How can we cope with ‘Zoom fatigue’? Annette Clancy gives guidance on how to deal with this exhaustion, as well as tips on alternatives to video calls.

Since COVID-19 hit, more of our time is spent on video calls. If you have found yourself exhausted at the end of a workday on Zoom, you aren’t alone. Recent research has established that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real, and searches on Google for the phenomenon have increased steadily since March.

Why are video calls so much more tiring than real meetings?

Non-verbal communication

Being on a video call requires much more focus than face-to-face conversations. We must listen more intently to pick up on information and give out obvious cues to callers to let them know that we are interested in the conversation. Our feelings and moods are typically conveyed through body language and non-verbal communication. Keeping sustained eye contact to let the other speaker know that we are actively listening – in the absence of other non-verbal cues – can take much effort.

Being ‘always on’

When we meet people face-to-face, or even when we speak on the phone, we are used to looking away occasionally. Video calls require us to stare continuously at the screen or camera. How often would you stand close to a colleague in the workplace and look them directly in the eye over a sustained period? Probably never. It would feel profoundly uncomfortable and be very tiring.

On top of that, when we are on camera, we may feel nervous about being watched and begin to experience the associated anxieties around performance. This causes our energy to deplete.

On-screen distraction

Research has shown that when on a video call, we spend most of the time distracted by ourselves, and other people’s faces and backgrounds (there are even social media accounts dedicated to rating and ranking Zoom bookshelves and backgrounds). If you are in a meeting with ten others, it can feel like you are in 10 different rooms. This is additional data for your brain to process, which contributes to fatigue.

Talking to the TV

As working from home enters its ninth month, the boundaries between work and personal life may start to blur. Video calls are now the norm for both socialising and working, and many spend too much time ‘on-screen’ and not enough with family. Video calls have become the default mechanism of communication and, as a result, we are meeting everybody outside of our immediate family circle via video calls. This means that nearly all our relating is taking place in an emotionally exhausting environment, and we are not getting enough time to rest and replenish our energies.

How can we recover from Zoom fatigue?

Video calls are not going away, but we can limit our exposure by asking if a video call is always necessary. Although it has become the default, by suggesting an alternative, you may find that a colleague is pleasantly surprised that you have taken the initiative. Sometimes a well-crafted email will work just as well. And there is always the good old-fashioned telephone. If you are spending too much time on video calls at work, then opting out of a group invitation to spend more personal time by yourself or with family can only be a good thing and a healthy alternative.

Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.