How to Zap your Zoom Fatigue

by Leah Larwood, 23rd April 2021

As we edge back into the world and start to arrange meet-ups with real-life actual humans again, let’s all just take a moment to revel in a world that’s in Technicolour again. The spring blossom and outdoor Aperol Spritzers are definitely helping. However, it’s also pretty clear that Zoom meetings, webinars, online courses, and even virtual social drinks, will all probably continue for a little while longer. Perhaps, in part, they’re here to stay? Because let’s face it, for some of the time, online really does save us a huge amount of time, money and effort.
 

However, we’re also at a stage in the game where our tolerance levels for online conferencing meetings is dwindling. We’ve all heard the term by now but what exactly is Zoom fatigue and is there a way we can prevent this Covid-inspired phenomenon? Zoom fatigue describes the worry, tiredness or burnout linked with using virtual online platforms as our main mode of communication with others.
 

Some experts suggest that the draining effect of video conferencing is due to pandemic-related stresses such as increased financial worry and juggling home-schooling and childcare or unemployment. Other experts think it’s down to experiencing a lack of “reward” such as the dopamine hits we experience in face-to-face interactions.
 

So what can we learn about this strange tiredness we experience while seated comfortably at home, and are there ways to combat online fatigue? Experts think that the audio input is one of the key factors that make video meetings draining. Apparently, those millisecond delays in virtual verbal responses negatively affect our interpersonal perceptions, even without any internet or technical issues hampering the speed, according to a recent article in Psychiatric Times written by Dr Lee, Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles. 
(link: https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue )
 

In his article, Dr Lee explains that a big factor contributing to the fatigue felt is a rewards-costs trade-off that happens in our minds unconsciously. We’re bascially experiencing a lack of perceived reward in relation to our video conferencing encounters with colleagues and friends.
 

A lack of social interaction is very much associated with our reward circuits, and online interactions just don’t seem to cut the mustard when it comes to the levels of oxytocin we need — the hormone involved in social bonding. In a nutshell, those all-important in-person social interactions provide us with a much greater perceived reward.
 

Another reason why Zoom fatigue can strike is because of eye contact, or lack of it. There is a lot of evidence to suggest how good eye contact improves connection with others. However, especially during conferences with three or more people, it can be impossible to distinguish mutual gaze between any two people.
 

In short, Zoom doesn’t give us the reward we need, and it requires more energy and effort, which is why we feel so zapped. A large amount of our communication is actually unconscious and nonverbal, and emotional content is processed super quickly through social cues like touch, joint attention, and body posture.
 

We usually use these nonverbal cues to find out information about other people and engage in reciprocal communication in a matter of milliseconds. Dr Lee reports that, on video, most of these cues are difficult to visualise, since the environment just isn’t the same environment and often those all-important subtle facial expressions and full bodily gestures may not be captured.

However, there are ways we can mitigate some of these challenges with video meetings until we find the right balance.


How to Prevent Zoom Fatigue

  • Factor in Breaks: Every 45 minutes, where possible, take a 3-minute screen-break and to stretch. Every 3 hours, take a 10 minute break to have a change of scenery. Dance, make a cuppa, stare out of the window. If you’re on a long call or full-day of training in a relatively largeish group, where possible, direct your gaze elsewhere, while you listen to what’s going down. Clementine's 'Pick Me Up' bite-sized sessions in the app are also a great way to feel re-energised before or after a meeting, we recommend 'A more productive you' (5 mins) or ''Take a breather' (7 mins). 
 
  • Eye Contact: During meetings and active conversations, try looking directly at the camera, this may give the other person a sense of connection. It won’t make a difference to the person giving the eye contact, but at least the other person will benefit. If we can at least get into the habit of looking into the camera when we’re the one talking, especially when on a call to more than one person, we will limit the sense that we are looking away when we are having conversations with others.

 

  • Body Language: We need nonverbal cues. One way to overcome the obstacle of not seeing enough of the person is to move the camera back so we can show more of ourselves: the more gestures and body language we can see, the better the connection. That’s the hope.

 

  • Put in Boundaries: Regardless of whether you’re the person setting up the Zoom meeting or being invited to one, consider – do we really need to speak via video conferencing? Would we have bothered with this before the pandemic? Does the content of the call and nature of it, really require video conferencing? Be open with your colleague and clients and explain that you’re trying to minimise screen time, for your benefit, and for theirs.

 

As restrictions soften across the UK, here at Clementine, we’re looking forward to those warm hugs, charismatic eye-rolls, spontaneous smiles and in-person sighs - lunch time strolls with a colleague and cocktails with pals are all just around the corner. Until then, lets ensure we’re taking lots of small comfort breaks, and continue to find those delicious human connections in all the other ways that we can. That includes lengthy natters with the postie and Deliveroo drivers!

 

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