You’re just not feeling good, so you contact your doctor (using a handy app, perhaps?). The symptoms: sore eyes, lack of focus and motivation at work, and being really tired of video meetings. The diagnosis: Zoom fatigue.
This problem is not just a catch phrase, it’s an actual psychological issue that is being widely discussed. Spending hours watching people on a screen while under pressure to turn such meetings into business results is a stressful thing to do. Moreover, it’s just not natural.
The Basic Problem
Imagine a meeting where people stare at you without stop for an hour. Besides being creepy, it’s also exhausting. In a normal conversation, you can look around, shift your sitting position, butt in with a quick question, or (surreptitiously) look at your phone. We do these things to take small mental breaks. But on a Zoom call, most of us don’t want to be caught apparently ignoring the conversation, and so we can’t refocus.
ZADD? (Zoom Attention Deficit Disorder)
In the age of ADD, this is particularly troublesome. Many of us (not me, of course) tend to let our minds weave in and out during meetings. I’ve heard from these people that they can catch up by whispering to a neighbor, asking a quick question, or flipping to the previous page of a printed deck.
But during a video call, getting back on track is more difficult. If you ping a coworker, then they lose their concentration or don’t answer you, and asking for a repeat is awkward. Alternately, it’s difficult to know if your message is getting through, because you can’t tell if others are listening or just browsing the web..
The Science Behind It
Psychologists explain that there’s even a chemical reason for Zoom fatigue. During face to face social interactions, dopamine is activated, the same feel-good neurotransmitter substance that addicts us to Instagram messages and Facebook likes. However, during Zoom meetings, when basic non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language are missing, the dopamine “reward” declines. There’s even a theory that the slight delay in remote audio communication during Zoom calls causes mistrust and negative perceptions of people. This is made even worse when people don’t activate their cameras.
In any case, it’s important to deal with Zoom fatigue because nobody knows when the pandemic will end – and even if it does, it looks like virtual meetings are here to stay. Following are a few recommendations to make your remote business dealings more relaxing and effective.
Forget About Being Superman/Superwoman
Multitasking – it’s a myth. Study after study shows that we mistake multitasking for task juggling, and no matter what you call it, trying to do more than one thing at once can actually take more time than the simple approach. In addition, research shows that you won’t remember things as well if you are constantly shifting focus, even when you think that you’re doing just great.
For those of us who are used to fooling around with other programs, our phones, or household chores when on a Zoom call, there’s a good chance that we won’t remember so much from an important online meeting – so what’s the point of being on the call? In other words, don’t tempt yourself with distractions; have only the Zoom call open on your screen. Concentrating on it will be a lot easier if you follow some of the following advice as well.
Look at the Important Things
Most of us are not aware of how much the eye moves. In fact, it never rests, and is constantly looking for visual elements that the brain is attracted to. In terms of Zoom, this means that your eyes are roaming the screen without stopping. Besides looking at the face of the person speaking, you are looking not only at their background but at everybody else’s, and possibly straining to see details, often unconsciously. You are also constantly looking at yourself, which is similarly tiring.
The solution for this problem starts with you – it’s recommended to hide your own image when on a Zoom call (here’s how to do it). Another possible step is to ask call participants who aren’t presenting, and who don’t plan on asking questions, to turn off their video. And finally, it really helps to use a background that is plain, such as a bare wall or company logo.
Diversify Communication Tools
There was a time when a conference call was fine for most meetings, and email was great for sending presentations, which you could always follow up with a telephoned explanation. In some cases, using more of these old school methods will be a relief for you and probably for the other participants.
Many people feel uncomfortable on video calls where they engage with a lot of new faces. On the other hand, for internal meetings that don’t require visuals, there’s no need to see the same people that you’ve been looking at all day. In short, you should actively reduce your Zoom meetings by switching to the alternatives that were effective before the pandemic.
Go Big on Breaks
In addition to the normal pause between meetings, it’s also essential to take relatively long breaks. According to this article, the ideal work-break pattern is 52 minutes of work followed by a 17 minute break. That’s not really possible at your workplace, but if you can arrange for it during your work-at-home day, you will notice significant benefits. To help make this happen, try turning half hour meetings into 25 minute ones, for example. The accumulated free time might let you take a refreshing breather. And make sure to do something physical during those breaks as well.
Nothing Lasts Forever
The good news is that a vaccine for the coronavirus seems to be around the corner. Stories that we will start inoculating vital population segments within a few months from now are common. So let’s look forward to the time when constant Zoom calls are a thing of the past, when we can go back to living in our living rooms, and when we can return to doing business the way we used to. I even look forward to traffic jams.