It’s hard to believe this all started three years ago. As we headed into the lockdown, we were met with all sorts of anxieties. What would it be like working from home all the time? How would we deal with diminished human contact – with friends, family, and co-workers? Employers were concerned about worker productivity. And everyone was wearing a mask.
It turns out most of those anxieties turned into opportunities. Studies show that most workers prefer hybrid or fully remote working. Companies have found they could widen their talent since they were no longer bound by geography.
And we all became familiar with the phrase: “You’re on mute.”
One of the downsides to remote working, however, is Zoom fatigue. Better known as virtual fatigue, it applies whether you are using Zoom, Teams, Go To Meeting, or any virtual meeting software. Often our days are consumed by staring at a screen and conducting one meeting after another. Virtual fatigue is not – yet – a formal diagnosis, but it is very real.
The Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab has studied virtual fatigue and has come up with four causes and possible solutions:
Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is very intense. In an in-person meeting, our eyes would wander around the room rather than being focused on our screen. One suggested solution is to take Zoom out of full-screen mode to reduce the face sizes.
Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. Think of what it would be like if you had a mirror in front of you during an in-person meeting. Consider using the “hide self-view” function on the meeting software.
Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility. Personally, I find I can think better when I’m pacing. In a normal meeting, people will stand up and stretch. On Zoom, we are forced to sit in basically one position. One solution could be to use an external keyboard so you can move farther away from the camera.
The cognitive load is much higher during video chats. One of the keys to interpersonal communication are non-verbal gestures. Body language is important. We lose that on video chats. One suggestion is to take an “audio only” break. Turn off your camera and turn away from the screen and just listen.
There are other suggestions for diminishing virtual fatigue. If you don’t have to be in the meeting, tap out. Or watch the video recording at a later time. If you can, turn off your camera. Build in breaks by minimizing the chat or just looking away from the screen.
The biggest opportunity is to ask – is this meeting really necessary? Could it be handled by e-mail or a phone call?
Virtual fatigue is one of the unintended consequences of the switch to the hybrid model. We all deal with it to a certain degree. However, if it is causing you to reach the burnout stage, seek alternatives. There are plenty of studies on this subject that can help you cope. Above all – be honest with yourself and your employer.