2020 brought introduced us to numerous unexpected challenges, among them a new phenomenon called Zoom Fatigue. The Psychiatric Times described Zoom Fatigue as “the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. Like other experiences associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom fatigue is widely prevalent, intense, and completely new.”
In a recently released, peer-reviewed psychological study of Zoom Fatigue, researchers at Stanford University identified four explanations for the phenomenon:
1. Eye contact
As an article in Fast Company points out, faces on video conferences are typically larger and closer and eye contact is typically maintained longer and more intensely than in real-life interactions. While eye contact causes the release of beneficial hormones throughout the brain, prolonged close contact signals to your brain that the conversation you’re having is more intimate than it probably is, forcing you into a “hyper-aroused” state.
2. Cognitive load
Nonverbal signals account for about 55% of communication. According to the Stanford study, “in face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication flows naturally.” In video conferences, however, we are not only forced to consciously monitor our nonverbal behavior and intentionally generate and send cues to others — centering ourselves in the camera, nodding to show agreement, speaking louder and more clearly than usual — we also work harder to detect and interpret nonverbal communication.
Unless you change the default settings on your video conferencing software, odds are you spend hours each workday looking at yourself on your computer screen. According to the Standford study, “people are more likely to evaluate themselves when seeing a mirror image” and that this self-evaluation can be stressful.
4. Restricted movement
“During face-to-face meetings, people move,” the study states. “They pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass. There are a number of studies showing that movement causes better performance in meetings.” Video calls, however, require us to sit in front of a computer. For many, that means hours of continuous sitting throughout the day.
Tips for combatting zoom fatigue
AIIR pioneered the use of video conferencing as the primary method for delivering executive coaching. We asked members of the AIIR Global Coaching Network, a community of seasoned executive coaches who have, over the course of a decade, collectively delivered countless hours of executive and team coaching sessions via video, to share their best advice for combatting Zoom Fatigue. Here’s what they said.
Ask: Does this need to be a meeting? If so, does it need to be over video?
For every meeting request, ask: does this need to be a meeting? Can we email, text, Slack, or communicate another way? If it does need to be a meeting, does this meeting need to be over video? Identify the best use of video conference and treat it as sacred. You should, ideally, have no more than three to four hours of video conferences per day.
Allie Wilkinson | AIIR Boston
Switch to email or phone when possible. For so many leaders today, video has become the default for almost all their communications. However, once they look at their calendar and parse the different types of meetings, they'll likely find many meetings can be done just as well by phone or email. A lot of these will be internal meetings, but the phone can be especially good for external calls with clients and vendors, or for networking. Let the person with whom you’re meeting know you would appreciate a break from video, and ask if they would be willing to accommodate. Odds are high the other person may be equally relieved not to have another video call.
Marie-Jeanne Juilland | AIIR San Francisco
Move meetings with people you have existing relationships with to phone calls. Try to limit your time on Zoom to fewer than four hours per day. Be the change you’re eager to see!
Danessa Knaupp | AIIR Richmond, VA
Take a walk or change the scenery
Move from zoom to a walk and talk. This is most successful with small groups of no more than three. All participants can call in from their phones and go for a walk while meeting.
Michelle Braden | AIIR Charlottesville, VA
Not all calls need to be in-person via video. Look for opportunities to meet on the phone and take a walk together. There are benefits to walking and talking — it can increase your problem-solving skills, it can help you think beyond current constraints and with more innovation, and it's great for your health too!
Cindy Wolpert | AIIR Boston
When the weather and person with whom your Zoom meeting is scheduled permits, take your video calls outside in your garden, from a park bench, walking along the beach, or wherever you can get outside. Not only does it add variety to your day, but it also adds variety for the person with whom you are talking. If going outside isn’t possible, ask the meeting attendees to stretch or exercise together for three minutes at the beginning of the call and again at the end. This changes the energy on the call and improves physical condition and focus.
Natalie Schürmann | AIIR Brussels
Take a break
A key reason for Zoom fatigue is ceaseless, back-to-back meetings, from early in the morning to late in the day. Where possible, incorporate at least a 15-minute break before or after each video conference and ensure you take a longer mid-day break of at least 30 minutes, whether to have something to eat, get some exercise, or get some fresh air outdoors. Establish boundaries regarding how early and how late your calls will extend while still remaining flexible as necessity dictates. And, importantly, if you have someone else scheduling your meetings, be sure that they understand these parameters.
Rhonda Gutenberg | AIIR San Francisco
Schedule shorter meetings
End meetings five minutes early to give you and your colleagues some downtime between video conferences. Use that downtime to walk around and take some deep breaths. Avoid checking your phone or email — use that time for yourself.
Julie Rohmer | AIIR Florida
Schedule shorter meetings. Yes, you will survive! Not only that, your team and other meeting participants will thrive. The move to day-long virtual engagement and collaboration has enabled businesses to carry on, but moving from Zoom to TEAMS to Webex and back to Zoom again with little or no break has consequences — detachment, disorientation, distress, and even disgust. Reducing hour-long meetings to 50 minutes or half-hour meetings to 20 minutes will pay significant ROM — Return On Meeting follow-up.
David Yudis | AIIR Los Angeles
Stop watching yourself
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was experiencing Zoom Fatigue first-hand — I was getting headaches and falling asleep hours earlier than I used to. Now I hide my self-view during video calls so I don't have to look at myself (my wrinkles, my greys, my stained sweater) all day. Research backs me up.
Deanna Siegel Senior | AIIR NYC
Choose to hide self-view in your settings. On top of the distraction that the self-view can create, studies have shown that seeing a reflection of yourself can enhance self-criticism and create unhelpful emotions. Seeing yourself in real-time so frequently can add to your stress level. Turning off the self-view option once your face is adequately framed can help relieve some of the fatigue.
Selima Wandoren | AIIR NYC
Try to spend less energy looking at yourself and instead spend that energy paying attention to nonverbal cues of others, which is much harder via zoom.
Rosa Grunhaus Belzer | AIIR San Diego
Rest your eyes
Remember to practice “20/20 vision” — alternate 20 minutes on Zoom with 20 seconds moving your eyes away from the screen.
Maureen Rabotin | AIIR Florida
Lighting is critical. Natural light is wonderful but rarely a good option. Purchasing professional ring lighting for Zoom meetings will not only help you appear more alert on screen but it will also help you feel more alert. Adding a sunlight lamp can also boost energy and assist with seasonal darkness and gloominess.
Marsha King | AIIR NYC
Take care of yourself
Make sure you do all the things you need to generally for self-care — get proper rest, eat balanced meals, hydrate, exercise, meditate, etc. Adding all-day Zoom calls to the mix when you’re already not at a great starting point only exacerbates the fatigue.
Dana M. Smith | AIIR Annapolis