Despite the lockdown, most people we speak to claim to have busier than normal schedules, thanks to Zoom or the ease of video conferencing in general. However, it turns out it isn’t that easy. People are complaining of ‘Zoom fatigue’. Whilst we no longer have to fight the commute fatigue, the back to back endless Zoom calls are causing a different sort of strain on people’s brains. Libby Sander and Oliver Bauman, who are assistant professors of Organisational Behaviour and Psychology respectively, explain why this might be the case and what we can do to fight it:
1. We miss out on a lot of non-verbal communication: Our feelings and attitudes are largely conveyed by nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures, posture and the distance between the communicators. In a face-to-face meeting, we process these cues largely automatically and we can still listen to the speaker at the same time. But on a video chat, we need to work harder to process nonverbal cues. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. Our minds are together when our bodies feel that we’re not. That dissonance — which causes people to have conflicting feelings — is exhausting. Also, in face-to-face meetings we rely heavily on nonverbal cues to make emotional judgements, such as assessing whether a statement is credible. We automatically take in information such as: Is the person fidgeting? Predominantly relying on verbal information to infer emotions is tiring.
2. What if the kids run in?: We feel anxious about our remote workspace and events that might make us look bad to our colleagues. Will my Zoom background suddenly fail, leaving my hoarding tendencies on full display?
3. No water-cooler catch-ups: In person, we often meet people on the way to a meeting to catch up on issues or discuss our views before going in. We get coffee, and the simple act of relocating to a different room is energizing. But at home, we might be just working on a task and then we get on to Zoom, often without taking breaks. Also, walking is known to improve creativity, highlighting the importance of discussions while walking to meetings, moving around during the meeting, and holding the now popular stand-up meetings. But we can’t walk on Zoom calls.
4. Looking at our own face is stressful: The heightened emphasis on facial cues and the ability to see oneself can also act as a stressor. Viewing our own negative facial expressions, like anger and disgust, can lead to more intense emotions than when viewing similar facial expressions in others.
5. Are you listening or are you frozen?: Silence in real-life conversation is important and creates a natural rhythm. But in a video call, silence makes you anxious about the technology. Even a 1.2 second delay in responding online made people perceive the person talking as less friendly or focused. In addition, frustration with people turning their microphones on and off, lagging connections, and background noise mean the meeting rarely flows as smoothly.
What can we do to fight the fatigue:
“Firstly, consider whether the meeting needs to happen. In some cases, shared document platforms with detailed comments can reduce the need to meet.
Limiting the number of Zoom meetings in a day can assist, as well as using messaging and email.
And sometimes, the phone is better. On the phone, we only have to concentrate on one voice and can walk around which can help thinking.”
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