15 Scientifically Proven Ways to Combat Zoom Fatigue
Zoom fatigue is real. No matter your personality type or your job, if you’ve been working from home, you’ve probably felt it. Here’s how to beat it.
Zoom fatigue is real. No matter your personality type or your job, if you’ve been working from home, you’ve probably felt this. It’s that tired, draining, sluggishness that makes you feel like you worked twice as many hours as you actually did.
In this guide, we walk you through the scientific evidence of Zoom fatigue, its dangerous consequences, and steps you can take to fight this phenomenon, as an individual and as a team.
What’s in this guide:
Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon
Why constant video meetings are taxing
The consequences of too many video calls
How to combat Zoom fatigue
Conferencing platform features that can reduce fatigue
How to have better and fewer meetings as a company
Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon
Zoom fatigue refers to the physical and emotional changes that occur after spending too much time on online conference calls, particularly web conferencing. The definition of “too much time” varies greatly by individual. While a first grade student might experience Zoom fatigue after 30 minutes, a highly social adult may not feel the effects until they’ve taken five hours worth of video calls in one day.
“When we communicate using Zoom calls, we don't have the ability to read body language and non-verbal cues as well as during in-person meetings. This forces us to pay more attention to what a person is saying,” says Dr. Brian Wind, Chief Clinical Officer of JourneyPure, an addiction treatment center, and adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University.
“It's also harder to recognize if the other participants in your call are paying attention, or to have parallel conversations, which hinders collaboration. A person is typically processing visual cues from multiple call participants simultaneously in a way that you wouldn't in a conference room.”
Other inventions that have caused awkward cultural changes
While Zoom fatigue might be new, ways of dealing with other humans are not. Once upon a time, people weren’t sure how to interact with each other in elevators, before cultural conventions formed. And while some people hate the awkwardness of social interactions while wearing masks, some service industry employees find mask-wearing a welcome respite from being forced to smile. In other words, Zoom fatigue is difficult, but we’re not powerless against it.
Why constant video meetings are taxing
The question becomes, why are video meetings so exhausting?
Unnatural amount of eye contact
When every participants’ camera is on, meeting participants will make sure to stare at the screen, so everyone knows they are listening and paying attention. This can create an eerie level of eye contact, particularly for people who are sensitive or on the Autism spectrum.
“It is emotionally exhausting to see an image of yourself the entire time you are talking or listening,” explains Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., content contributor for InvigorMedical. We tend to evaluate our words and with Zoom, we also evaluate how we look and gesture.”
Limited physical movement
During a phone conversation, you might walk around your office to get in some steps, or even put the dishes away. But when videos are on, you’re glued in place.
Unnatural nonverbal communication
“Humans are wired to communicate in synchrony. Talking, gesturing, and the timing of communication have a complex interplay like a dance,” says Poston. “This synchrony is hard to achieve when using Zoom. The lack of non-verbal and real-time feedback is exhausting.
You might experience these issues regularly:
Hard to know when it’s your turn to speak
Unsure when someone else is going to jump in
Awkward moments when people accidentally cut each other off
Difficulty showing attentiveness
The consequences of too many video calls
Zoom fatigue can majorly threaten your mental health and energy levels. Here’s how.
For adult humans, about 3 hours of in-person socializing tires us, but introverts, in particular, will find overstimulation to be physically and emotionally punishing. Neurologically, however, Zoom fatigue is very different from in-person socializing fatigue.
That’s because Zoom communications, as computer-mediated communication, converts each human being into a 3D version of themselves.
“Participants are not engaged as human actors but “flattened” into a totality of third skin comprising person, background, and technology,” writes Robby Nadler, Director of Academic Professional and Technical Graduate Writing Development and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
We feel not as if we are interacting with a real human being, but the flattened version. All humans involved in the meeting don’t have their normal nonverbal cues or way of even viewing the world and their surroundings.
What’s more, the unusually high level of eye contact during video meetings is the closest thing that neurotypical people will ever come to experiencing what it’s like to live with Asperger’s syndrome.
Psychological and emotional consequences
With more people working from home, Zoom fatigue (and its fallout) is on the rise. “There is more pressure of being performative because everyone can see you at all times. As a doctor, I once came across a patient who thought she had depression and had been on anti-depression meds when all she had was Zoom fatigue. That's the effect this can have on you,” explains Rahil Chaudhary, an MD at Eye7 Hospital in Delhi.
Not being productive at work is stressful. You’re likely measured on your performance and deliverables, not how many Zoom sessions you attend. When too many video meetings ruin your to-do list, you can experience mild to severe anxiety.
How to combat Zoom fatigue
Zoom fatigue isn’t a comical pandemic-era meme. It can have a massive impact on your life. To protect your wellbeing, try these tips.
Don’t attempt to multitask
It’s tempting to use virtual meetings as an opportunity to get other things done, but it’s just not worth it. When you’re multitasking, you’re rapidly switching between two tasks, something that humans are notoriously bad at.
Set a maximum number of calls per day and per week (if possible)
If you use an online meeting scheduler like Calendly, you can change your account settings to only allow a set number of calls per day and per week. For example, you might allow up to three calls per day and up to 12 calls per week. Of course, if you’re in sales, customer success, or customer service, this won’t be possible. (But keep reading for lots more tips that will work for you.)
Block out time for breaks
Whether in your Google calendar or a scheduling tool like Clockwise, block out times for breaks. Schedule your lunch break and at least one 15-minute break for physical activity every day. Bonus points for two daily breaks.
Create no-call days (if you can)
Switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40% of your productive time. The human brain takes 15-30 minutes to effectively context switch. That’s why – if your job or business allows – it’s wise to block off a day or two every weekday in your calendar as “no meetings days. If you don’t take calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays for example, you’ll not only have more time for deep, focused work because of the lack of calls but the lack of call hangovers too.
Create productive post-call practices
Some people struggle with context switching more than others. If video calls drain you (rather than give you energy), you might find yourself numbly scrolling through social media for 20 minutes after every call. If possible, find a more productive way to spend your post-call time. Maybe that’s a good time to check your email or write the next day’s to-do list?
Hide your own face (from yourself)
No matter how much you like or don’t like your appearance, it’s a good idea to hide your own face from view. Video meetings are a known cause of body dysmorphia, so much so that “Zoom dysmorphia” has led to an increase in facial cosmetic procedures. You can change the meeting controls to hide all faces, or just hide yourself behind a blank tab.
Let the other person suggest or request video if they want to
If you’re in charge of planning a meeting, let the other person suggest a video call. That way, you’re not pressuring them to turn their camera on. With audio-only calls, it’s easier to stand up and stretch (and feel less self-conscious too).
“We can experience Zoom fatigue if we are simply tired of staring at our computer screen. We have been yearning to get outside and back to normalcy, but are needing to continue communications over the computer. Going onto Zoom or on the computer can leave us feeling frustrated and just plain ‘over it,’” says Donna T. Novak, licensed psychologist practicing in Simi Valley, California.
Create and share an agenda for each meeting
While it’s fun to chit-chat with clients and colleagues, the reality is that the meeting exists for a reason. Help everyone get to the point more quickly and stay on track with a meeting agenda. You can email it the day before the start of the meeting, or include bullet points in the Google event description.
Web conferencing platform features that can reduce fatigue
Not all web and video conferencing platforms are the same. Look for these smart and sanity-boosting features.
No need to download anything for the meeting to work
Zoom is notorious for slowing down your computer, which slows down your audio and video too. This only makes communication more unnatural. Choose a video conferencing platform that works in any browser (no downloads required).
Spotlight the main speaker (so everyone else can chill)
What is the purpose of having everyone’s videos on? Giving everyone the same visual treatment when only one or a few people are talking doesn’t make much sense. Highlight the speaker so everyone else can just listen and not worry about their appearance.
Reduce the number of onscreen videos for large meetings
The fewer people who are on the screen, the fewer distractions there are for all participants, and the fewer people who will experience fatigue. Reducing the number of onscreen videos is more inclusive. It provides better focus for everyone, and it shows your team you trust that they are engaged. That’s why Whereby limits all meetings to 12 on screen participants, but of course, there can be fewer too.
Push to talk
No more awkward moments when your kid starts laughing loudly at something in the background (just me?). For large meetings, push to talk, so you’re automatically muted when your finger is not on the space bar. Neat.
Emoji reactions for quick feedback
No need to blow up the chat and derail the speaker. Look for a video meeting platform that offers emoji reactions for instant and interactive feedback.
Chat bubbles to add thoughts (without pinging the speaker)
It’s also useful to be able to add thoughts that won’t derail the speaker. With Whereby, you can not only add emojis, but small chat bubbles too, and the speaker won’t have to scroll through these to find important questions. Instead, they show up over your video screen and then disappear.
How to have better, fewer meetings as a company
Your habits as a company have a huge effect on everyone’s mental health and productivity. Follow these best practices to combat Zoom fatigue.
Make sure team leaders aren’t requiring too many meetings
Set company-wide policies and recommendations for how, when, and why meetings are scheduled. For example, your policy could include recommendations for the max number of team meetings per week or even a maximum number of participants, and you can also share strategies on how to break up teams into smaller working groups. You might also include a company-wide template for meeting agendas. And when large meetings are required, breakout rooms can help everyone team up and engage in smaller groups.
Don’t schedule too many mandatory virtual team-building events
Make sure team leaders and administrators are mindful of the number of virtual team-building activities employees are expected to join. And consider making virtual team-building non-compulsory, except for maybe one company event at the end of every quarter or year.
Encourage team members to default to 15-minute meetings for check-ins
For some reason, 30-minute meetings are the default for many remote workers. But why? Encourage everyone to default to 15-minute meetings, unless 30 minutes truly is called for.
Only invite the people who really need to be there
Only inviting the right people to a meeting requires thought. (It’s more than just not being click-happy.) For example, if you’re collaborating with your team on a virtual event, you can involve three stakeholders to decide on the theme of the event, instead of everyone who will help execute it. Take a look at the projects you’re working on and strategize how to break everyone up into sensible – and smaller – working groups.
Consider weekly (instead of daily) standups
At many tech companies, engineering’s daily standup has spread to other teams. While software engineers might need to meet every day to talk through tasks and blockers, other teams do not. For example, quality assurance, marketing, sales, HR, finance, and administrative teams can probably suffice with weekly team meetings and individual check-ins as needed.
Use Clockwise to track total meeting hours
As a manager, it’s tough to know if your colleagues are engaged in too many meetings each week and month, or if it’s the right amount for fostering collaboration. Clockwise is a time-blocking app that also provides reporting into everyone’s meeting time relative to their focus time. Personally, we love it.
Reiterate your appreciation for coworkers on multiple communication channels (not just video calls)
“Audio and video speeds that are below in-person levels can negatively affect interpersonal communication. Often, relationships over Zoom, despite normal amounts of communication, do not yield fulfilling levels of friendship. Reiterating appreciation for coworkers and clients is a vital step to combatting Zoom fatigue,” says Dr. Bryan Bruno, Medical Director at Mid City TMS, a New York City-based medical center focused on treating depression.
There are simple ways to put this into action. For example, when someone turns something in, you might write back “Amazing, thanks for getting this to me on time!” Or at the end of a team meeting (where you didn’t require everyone to be on video), you could say, “Thank you so much for being here and giving this your full attention. I loved seeing all your emoji reactions today!” Let people know that you care and that you trust them.
Use Whereby for video meetings that are much less exhausting
Whereby is a web, video, and audio conferencing solution that was built to combat fatigue. With lots of specially designed features, including presenter spotlights and distraction-free reactions, Whereby provides a completely different experience than what you’re used to.