Recently the two-year anniversary of the first lockdowns in Wuhan, China passed, and it’s made me a bit reflective about the past two years. Thinking back through all the days in lockdowns, semi-lockdowns, and remote work, if there’s one single thing that has been pretty stable and there this whole time, it would probably be Zoom.
By Zoom of course I mean all the different video chat applications that emerged and became part of daily lives: Skype, Teams, Hangouts, etc (Everyone seemed to latch onto Zoom, and so it has become the generic name for all video chats, like Kleenex is for tissues). They are all indispensable, especially for remote and hybrid teams.
These tools have definitely made communication and interaction better, there is no doubt about that. They have allowed people to talk to family and friends who have been separated, and they have led to rapid shifts in how we work and live. But there has been a cost too.
I had heard about the concept of Zoom fatigue a lot throughout the past two years. Almost as soon as the pandemic started and people turned to Zoom, there were articles about how people were starting to get exhausted from it.
I didn’t give it much attention though, partly because I just thought it had to do with sensory fatigue. But after a particularly long day of Zoom meetings, I felt something different from just physical exhaustion from looking at a screen for a long time. As I researched more I found out that there is more to “Zoom Fatigue” than meets the eye.
Zoom fatigue can also cause emotional exhaustion and anxiety as well. Wanting to be alone or feelings of apathy are also quite common. As a team building company that relies on Zoom, both for internal use and for our online activities, this is an important issue for us. But it’s also something that all teams need to be aware of now.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss some of the causes of Zoom fatigue and some solutions that individuals and teams can try. I also want to propose that dealing with this issue head-on can make teams more active in creating new hybrid workspaces and building more inclusive and flexible work environments. This is an opportunity for teams to take control of their own structures and how they communicate.
Some causes of zoom fatigue and solutions you can take to mitigate it
Stanford has been one of the pioneers in researching Zoom fatigue, and has come up with ways to prevent it from occurring. Many of the causes of Zoome fatigue have to do with the fact that Zoom and online chats function differently than normal interactions, which makes our brains and bodies go haywire.
1) Excessive close-up contact
→ Reduce the size of the window
In Zoom chats the window usually takes up the whole screen, which means that we’re seeing faces much more up-close. Also, the amount of eye contact during Zoom meetings is much greater, which can create more stress.
You can minimize this, literally, by changing the size of the window so that it doesn’t cover your whole screen. This might make it easier to look away and give your eyes and mind a break.
2) Seeing yourself constantly
→ Hide self view
Looking at yourself during a whole conversation is also not normal human behavior. We tend to focus our eyes on ourselves during Zoom chats, which makes us less focused on the actual conversation, and may lead to higher levels of self-consciousness and insecurity.
A great way to limit this is to click the “hide self view” button, which makes it so that you no longer see your own video camera. I can say from personal experience that this has been a game changer. I feel more engaged and convivial in conversations, and less anxious at the end of long meetings.
3) Video chats reduce mobility
→ Use external cameras, keyboards or standing desks, and get up and walk around
Whereas in in-person conversations you can walk around and still listen and be heard, in Zoom chats you’re stuck in one place (in front of your screen). This makes a lot of people more anxious or antsy, especially when done for a long period of time.
To manage this, it might be good to invest in external cameras that are farther away from the screen, so that you can move around while talking. A standing desk will also give you some more mobility. And taking more breaks to get up and walk around the room can help as well.
4) Cognitive load is higher
→ Take a visual, audio only breaks where you look away from the screen
By “cognitive load” we mean the amount of things you have to think about and absorb while having a conversation. We’ve evolved pretty well to handle In-person conversations and all the cues, gestures, and subtleties that come with it (most of the time).
But online chats add another layer to this by forcing us to think about things like camera placement, lighting, and sound quality. It’s also more difficult to see and give body language signals online, which means we have to expend more energy noticing them and gesturing them.
One piece of advice to take a visual break by turning off your camera and looking away from the screen. Having the audio there means you’re still participating, but you won’t be so overwhelmed by everything happening on the screen.
How teams can work together to mitigate Zoom Fatigue
However, let’s take a step back and look at what teams as a whole can do. After all, Zoom fatigue is really a team-wide issue that involves some sense of empathy and coming together to resolve an issue that might affect everyone. It’s also about supporting mental health issues on your team.
This provides a good opportunity for teams to discuss solutions together, which will help them build a sense of trust and give them a sense of agency in creating their own workplace culture.
Here are some suggestions that teams can use to mitigate Zoom fatigue together:
•Allow more audio-only meetings.
•Use online video conferencing only when necessary.
•See what other tools or applications can be utilized.
•Give people more breaks/break time in between Zoom sessions.
•Ensure that everyone has the right equipment and resources to meet their online office needs.
•Try Zoom-free days.
•Try incorporating quick, fun activities into Zoom meetings to give the team some energy and raise spirits.
Utilize the opportunities of hybrid teams to transform and empower your team
All this is to say that teams have an amazing opportunity right now to create the hybrid work cultures that they want. Nothing is a given because it’s all new and still being worked out. Which means that there’s a lot of leeway in terms of what teams can be and become.
By coming together and discussing ways of mitigating Zoom fatigue, teams can be empowered to have agency over their hybrid work styles. And really, isn’t that the whole benefit of hybrid teams? The whole concept is hard to pin down because there are so many possible variations, which means greater freedom to direct how teams function and work.
Deciding for yourselves, as a team, how certain tools and technologies will be used, and the etiquette surrounding them, is a major part of deciding what type of hybrid team you will be.