By Angelica Mitra
You get up and get ready to work at home. You open your computer and you see it: a new Zoom invite. Another day, another set of virtual meetings and video calls. You wonder why this is draining you when you have been conducting meetings over video even before the pandemic hit.
You are not alone in the struggle.
Videoconferencing has become part of the new daily routine in conducting work meetings and even catching up with colleagues. Even outside of work, video chats are increasingly used to “hang out” with friends and family.
While videoconferencing is an efficient substitute, it comes with some disadvantages. “Zoom fatigue,” or the mental exhaustion related to videoconferences and video calls, is slowly making its way to work meetings and friendly happy hours.
Check these signs and symptoms on your next call:
• Headache and/or sore and irritated eyes during or after a video call—Hours on video calls on top of being in front of the computer all day may exacerbate existing vision problems or trigger new complications. The strain of focusing on the screen could cause headaches. Resting your eyes for a few minutes in between calls or during downtime helps.
• Difficulty in focusing and keeping track of the discussion—It takes a right headspace to perform well during a video call. Ambush video calls or those scheduled too closed after another may disrupt the participant’s thought process and regular work schedule, and may affect comprehension and focus, if not reduce overall productivity for the day.
• Frustration or annoyance at not having a chance to talk or be heard—It’s too easy to be just another box in a screen full of other faces and just let the discussion flow without participating. But a healthy videoconference or work meeting must promote inclusivity and give everyone a chance to talk and express their views and concerns.
• Dread upon seeing another invite to a video call—Seeing another invite to a videoconference brings back memories of previous technical issues and incites anxiety about having to dress up to look professional, intensified by the constant fear of a housemate suddenly making an unexpected noise or appearance in the background.
Virtual meetings can drain your energy and decrease your productivity levels even if essentially you’re just in one place the whole time.
A lot can happen in one 30-minute Zoom session and pinpointing one main reason for experiencing fatigue is hard. Here are some potential reasons why you’re starting to dread Zoom calls:
• Analyzing facial expressions, voice tone, and body language on-screen consumes a lot of energy—With limited nonverbal cues to “digest” alongside verbal responses, participants can have difficulty “reading” all facial expressions, much less the body language, of participants in a video meeting.
Attendees are hard-pressed to focus on words and sustain eye contact, which when prolonged is tiring and strains the eyes. Participants also have the tendency to overthink and feel confused about how to approach the discussion or behave because virtual meetings do not provide the same context as face-to-face meetings that enables attendees to be sensitive to subtle side looks, silent disagreements, and other minute signals that influence the tone or reflect the mood or atmosphere of the meeting.
• Being “on camera” gives off the feeling of having to “perform” while on call—To avoid being misinterpreted or viewed as disinterested, attendees tend to put more effort to appear awake and focused during a call. In addition, being in front of the camera can subconsciously trigger a feeling of needing to look good and act good. Some find having to change out of one’s house clothes and into “office” clothes for the meeting burdensome.
• Delays and lags affect comprehension and understanding—Technical difficulties during a call create many awkward silences that not only ruin the flow of the conversation but also break the “in meeting” mode of the call. A few seconds of silence can be fine in face-to-face meetings, but online, these “pauses” work against creating a good flow. Participants whose discussion is interrupted because of connection problems can feel frustrated at having to constantly repeat themselves, while those who didn’t get any word of what was being said can feel irritated, bored, or lose interest in the meeting altogether.
• Using the same medium for personal and work communication results in social roles overlapping—Familiar routines such as going out with friends after work and water cooler chats in the office have been disrupted as video calls become the main medium for connecting with both friends and colleagues. This means that social roles that usually happen in different spaces in an office have collapsed to a computer screen, inducing anxiety and subconsciously reminding everyone of the unfavorable situation of the world.
• Multitasking during a videoconference divides attention and focus—Doing multiple things at once, especially tasks that require different types of expertise, cuts into one’s focus and productivity. Turning certain parts of your mind on and off to focus on a different type of work could leave you feeling disoriented and ineffective even after accomplishing many tasks. Multitasking could also lessen your chances of retaining the information and techniques you learned, because instead of focusing on the quality, you’re more concerned about the quantity.
Multitasking during a video meeting is even more challenging because while you can open several screens on your computer and continue to work on that report during a meeting, you are aware at the back of your head that you have to appear active in the meeting and that any changes in your facial expressions as you concentrate on that report could give you away and alert the other participants. Accidentally clicking the wrong button could show your screen to the other participants or push you out of the meeting altogether.
Now that Zoom and other videoconferencing apps are part of the new normal, and health safety measures prevent us from reverting to the time when we can have face-to-face meetings again, we must adapt and find ways to make the most of the situation.
Alleviate or lessen Zoom fatigue and maintain a healthy relationship with videoconferencing with these tips:
• Turn off the camera if possible—Using the camera not only means seeing all the participants’ faces on the screen but also seeing yours, which could trigger anxiety over how your face and background look or an accidental cameo by your housemates. Turn the camera off if the meeting doesn’t require all cameras to be in use. You can just turn the video mode on when necessary during the meeting run. If you need the camera during the entire meeting, try turning your screen to the side or upward instead of straight ahead. Mimicking the setup of a conference room might help with concentration and focus.
• Create an agenda and send it to participants ahead of time—As much as friendly chatter at the beginning of the call makes participants comfortable and at ease, it could also go overboard and cause the meeting to extend beyond the schedule and exhaust all participants in the process. A well-structured virtual call is the answer. If you’re the one organizing the call, share a skeletal agenda before the meeting to prepare the mindset of the attendees. Set aside some time for a quick catch up with colleagues and then dive into the meeting topics, using the agenda as a guide to ensure all important issues are covered without running overtime.
• Make sure everyone gets to join in the discussion—Introverts and extroverts alike are both experiencing a disruption in communication and may need extra time to get used to the new setup. Start with greeting participants as they “enter” the call and make sure that all microphones and cameras, if necessary, are working. It should be the moderators’ task to create an inclusive Zoom environment where answers and clarifications are entertained, and anyone who wishes to speak can do so. Utilizing the chat feature of videoconferencing apps also helps in keeping the meeting interactive.
• Limit video calls to those that are essential and relevant—A lot can be accomplished with a detailed email, instant messaging, or even a phone call. Not all discussions require a formal meeting. Videoconferences may be a smart option for recreating the vibe of the conference room, but for less complicated meetings such as briefings and business updates, the other options are also worth considering.
• Set boundaries and transitions after each videoconference—Scheduling one Zoom call right after another further blurs the line between work and home, making it difficult to separate personas now that all communication happens in the same space. Moving away from the computer screen for a few minutes to stretch or drink coffee lets one take a break and get in the proper headspace before taking another call. A change in scenery is also a great way to de-stress between meetings.
Zoom fatigue is real and more people are going to realize it in the coming days. Modern solutions and tools may be helpful, but the quickest step to spot Zoom fatigue and prevent it from happening in your next call is to pay attention to how your mind and body feel.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.