Zoom fatigue is real. The science backs it up. And here’s how.
1) There is a disconnect between what you feel and what you see
There are none of the usual social cues that allow you to relax into the conversation. On video you can feel the presence of another person, but you can’t see them properly. There’s a meeting of your ideas and thoughts to satisfy the mind, but your body knows it’s alone.
With so much of our communication being non-verbal, knowing you can see the person, your brain expects to be able to read those signals. But in fact, it can’t.
The frustrations of technical freezes and delays aside, with video chat, you’re unable to see the subtle hand and face movements that indicate interest – or disinterest! And you’re aware that they can’t read yours either, so you sit there nodding incessantly like some dog sat at the back of a Skoda – just to make sure everyone knows you’re happy and attentive.
When someone looks away it’s impossible to tell if they’re listening, thinking, or reading an email. It’s exhausting trying to concentrate on what you’re saying while pretending you’re not trying to figure them out.
You speak while looking at so many mini screens within a screen, and you can’t catch the expressions on others’ faces, or hear the inhalation of breath that lets you know when someone else has something to say. In fact, collaboration has gone altogether.
There are no brief whispered parallel conversations going on as you might get in a face-to-face meeting. There is no real eye contact. No sparks of energy as two people suddenly come to the same realisation. Basically, it’s a conversation, but not as we know it. So, no wonder our brains are tired.
2) You can’t stop looking at yourself and the way you move
As if trying to read the nuance of another isn’t enough to give you Zoom fatigue, you can see yourself on camera.
‘Can they tell I’m looking at myself?’
‘If I look at them now, will they know I wasn’t before?’
‘Do I really have such a scrawny neck – what if I turn to this side, or stretch my chin forward?’
‘Do I really pull that face when I’m concentrating?’
Your discussion with your inner voice is distracting at best and headache-provoking at worst. But it’s just as tiring to ignore.
3) Technical interruptions often extend the length of the meeting
Back in the real world it was frustrating enough to have key people arrive a few minutes late, or to find yourself over-running. Thanks to video meetings you’re not sure if they’re going to drop out of the conversation mid-sentence.
Will they return?
Suddenly, you find yourself moved to a different platform in the same meeting, trying to surreptitiously write an email postponing your next call while pretending you are in fact merely listening intently. You thought you’d left plenty of time in between.
You never leave enough time.
The meeting is now three times the length it should have been. And you’re not even sure whether you’ve achieved anything.
Do everyone a favour – especially yourself. Ensure your meetings are necessary. Could you achieve as much by email or phone, where your brain can focus on one sensory input?
4) It’s a headache to find the right backdrop to your video call
The days of dressing up for work aren’t over – at least from the waist up. Only now you also have front over backlighting to worry about. And that’s before you think about the backdrop…
Is sitting in front of your bookcase too nerdy? Or worse – not sophisticated enough? Should the aloe vera leaves be at a 45- or 90-degree angle from the waving cat (whoops, I mean maneki-neko)?
At the end of it all, you’re left wondering if you’ll ever be able to look at your colleague the same way again knowing you’ve seen their overflowing laundry basket.
5) You’ve already been looking at a screen all day
You don’t need to be a chemist to notice the ever-increasing eyedrops on our high streets. Blepharitis is a thing. A dry eye condition, to be more specific. If you get pain between your eyes or at one or other eye socket, reach for the eye drops. Then book an appointment with an optometrist.
Remember those days when you got a break from screens while commuting, chatting at the coffee machine about your weekend indiscretions, or in face-to-face team meetings? Me neither.
But the more time you have on screens the more you have to care for your own well-being, or you’ll burn out.
6) Available all day? You’ll need to be extra cautious about your work/life balance
As a meditation instructor, I understand the importance of taking time out every day to care for my brain. Meditation exercises the brain the same way that push-ups do the body.
It doesn’t mean I’m always on point with my work/life balance, though. As a business owner, it’s easy to find yourself working every day.
As an employee, it’s just as easy to find your private time being eaten into by a micro-managing boss and their video surveillance. Or by meetings being organised during evenings or weekends…
‘Why not? You have access to your laptop all day.’
Yep – that’s the time to create some boundaries for your own sanity.
In summary: how to avoid Zoom fatigue
- Give your brain a break. Of course it’s tired. There is dissonance between what it sees, feels and knows.
- If a video call is really necessary, consider turning your mike or camera off at intervals.
- If you do have to look at yourself, be kind. You’re not turning into your nanna. And who cares if you are? I’m sure she’s pretty awesome!
- Don’t forget to take care of your body and your eyes. It’s hard being at a screen all day. Seek professional advice with regard to posture, exercises and the health of your eyes.
Lastly, it’s hard to separate work from play if you do both things in the same place. So, try to change that. And then block off times, and even days in your diary, for things you need to do for you – then fill in work around that.