The term Zoom fatigue started appearing online around 6 months ago, when most office-based workers swapped face-to-face meetings around a table for home-based face-to-screen ones.
Now we are nearing the end of the cataclysmic year that has been 2020, ‘Zoom fatigue’ should probably be updated to ‘Zoom exhaustion’. Video calls are the bane of many people’s existence, especially if you are an introvert. There are several reasons why they produce an eye-rolling despair among desk-based workers the world over, but in terms of the overwhelming weariness experienced as a result of back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, the key reason is because the cognitive load required for Zoom meetings far exceeds that required for in-person ones.
In the normal office environment, you sit at a distance, you can reach for a biscuit, have a quiet conversation with a colleague, or briefly look out the window to break up the focussed attention. This is impossible in a Zoom meeting. You remain in the same sedentary position, looking straight into colleague’s faces - all up close and personal. You often have to decipher what they are saying when there is a bad connection, while trying to avoid any incursions caused by family or pets. Imagine having to contend with all this in the normal office environment? It’s no wonder we’re all exhausted.
There are many lists circulating about how to make Zoom meetings more bearable including making meetings shorter, scheduling breaks and turning off video. Whilst all these are useful, they are sometimes difficult to implement when your attendance is not a matter of choice. In an ideal world, there would be regular breaks, and video settings would be optional but as we all know, this is often out of our hands.
So, if you need some advice on how to combat, or at least mitigate the drain on your mental and physical resources when you just can’t get out of a Zoom meeting, read on.
1) Don’t try to alleviate any boredom by distracting yourself with other screen based activities
While it’s tempting to keep several browser windows open so you have something to keep you occupied in the periods where focussed attention isn’t required, it’s not the type of distraction that is going to benefit you in any way. It will only increase your cognitive load and exacerbate the Zoom fatigue. Minimise all browser windows that aren’t required for the meeting and avoid multi tasking. Put your phone down too!
2) Turn off self view
Most people don’t like looking at themselves. It’s even worse watching yourself when you’re talking, because it can feel like you’re observing yourself give a presentation, which is hell on earth for many people, especially the socially anxious or introverted.
Looking at yourself also creates extra demand on your attention, and can create the illusion that everyone else is having a similar close up and personal view of you, which can make you anxious about your appearance, and generally self conscious. So, avoid inducing Zoom-driven paranoia by hiding your self view
3) When it comes to social Zoom meetings, go old school and use voice calls
If you’ve been in Zoom meetings all day, why on earth would you want to do that in your down time? It’s only going to exacerbate the dreaded home-at-work syndrome.
Just because Zoom has become the default for social catch ups, it doesn't mean that we have to take all calls via video. By communicating just through voice, the brain doesn’t need to process any additional visual stimuli, so will lessen the impact on your attention. Most messaging apps allow for group chat, so calling isn't just limited to 1-1 chats. You can also separate the work / home environment by using a different mug when making a cuppa, a different playlist, if you’re listening to music, and (if possible) a different room when you’re off duty to maintain a clear line between work and leisure.
4) Minimise the Zoom screen
According to Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson, video conferencing is similar to having a close up and personal conversation with someone just 2 feet away from you, known as the intimate distance and usually reserved for lovemaking, comforting and protecting, While we’re happy (most of the time) allowing our loved ones in this personal space, we experience discomfort when those outside this personal group enter it. It can feel like we’re being attacked. Being 2 feet away from someone can also get the fight or flight response working, as it also resembles the proximity and position of when you’re in a physical fight. So, calm it all down by making them appear further away by minimising the Zoom screen. Keep a simple and serene screensaver in the background if, and when, you don’t have to refer to any other windows.
5) Get physical when you take breaks.
Although this is a more general tip, it’s worth remembering because although it’s important to take breaks, it’s crucial it’s the right type of break. Don’t just reach for the phone or check social media when you’re having a bit of time out. Get up. Stretch. Get the blood flowing. Rotate your shoulders and do some simple warm up exercises to loosen your neck and shoulder muscles to prevent any strain or aches and pains. If you can, try to get outside for some air and get the blood and oxygen pumping. Is it possible to get a walk in your lunch hour? Or when you finish work?
Remember to take care of your eyes too, by making sure any screen or optical equipment is optimised for long periods in front of a screen. Blink and adjust your focus often by looking out the window, or at a picture on the wall.
While we might be required to attend unwanted Zoom meetings, we’re not required to suffer for them, so if you can’t get out of it, you can still make it easier to bear.