Zoom fatigue — it’s the exhaustion you feel after a video call, video chat, or Zoom meeting.
You’re drained, cranky, and feel unproductive. The thought of having to interact with your team, other humans — heck, even your cat — feels completely unfathomable. Yet your calendar pings you with an alert: you’ve got another call in five minutes.
Zoom fatigue is real. An unofficial diagnosis born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom fatigue can happen, not only to users of the video conferencing platform, but to anyone who spends lots of time on video meetings of any kind.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, that “at risk” group includes many of us.
Here, we’ll cover Zoom fatigue symptoms, the science behind why it happens in the first place, and what you can do to combat Zoom fatigue on your team.
Zoom fatigue can feel similar to burnout, fatigue, or exhaustion. Here are some telltale signs to look out for:
Left untreated, Zoom fatigue can take a major toll on your team’s wellbeing. It often snowballs to larger problems too, like decreased engagement, negative attitudes, poor team dynamics, and burnout.
Back-to-back meetings have always been exhausting, so what makes Zoom meetings any different? It has a lot to do with the way our brains process interactions over video versus an in-person meeting.
First off, video meetings take increased cognitive load and emotional effort. During in-person conversations, we rely on nonverbal communication, body language, and cues to read each other. Small things, like whether a person is facing towards you, what a teammate is doing with their arms, or the way someone takes a quick breath and leans forward when they want to cut in, all have meaning to our brain in processing the interaction. They signal to us how the rest of the room feels at any given moment, and how we should be acting in response.
Over Zoom, we have to work a lot harder to send and receive these same signals.
To act interested or engaged, we might purposely stare more diligently at the speaker’s face on the screen. (This can actually make you more tired.) To show agreement, there’s the exaggerated nod or thumbs up — both take more effort for our bodies and brains to do. During in-person meetings, we’re naturally able to scan the physical space to gauge how the rest of the participants are acting. On Zoom, trying to read the room requires a lot more energy as our eyes dart around from speaker to participants. It’s a lot to take in.
“When our brains are forced to decode so much different information all at once, no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.” – Julia Sklar, National Geographic
There’s also that feeling that you have to constantly keep yourself in check: Am I still in the center of the screen? Am I doing something weird with my face? What’s that new wrinkle on my forehead?! Research on Zoom fatigue from Stanford University explains that seeing your own face reflected back in self-view tends to make you feel more critical of yourself, and can be extremely mentally taxing.
The same Stanford University study found that part of what causes Zoom fatigue is the amount of intense, sustained eye contact.
“In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time.” – Vignesh Ramachandran, Stanford News
It’s stressful, even if you’re not the speaker, since you’re constantly looking at giant, close-up faces staring back at you. Prolonged eye contact can actually trigger the brain to feel threatened or intimate — neither of which you want to feel on a call for work.
Video calls also take a greater toll than in-person meetings because they force us to sit still. Even during back-to-back meetings in an office, you spend the time between walking, moving, to your next meeting. At home, back-to-back virtual meetings force us to sit in the same chair for hours on end. It’s limiting in a way that’s not natural and, for many, the ability to move around while talking and listening actually helps us think.
At home, giving your undivided attention to anything takes more work too. There are likely added distractions — like roommates, pets, or kids — and the desire to multitask when no one else is physically around can be much stronger.
The easiest way to fight Zoom fatigue is to cut down on time spent in video meetings.
Take a moment each quarter to evaluate the standing meetings on your team’s calendar and see if there’s an opportunity to do things differently.
Evaluate your meetings by asking yourself the following.
This should help you identify meetings you no longer need or meetings that can be moved to an async format.
Async communication happens in writing, instead of in-person. It’s a great way to keep remote and hybrid teams in sync without having to meet for a video chat. It also has the added benefit of improving access to information and creating a written record of all your team’s progress and accomplishments.
Async communication works really well for meetings like standups and status updates. But it can also be used to replace or shorten many other meetings on your team’s calendars too.
Back-to-back Zooms are exhausting, in part, because we don’t get a chance to move around and stretch our legs.
If video or presenting isn’t absolutely crucial to the discussion, consider moving to a different format, like a simple phone call or a walking meeting. At Range, we like to do our 1:1s as walking meetings. Even if we’re not physically together, it’s nice to get outside, stretch our legs, and get a break from the mental fatigue that comes with being in front of a video screen.
For meetings you do decide to keep around, ensuring there’s an agenda, facilitator, and solid notes can help keep things short and sweet.
When someone’s in charge of managing time, it’s easier to stay on track without getting derailed by side conversations. Agendas keep things moving too and help each meeting participant to come prepared for a productive discussion.
Note-taking is key too. When the facilitator (or another assigned teammate) takes good notes, it means that the whole team has visibility into decisions made in that meeting, without having to actually attend it.
You don’t need to migrate every single meeting on your team’s calendar to an async format right away. Start by testing it out on a smaller scale. Take a look at your existing meetings and choose one where the team is tuning out, attendance is low, or status updates feel repetitive or low value.
Commit to experimenting with an async format for a month — it can take some trial and error, so give the team time to adjust. During that time, here are a few tips to help your team get used to async and get more immediate value out of it.
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