What is Zoom Fatigue? How to Ease Virtual Workplace Burnout

Recognize symptoms of Zoom fatigue, and learn how to combat them. Don’t let video meetings burn out you and your employees.

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Are video meetings burning us out?

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we live, work, and stay in touch with loved ones. Many of us have worn masks everywhere, started working from home, and used video calls with relatives to keep them safe. There is  no part of our daily routine that hasn’t been altered.

To protect the health and well-being of employees, many companies offered teams work-from-home options. While the novelty of working in your yoga pants is a significant work-from-home perk, there is one nerve-wracking aspect of the arrangement that people collectively dread: Zoom meetings.

What is Zoom fatigue?

Zoom has become one of the world’s most popular video chat platforms. Millions of people use it to stay virtually connected to our workplaces. The app from a California-based company of the same name has become synonymous with virtual meetings. But the novelty can quickly wear off as our attitudes toward virtual interactions shift and exhaustion begins to set in.

Perhaps Zoom calls for work wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t already spend excessive amounts of time on video calls with our children’s teachers, the veterinarian, the doctor, and our grandparents, among others.

Though Zoom meetings showcase just how far digital tools for video conferencing have come, virtual platforms are no replacement for face-to-face social interaction, human connection, and conference room camaraderie. No doubt, many of the 300 million daily Zoom participants can attest to that.

Constant video meetings begin to take their toll in the form of physical and mental fatigue. This unique phenomenon born out of necessity has a newly-coined term: Zoom fatigue.

4 symptoms of Zoom fatigue

Although relatively new to the workplace, this “virtual fatigue” has begun to worry physical and mental health professionals. It can lead to a host of chronic health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and even physical stress.

As Zoom calls become somewhat unavoidable, it helps to look out for the symptoms of Zoom fatigue so we can work to alleviate them. While there’s no formal diagnosis yet, here are some of the most common symptoms:

Feeling drained after work

Zoom can drain our physical and mental energy. Between staring at a screen,(on all different devices), visual and audio glitches, and constant distractions (hello, coworker’s screaming toddler), even non-work Zoom meetings feel like work. And they can wear you out. Additionally, virtual communication makes it harder to read people’s emotions. This puts added stress on our brains to interpret social cues..

Losing focus during meetings

It is easier to “zone out” during video meetings and video chats, especially during calls with many participants. During video sessions, we also tend to hyper-focus on our own image, body language, nonverbal cues, facial expressions, and posture. This takes much more cognitive effort than in person conversations. It’s also tempting to turn off the camera and multitask during video calls. That not only worsens the lack of focus but also makes us feel disconnected.

Eye strain

During Zoom meetings, especially smaller ones, participants feel pressured to look straight into the camera to avoid appearing as though they are not paying attention or giving direct eye contact to the speaker. In contrast, with in person meetings,  it is more acceptable to vary our gaze to people or objects in our peripheral vision.

Burnout

Working from home removes many of the positive aspects of workplace culture and can lead to burnout over time. With no real-life social interactions like team lunches, holiday parties, or volunteer work retreats, work tends to feel monotonous and never-ending, and employees feel pressured to work harder with no respite. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and a lack of motivation to do one’s job. Zoom meetings, especially unproductive ones, can further drive a once-thriving employee into the burnout zone.

How do you fight Zoom meeting fatigue?

It’s clear that Zoom meetings are not going away anytime soon. Although they offer their fair share of negatives, they are also one of the best forms of virtual communication out there.

There are many helpful things we can all do to combat Zoom fatigue, including:

Take breaks

Break up virtual meetings by walking around the block, getting in a quick workout, or playing fetch with the dog. Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings when possible.n Also, there are ways around the distraction of always seeing yourself on camera. Choose the option in Zoom for “Hide Self View.” Arrange your viewing screen so that it doesn’t show a reflection of yourself. Some people even place a sticky note over their image. Of course, it’s important to remember that you are on camera and others can see you.

Remain present

Stop answering emails, checking Facebook, or doing your work during Zoom calls. The more we multitask, the more we drain ourselves and the less information we can absorb.

Let your eyes rest

It’s helpful to shift your gaze whenever possible.  Look out the window, up, down, and side to side. Shifting your gaze off the screen every so often can prevent eye strain over time.  Simply explain to other participants that you are trying to avoid eye strain. They will understand, trust us!

Prioritize your mental health

If you are experiencing burnout, it may be time to take a few vacation days. Unplugging from the work environment and social media for a few days can do wonders for your mental health, alleviate negative feelings, and reduce stress and social pressure.  Instead of a Zoom meeting, request a phone meeting or an email. Things often can get decided in just a few emails instead of an hour-long Zoom call. Remember, you aren’t alone, and your coworkers likely feel the same way as you do. It can help to chat with them and see if they have any tips for reducing burnout.

The Zoom exhaustion and fatigue scale

To explore and evaluate the implications of frequent virtual interactions, Stamford researchers at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab administered a questionnaire on Zoom fatigue to over 3,000 participants. The results of their research found that people who have more and longer meetings tend to feel more fatigued than those with fewer and shorter meetings.

Additionally, people who feel more fatigued after a video conference tend to have a more negative attitude towards it. Based on these results, Stanford researchers developed a Zoom exhaustion and fatigue scale to assess whether an individual is experiencing the psychological consequences of Zoom fatigue. Check it out and see how you’re being affected by virtual meetings.

We’re all in this together

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered how we operate both personally and professionally. Our routines and natural rhythms have been flipped on their heads – from constant handwashing to mask-wearing to virtual work meetings.

Given the shift toward working from home, telecommunication tools like Zoom have become integral to workplace operations. As we enter the third year of the pandemic, many workers find themselves drained, unfocused, and burned out from all of the teleconferencing and virtual interactions. Luckily, workers can combat these symptoms by taking breaks, remaining present, and prioritizing their mental health.

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