Zoom Fatigue Is Real and Here's What To Do About It

Fiona Waters

September 14, 2020

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There are seemingly small differences between a real meeting and a virtual meeting. They're held in large chat rooms where everyone's voice is equally loud, for one, but they're also usually held from your own home. Maybe the most significant difference is the feeling that you need to stare into your camera to look like you're paying attention, compared to real life conversations where your gaze is less confined.

All of these changes add up, though. Take it from a psychologist or two: video chats are exhausting. Six months into the pandemic, virtual meetings have become -- at least temporarily -- the norm. They happen every day, sometimes for hours and hours and hours and ...

This phenomenon even has a name: Zoom Fatigue. These are some of the reasons why video chats are so draining and how to remedy the problem.

1) Zoom meetings are often back to back throughout the day.

A practice known as mindfulness is gaining popularity among academics, professionals, and anyone else who feels like they never get the chance to slow down. It emphasizes the significance of boundaries, so that your downtimes are just as important as your active times -- because they are.

Instead of scheduling meetings for a full 30 minutes or 60 minutes, schedule meetings for 25 minutes and 50 minutes. Everyone has a right to grab a snack, use the bathroom, or take time to clean up loose ends after a meeting. Also feel free to hide the Zoom window or turn off your own camera to simply listen to the meeting for a while.

Sometimes, you might just have too many Zoom meetings scheduled for one day. Remember, Zoom hosts, that video calls are just like real life meetings. If the issue can be handled over email, Slack, or even through a voice call, a video call isn't necessary. Outside of work meetings, Zoom should also be a last resort. If you would have fielded a call from a business partner or an interviewee over the phone before COVID-19, and not in a meeting, don't hold one over video chat now.

If you ever feel like you need a guide to help you add some mindfulness to your life, here's a shameless plug for the WITI Wellbeing Center.

2) It's more difficult to pay attention to a Zoom call than to a speaker at a meeting.

Whether you have other windows open on your computer, someone in-person trying to talk to you, or you keep looking at other attendees who aren't speaking, there are a number of distractions that make Zoom meetings difficult to absorb.

The most important lesson is to avoid distractions and multitasking. While it might be tempting to check emails during a meeting, it's common knowledge in psychology that switching from one task to another is a lot of work for the brain. If you can, put your phone on Do Not Disturb, close windows that aren't Zoom, and join the meeting someplace where you won't be tempted to work on something else. Studies show that we are drawn to staring at our own faces, so hide your own video feed from your view if possible.

If you tend to focus on meetings better when you can do something visual at the same time, a notepad is the trusty answer. Tasking yourself with taking notes can help you focus on a meeting more intently, and there is no one policing how detailed your notes are (or if some of them are actually doodles).

Another method of cleaning up your screen is to make sure the host has "speaker view" turned on. This makes it so that whoever is talking covers the entire screen, preventing you from being distracted by other attendees' screens, and reducing the anxiety that someone else might be watching your feed.

Remember to be kind to other attendees and yourself. If someone is looking away from the meeting, it could just mean they are watching someone's face on the computer screen or resting their eyes while listening.

3) Internet connection issues make virtual meetings even more difficult.

Everyone has to work extremely hard with the lag of Internet connections to avoid speaking over one another. Right now, with more than three or four people, meetings on video call applications should be approached like a classroom. A teacher or facilitator should be the main speaker, while participants raise their hands (virtually or physically) to speak. This reduces the guesswork attendees have to do regarding whether they should speak or whether a statement was directed at them.

It's contradictory to real life, but over the Internet, it's better to over-communicate rather than under-communicate. Don't be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves, to ask them to move to a quieter area, or to ask if they can connect using a different device. Don't be afraid to do these yourself, either. Even when you do everything perfectly, sometimes your Internet connection is still spotty. Remain flexible; ask other attendees to take notes for you, or ask for key points from the host if connecting is an issue.

There are a number of resources with advice for battling Zoom Fatigue. Articles used to inform this piece are from Mindful, Harvard Business Review, TED, and Forbes. If you would rather listen to a podcast or watch a short video, there are plenty available. Remember that Zoom Fatigue is affecting everyone; if you suggest a shorter meeting, a break, or communication over another medium, the people you're with will likely understand, and they might even be grateful.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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