We are all adjusting to this new normal of the virtual work environment, and many of us are finding it difficult to manage this new phenomenon known as Zoom fatigue. In reality, we can be fatigued by any video-conferencing app, but “Zoom fatigue” has a nice ring to it.
As this concept gains more traction, people are asking, “Is it even real?” Well, if you’re involved in academia or education, and you’ve had to endure hours-long Zoom meetings, you know how real it is.
That is not to say that Zoom fatigue is reserved only for those online for hours upon hours; it can happen to anyone dealing with online meetings - but why is that? Right now, it’s a relatively new concept, so it’s hard to say without much academic research, but theories abound, and so do strategies to avoid such a fate in your daily work life.
The American Psychological Association posits that Zoom fatigue is multifactorial and is exacerbated by anxiety due to our lack of education or training when it comes to hosting or navigating these new online sessions; not to mention the anxiety of having to upend our daily work lives to an online platform that so few of us were prepared to take on - and in the same place where we relax, eat, sleep, play with the kids, etc. - it can be strange to be mingling all of these previously-compartmentalized aspects of our lives.
Other theories of contributing factors include the idea that video calls disrupt our typical cognitive processes involved in face-to-face discussions. We rely heavily on nonverbal cues like body language, even facial microexpressions, to understand more about how the conversation is going. In the Zoom world, we only get a glimpse of people above the shoulders; dim lighting and poor angles can disrupt our view of facial expressions, and video lags disrupt the continuity of face-to-face discussions. That, paired with the fact we are very aware of being on-camera and can see ourselves and everyone else in grid-view -- it can be overstimulating, to say the least.
So, how can we disrupt the disruption and make virtual meetings less exhausting for everyone involved? It’s a fair question with a simple answer - do fewer virtual meetings, for less time. Now, that’s not a conducive answer to fit everyone’s environment. If you’re a student or professor, you know that’s simply not going to happen.
Having everyone on the call turn off video and mute themselves unless they are speaking can help to decrease overstimulation. Ensure those hosting the meetings have appropriate training and understanding to reduce anxiety and make meetings flow more smoothly. Make sure you have a strong internet connection to reduce anxiety, as well.
On the personal side of the equation, limit distractions during meetings - yes, that does mean closing those multiple windows, shutting the door, putting on headphones, or whatever else keeps you engaged in the meeting. Give yourself the care you deserve, and quite frankly, require, to function in this new normal. Have an ergonomic workspace; this can mean adjusting your chair, desk, mousepad and keyboard to keep good posture, which will help you stay engaged for longer. Finally, give yourself some breaks and regular exercise. Monitor your non-work screen time and engage in mindfulness or meditation practice. You can even enjoy a mini “staycation,” or maybe create a cozy nook space for yourself to unwind at the end of the day. All in all, give yourself non-screen-related activities to look forward to, keep your body moving, and take proper care of yourself.
Zoom fatigue is a new reality that many of us dread facing on a daily or weekly basis. Collaboration and communication within the workplace can be key in determining which meetings are essential to have online and which can be deferred for a later date, or perhaps can be discussed via phone or email. Taking care of yourself and giving yourself a good home office setup, as well as a good home relaxation space, are also key in navigating the virtual world. Until we learn more, these are the majority agreed-upon strategies to help combat videoconferencing fatigue and maintain a little balance in your work-home life.
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