Videoconferencing fatigue: 4 tips for combatting video exhaustion

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanJuly 20th, 20224 min read
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Summary

Videoconferencing fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion that you get after having too many video calls in one day. Although it’s often called “Zoom fatigue” or “Zoom exhaustion,” this phenomenon can happen with any video conferencing software. Learn the symptoms of videoconferencing fatigue, plus tips to prevent it.

It’s 3:00pm on a Thursday, your head is pulsing, your eyes hurt, and you have one more meeting before your day is over—but you just feel like you can’t do it anymore. After back-to-back meetings all day, you’re feeling drained and exhausted. 

If this sounds like you, you may be experiencing videoconferencing fatigue.

What is videoconferencing fatigue?

Videoconferencing fatigue is the exhaustion that you feel after having too many video conferences during a short period of time. The term is also commonly referred to as “Zoom fatigue” or “Zoom exhaustion” however this phenomenon is not limited to the Zoom platform—it can happen with any videoconferencing software. 

Videoconferencing fatigue has a variety of symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Eye strain

  • Forgetfulness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

  • General tiredness

  • Mental fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Muscle tension

  • Insomnia

Many of these symptoms overlap with symptoms of burnout. There’s currently no official study that connects videoconferencing fatigue with burnout, but it is interesting how the symptoms overlap.

Download the 2022 Anatomy of Work Index

The ZEF scale

A team of researchers at Stanford are currently researching the effects of video conferencing by using the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue (ZEF) Scale. The survey considers things like how much time you spend in meetings, demographic information, and the symptoms you experience. The goal of this research is to eventually influence how we use video software in the future to better focus on our well-being. 

Why is video conferencing so draining?

Communications professor and founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Jeremy Bailenson, looks at four key reasons we experience videoconferencing fatigue. Here are a few reasons why video conferencing can feel so exhausting, but also some easy ways you can prevent the exhaustion from setting in.

1. Video conferencing requires more brain power

One reason why video conferencing is so draining is because it brings up the same emotions we feel when we’re in an intense situation. This is because of how close the other person’s face appears on the video screen. It’s not common to be that physically close to an individual during normal conversation.

The only times that another individual is that close to us in real life is during intimate moments or intense conflicts—both of which trigger a response in our brain to stay hyper alert. Because of this response, our brain has to work harder to process the information shared during the conference call as opposed to normal face-to-face conversation. 

How to combat this:

Move your screen farther away from your face when taking video calls to imitate the distance you would have when you have a normal, face-to-face conversation with someone. Use an external keyboard and mouse instead of constantly working on your laptop so that you can still access your computer without having your computer screen as close to your face.

2. Multi-tasking uses the same mental fuel that we need to focus

While working from home can help some people focus, it’s distracting for others. If you’re on a conference call, you may be checking your email, trying to stop your dog from barking, worrying about how you’re presenting yourself, or thinking about other tasks you need to complete during the day. According to Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work survey, more than half of workers multitask during meetings. All of these things draw away from the main task at hand—the video conference you’re supposed to be paying attention to. 

Dr. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist and a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business states:

quotation mark
The human brain works best when it focuses on one thing at a time. We have a certain amount of cognitive capacity and a certain amount of attention.”
Dr. Sahar Yousef, Cognitive Neuroscientist, UC Berkeley
Read: 5 multitasking myths debunked, plus 6 ways to be productive without task switching

How to combat this:

While easier said than done, the solution for this problem is to focus on one thing at a time. If you’re in a video call, try as much as possible to be in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Don’t be tempted to check your texts, your email, or open any Slack messages. In fact, mute notifications when you’re going into meetings. That way, you won’t be tempted to multitask during your call. 

3. Looking at yourself constantly is unnatural

In normal, everyday life, you don’t stare at yourself as you have a conversation with other people. Sure, you may glance at yourself in the mirror to fix your hair real quick, or spot yourself in the reflection of a window, but looking at your own face when you’re trying to make a social connection with someone else is not the norm. This additional stimuli makes us hyper aware of our own facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues. When we’re focusing on how we’re presenting ourselves on video chat, we’re less likely to focus on the meeting itself. 

How to combat this:

In most video conferencing software, there’s an option to turn off your own self view without turning your camera off. This will help pull your attention away from yourself, and onto the speaker of the video call. 

Your other option is to take the meeting offline and have a good old fashioned phone call. If you don’t need to share a screen and you’re just discussing things verbally, there’s no harm in having an audio call. This can help alleviate the stress of having back-to-back meetings where you have to be present on video. 

4. Videoconferencing hinders nonverbal communication

When we’re communicating face-to-face, there’s a lot of nonverbal communication that happens. In fact, when we do communicate in-person, about half of that communication is non-verbal. Things like hand gestures, facial expressions, body language, and timing are all ways that people communicate. However with video meetings, there can be a delay or a disconnect from this visual communication.

“We relied on informal body language as a way to build shared understanding for so long,” says Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance. “We grew up learning the basic rules of body language, but not learning about digital body language.”

This small gap in nonverbal communication can cause miscommunication issues and misunderstandings. It’s important when you’re communicating via virtual meetings that you’re extremely clear with intention and intonation, since you’re unable to use normal non-verbal cues such as eye contact and body language. 

Read more: The future of work depends on our “digital” body language

How to combat this:

If your team has a hybrid model, try to host a few in-person meetings in combination with your Zoom meetings. This can help your team connect on a closer, more personal level, while still allowing the flexibility for Zoom calls on different days.

For teams that are fully remote, offer opportunities for your team to connect in person every few months. This can help provide a social connection for your team members in person, as opposed to just through video calls. 

Foster more collaboration with less meetings

If you’re looking for different ways you can stay connected with your team without utilizing videoconferencing software, use a work management tool like Asana. With Asana, your team can collaborate on projects asynchronously, stay up-to-date with status updates, and run more organized and efficient meetings.

Improve team communication with Asana

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