Have you heard the term “Zoom fatigue”? Even if you haven’t, there’s still a good chance you’ve experienced it lately. Zoom fatigue refers to the phenomenon of feeling inordinately exhausted and/or overwhelmed or stressed out after attending meetings via videoconference.
While it’s coined from the popular videoconferencing app Zoom, it obviously applies to any similar videoconferencing app used frequently.
Zoom fatigue is caused by a lot of different factors put together, such as:
- The inadvertent pressure to be “on” and to present ourselves in the best light (literally and figuratively) during meetings.
- The fact that eye contact isn’t actual eye contact on video and we lose that component of communication. We cannot appear to have eye contact with others without looking directly into the camera, but doing that means we’re no longer looking at the screen to see the person we’re speaking with.
- Using video chat requires extreme focus. We’re watching multiple people at once. We’re processing not just what is being said but also the context, tone, and expressions of everyone involved.
- Not everyone has video on, which also presents challenges because you’re gauging them based solely on their voice.
- We often overcompensate for not being in person. We are more aware of our facial expressions and of showing that we’re paying attention. We’re ensuring we’re doing things to show our reactions more overtly than we normally would. All of this takes effort and energy.
- The way we’re presented in most videoconferencing tools hinders the use of the natural cues we normally rely on during conversations. For example, we often cannot see the hand gestures of others while they’re speaking or hear the miscellaneous things from people who are on mute but about to join the conversation. These cues can assist in our interpretation of a conversation, and some of them get lost, making the entire process that much more to process.
- Sometimes, the video or audio doesn’t work as it should, which can cause frustration.
- Videoconferencing can sometimes serve to highlight what’s missing: real in-person interactions.
- There may be other stresses, like keeping kids or pets from making noise that interrupts the conversation while you’re speaking.
All of this takes a mental toll, which causes us to feel more worn out faster. We often feel exhausted after one too many meetings in a given day. It can make the workday more taxing, even with the same workload as before.
Employers should be aware of this phenomenon. While we’ve probably all taken steps to help employees stay connected and collaborate well—and videoconferencing is definitely an important component of that—we need to realize that we can also overcompensate for distance by using video too much.
We need to find ways to help our employees strike the right balance. Employers can do this by encouraging time away from devices to recharge. Also encourage people to simply make phone calls rather than using video for all interactions; a phone call can be less stressful to process while still conveying everything needed.
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.