Zoom Fatigue - 10 Tips to Manage It (Updated March 2021)
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
Video conferencing and work from home have become part of the new normal in the world. If Covid 19 brought about despair and hopelessness in the world, the only ray of light in the gloomy period of 2020 was Zoom. Significantly Zoom cloud meetings became the go-to software for holding virtual conferences, family reunions, company board meetings and even religious gatherings. But there is a downside to this convenience. Because of the time we spend on Zoom, it has created new stress – Zoom fatigue. In this article, we will discuss 10 tips for managing Zoom fatigue.
Just like the word "Google it", we now find it quite common to say, "Lets Zoom". Because of Zoom, everyone felt they are in 'touch' with their friends and families, though virtually. However, most video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc., cause Zoom fatigue. In due time because of Zoom's popularity, the word "Zoom fatigue" has become synonymous with the stress associated with all video conferencing apps. Hence Zoom fatigue is real and needs to be managed.
First a bit of background.
As the pandemic continues to rage
The Covid-19 virus first discovered in the Wuhan market in late 2019. Consequently, the disease that started in December 2019 is still raging as of March 2021, causing billions of dollars of economic loss and plunging the world into a recession and depression. Overall the number of confirmed cases in March 2021 was 117 million, with more than 2.59 million deaths. However, the vaccine's discovery is expected to control the virus spread and raises hopes of a revival in the world.
Though delayed, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic in March 2020. This announcement saw the world go into lockdown, with the businesses and public life coming to a grinding halt. The WHO's recommendations on lockdown were to help the countries reorganise, regroup, rebalance resources, and protect the health infrastructure.
Shortly by April 2020, nearly 3.9 billion people, more than half the world's population, worldwide were under some form of lockdown.
Evidently, the initial reaction to this severe form of quarantine and lockdown was chaotic. Soon people in cities started hoarding up essentials. Undeniably creating a shortage of basic things like toilet paper and food items. And as the disease spread, more became sick, and health infrastructure got stretched to the maximum.
Significantly, the initial Covid 19 patients were treated like pariahs, and in some countries, it was even difficult to bury the patients. The world, in general, went into a depression, with doomscrolling becoming a norm. The instant messaging apps were in a frenzy transmitting rumours as well as news. According to a study, people exchanged more damaging information and fake stories on social media than positive news.
With the shutdown of the airports and airlines, travel came to a halt. The world went into recession, and an estimate from the Washington University put the impact at $300 billion implications on the world's supply chain. Very quickly, organisations reviewed their operating procedures and Disaster Recovery Plans to ensure business continuity.
Enter Work from Home (WFH) and Zoom Cloud Meetings
The new term in vogue in 2020 was WFH. With the lock down and movement curtailed, companies had to reinvent the processes to ensure the work continued. The infrastructure in various offices was reviewed rapidly and revamped. Remote working was enabled by upgrading networks and software. The sale of laptops and home internet devices skyrocketed. At the same time, the sales of formal clothing and other office fashion declined.
The search to find a suitable video conferencing application was on, and Zoom cloud meetings became the favourite app. Overnight, Companies conducted most of the business online, and the world caught on to a new way to run their day-to-day business. Schools started holding their classes using Zoom cloud meetings. Religious institutions used it to conduct prayers. Friends and families got around and had reunions online. Resolving customer queries, doctor consultation, psychological counselling, etc., were all done online. Weddings, concerts, events and even court proceedings started using video conferencing. Suddenly Zoom was everywhere!
Zoom Video Communications
The communication technology company, Zoom Video Communications, Inc, was founded in 2011 and became a unicorn company in 2017, with a valuation of US$ 1 billion. Because Zoom was free for the first 50 minutes and the flexibility to add up to 100 people at once made it famous. It was the most downloaded application in 2020.
Other video conferencing apps like Skype, Google Duo, Microsoft Teams, etc., were caught napping. They scrambled to grab a slice of the booming video conferencing market and quickly introduced several improvements to their video conferencing apps. But very few could catch up with Zoom's pace and be forced to fight for the second slot.
Managing Zoom fatigue
According to estimates, hundreds of thousand video conference meetings are held every day on video conferencing apps, including Zoom. Along with the Companies, the employees also found the Zoom cloud meetings productive, at least in the initial stages. Video conference meant logging in from the home's comfort without stress and not spending time to dress up formally for the sessions.
Working from home gave them a substantial amount of time to spend with the family, a luxury before the lock down. Work from home also meant that the employees had more time to relax and spend time on productive and recreational activities.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
Very soon, the theory of "Unintended Consequences" stuck the WFH concept. What was perceived to be a 'comfort' and 'convenience' soon became a nuisance and stress. This stress was shared with all the video conference apps and became known as Zoom fatigue. To effectively manage Zoom fatigue, we need to understand the different types of Zoom fatigue.
Zoom Fatigue is of three major categories:
Technology and Zoom Fatigue
The pandemic and the lockdown created an unprecedented demand and overload on the availability of data. Soon even downtime of a few minutes was not tolerated by people. With millions of people at home, it was natural that people spent time browsing, chatting, video conference and playing online games. This sudden demand choked the network capacity, and people often suffered sluggish data connectivity. Consequently, it was frustrating and tiring for those who logged in for work-related activity, the early signs of Zoom fatigue.
Typically in a 60-minute call, about 20% of the time was spent on repeating the questions or repeatedly asking, "Can you hear me, hello, hello" or "Am I audible?" or "Is my voice clear?". Consequently, these sentences became standard in most calls. These scenarios led to frustration and anger among the participant as well as the Managers.
Tips for tackling technology-related Zoom Fatigue
Choose a time that is likely to have less bandwidth usage. Usually, early mornings or late afternoons are the best.
Where possible, switch off the video and use only the audio. It will help in better bandwidth usage and gives a more precise quality of the meeting.
If you need to have the video on, encourage only the speaker to have it on.
Avoid using the mobile phone for video conferencing, especially when travelling or moving in a vehicle. Because of the network dropping, the call's quality is affected, leading to an unsatisfactory meeting and fatigue.
Zoom Fatigue caused by family and friends.
Covid 19 and the lock down confined people to homes and gave immense opportunities to bond. Before lock down for many families, spending time together was only on weekends or special holidays. The time to spend together was limited, rare and precious. But the lock down restricted people's movement, and suddenly there was ample time to spend with the family. Everyone was together 24/7.
Initially, this was very exciting and satisfying, but the very proximity started creating stress in many.
Tempers were running short, and family members preferred the silence of their rooms or corners. In many countries, the lock down stretched on for weeks and even months, causing the stress to increase.
Added to the bonding stress came the problems created by video conferencing apps and Zoom fatigue.
However, a WFH scenario meant that the distinction between the home and work disappeared. The employees were always "on-call". Obviously, this meant that they had to leave the video conferencing apps open throughout the day. Managers could summon employees' anytime.'
Disappearing of the stress buster opportunities
Another significant Zoom fatigue faced was when the manager or supervisor used harsh words against the employees. Earlier, when such friction between the boss and the subordinate happened, they had recourse to manage these kinds of stress. There were plenty of opportunities to meet their colleagues over coffee or a drink and 'bitch' about the bosses. They had the convenience of the water fountain to moan and complain. But WFH removed all such stress buster avenues.
The anger and the frustration had to be carried by the employee because very few preferred sharing the "office stress" with the families. Sharing such stress with colleagues was different because the colleagues could empathise better than family.
Many employees also expressed their anguish of being shouted at by the boss, and the interaction could be heard by the family members, leading to an embarrassing situation at home. In the past, families rarely ever heard or came across such treatment. For many, these kinds of problems made them look small, and they were no longer 'super heroes' to their children.
Another cause of Zoom fatigue was creating a quiet and 'office like' environment from their homes' confines. For many employees, the work from home was convenient, but it has also created fatigue. People struggled to keep children screaming while talking to a client or stopping the spouse from interfering during a meeting with the boss, or even avoid sleeping off in a conference!
Suggestions to overcome Zoom Fatigue caused by friends and family
Despite staying under the same roof, keep timings separate for work, bonding and personal space.
Ensure that everyone has a "Me time", and no one should trespass that.
Invest in good quality headphone, either wired or with Bluetooth. It will help in handling work-related calls efficiently.
If a quiet atmosphere is not possible at home, try to warn your host that there could be some minor interference or disturbance. Apologise in advance and mute your call.
Set up calls with your colleagues and friends at work to talk about the day and catch up with the official news. It will be helpful to have separate WhatsApp or similar chat groups for free discussions.
Zoom Fatigue and Health
The WFH and the convenience of the video conferencing apps transformed every home into an office. Because of this, the travel to workplaces vanished, and it was possible to log in instantly to the system at work. Most used this convenience to keep themselves busy and healthy by eating well and walking the daily "10k steps" routine. But very soon, the inspiration to keep up this routine got diluted.
With the availability of the online delivery of foods, junk food consumption increased along with 'overeating'. Consequently, the health of the people suffered, leading to complications. With physical activity reduced to the bare minimum, people spent time on a couch or at the worktable. Endless video conferencing, either work-related or for pleasure, meant prolonged time on the couch.
Tips for managing health-related Zoom fatigue
Avoid junk food and try experimenting with food by cooking at home.
Participate in conference calls or other meetings by walking around. Avoid sitting and talking.
Arrange for a standing desk where you can work standing up
Try intermittent fasting
Vitamin D is known to be highly effective in the prevention and management of Covid 19. If possible, try to get natural Vitamin D by spending enough time in the sun. If this is not possible, take supplements after checking with your doctor.
Stanford Study on Zoom Fatigue
Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab examined the psychological effects of these long meetings on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behaviour, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030 . According to this study, there are four consequences of prolonged video conferencing, which is now generically known as Zoom fatigue.
Excessive and highly intense close-up eye contact
Staring at our face during video chats is stressful and creates fatigue.
Video chats reduce our mobility
Video conference calls require a high cognitive load
Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale
Stanford University conducted an empirical study on the effects of prolonged video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc. They published the results were in February 2021 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3786329.
In this study, the participants answered a set of 49 survey items spanning several video conference aspects. The five dimensions of fatigue were studied: general, social, emotional, visual and motivational. It was found that there was a high level of fatigue associated with the frequency, duration and burstiness of the Zoom meetings and the participants, in general, had a negative attitude for such discussion.
How to manage Zoom Fatigue – 10 proven tips
Limit the Participants: If you are the host, limit the number of participants. A call with more than 10 people would lead to glitches and frustration.
Always use an earphone: It is advisable to use an earphone, preferably a Bluetooth device and walk around while attending the Zoom call. Make sure that you are not going outside the range of your Bluetooth device.
Off with the camera: Switch on the camera only when necessary. This will help in conserving the bandwidth and reduce the fatigue to appear "good" before your audience.
Establish a protocol: It is good to pre-agree on the speaking hierarchy. When more than one person speaks, the brain finds it difficult to interpret the conversations leading to a cacophony on a video conference.
Do not multitask: Avoid the temptation of multitasking or checking your social media, etc., during the meeting. This will ensure that your attention is on the discussions and will make them more productive.
Agree with the family: Pre-agree with the family on your work schedule. Accordingly, ensure minimum interference during your meeting. When it is unavoidable (for instance, a baby crying), mute your microphone, close your video, and excuse yourself from the panel to attend to the baby.
Dress for work: Work From Home does not mean that you attend the official meetings in your pyjamas! Even if you are not travelling, dressing up smartly will help you give the sessions a formal setting.
Take scheduled breaks: Prolonged sessions of video conferences can be tedious and can lead to Zoom fatigue. You should use the gap to indulge in relaxing activities like listening to music, spending time with the family, meditation, etc.
Work-Life Balance: Work from home has blurred the distinction between work and office. Despite this, agree with your employer on the hours that you would be available for video conferences. There should be sufficient time to spend with your family and for yourself.
Accept the new norm: Even if the pandemic fades away, the new working way is likely to stick around. Employers are finding this more cost-effective and want to encourage more employees to go with this model. Hence, we have no choice but to accept the new norm and re-design our lives around this.
Video conferencing apps and Zoom fatigue are here to stay. Like the Covid 19, which is mutating and coming in new variants, the Zoom fatigue will also evolve. New variations of the fatigue will surface in the future. We have survived much worse situations in the past, and our survival instincts will help us overcome this fatigue too.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" - Charles Darwin.