For over a year, COVID-19 has meant spending hours on video meetings, which has created a new phenomenon referred to as "Zoom fatigue." This frustrating yet necessary trend impacts our ability to truly connect with others.
We spend more time on purposeful video calls now than we did pre-pandemic in the office where hallway chats, in-person meetings and phone calls sufficiently worked to serve our working relationships. Online meetings are more tiring than face-to-face meetings because, in the absence of nonverbal communication cues, we must remain hyper-focused on word choices and eye contact, exhibiting ongoing responses to those we interact with online. It can be exhausting.
Missing Nonverbal Cues
We are used to in-person meetings. Those face-to-face interactions and engagements are essential in building and maintaining professional relationships. We partake in conversational dynamics, body language, tone and inflection in real time, creating a real contextual experience with others. When we witness peer behaviors in person, we can demonstrate empathy and compassion, building on our ability to influence each other.
Video calls are different because it forces each participant to consciously seek nonverbal cues once easy to spot. Our brains look for nonverbal signals easily hidden from the camera's view. We miss out on seeing and interpreting posture, gestures and a variety of other nonverbal messages. As a result, our brain is overloaded as is it’s forced to process verbal information only–and it is exhausting.
Missing Hallway Chats
I do not think any of us understood how often our minds need frequent breaks and hallway interactions. When COVID-19’s social distancing abruptly ended our breakroom chats, we had to be purposefully engaged to stay connected. This kept many of us tied to our computers for long stretches without breaks needed to remain engaged.
How many times did you conduct business on the way to a meeting? Or perhaps you were grabbing a cup of coffee in the breakroom when you collaborated with a peer on a project. When we work from home, we are often task-oriented, going from video call to video call without taking much-needed breaks. The draining side effects impact how we show up and engage with others throughout the day.
The Stress of Our Reflection
We are not accustomed to conducting meetings while staring into a mirror, and yet that is what we do each time we are on a video call. Being continuously aware of how we look and present ourselves to others adds an unfamiliar level of stress.
Face-to-face meetings and phone calls provide us with immediate feedback from our listeners. We can see and hear their reactions and pregnant pauses and determine their interpretation of the conversation. Video calls, however, are not perfect. The latent delays from technology complicate our ability to trust the timeliness of reactions. A pregnant pause may mean you have lost your audience's attention, or you have lost your connection. It becomes frustrating and can leave you wondering if you made a real impact.
Reducing Zoom Fatigue
After a year of COVID-19, we know our new normal looks very different from our old one. As video calls continue becoming a more significant part of doing business, we must incorporate some habits to help us reduce Zoom fatigue syndrome. Here are a few ways to break up onscreen monotony:
- Control your schedule. If you have a full day of video meetings, schedule a three-minute break between each one. This ensures you get a few moments to gain closure and shift mental gears before your next interaction.
- Head outdoors. Block time throughout the day to get up and go for a walk to clear your mind. Fresh air will provide much-needed energy and a new visual perspective.
- Walk and talk. Schedule a walking meeting instead of a video call. All participants head outdoors and meet as you walk. You will find the conversation more engaging and energizing.
- Determine the best way. Decide the most effective means of meeting. If you need to check in with peers and have a quick chat, pick up the phone instead of scheduling a video call. Allow everyone to have a break from the screen, which also gives your eyes a visual break.
- Determine if the meeting is necessary. In the absence of hallway chats, virtual meetings are lasting longer than necessary. Ensure your meetings are brief, concise and purposeful. Otherwise, decide if a phone call or email will suffice.