Thanks to technology, our ways of working are adopting more freedoms than ever before; we can work wherever we like, when we like whilst remaining connected to our teams. But whether you realise it or not, being tech-enabled takes its toll.
One of the chief costs facing distributed teams is ‘Zoom Fatigue’; getting to the end of the day of back-to-back video calls feeling drained and depleted, even though you may feel like you haven’t done all that much.
So how can we tackle this, given the hybrid model of work is likely here to stay?
Let’s explore the science behind Zoom fatigue as well as some simple strategies and behaviours you can adopt to help you protect yourself against digital depletion and burnout.
Zoom Fatigue is REAL
If you’re wondering why you feel a sense of dread when you see back-to-back Zoom calls appear in your schedule, there is a good reason. While many of us welcomed the rapid adoption of hybrid and remote working at the beginning of the pandemic, neurologically speaking, we aren’t quite cut-out for hours and hours of virtual meetings. There are a few main reasons why virtual meetings cause us to experience depletion and fatigue.
We’re tired of looking at ourselves
When you meet with your colleagues in a boardroom, no one holds up a mirror while you talk to allow you to scrutinise your style of presenting, right? But according to researchers from Stanford University, that’s basically what is happening in a video conference. We use valuable energy (like glucose) and create emotional stress critically examining ourselves, managing our gestures and making us feel emotionally and physically drained, moreso for women.
It goes against our neurobiology
Humans are wired for connection. In fact, we rely on non-verbal cues to make sense of the conversations and interactions we have with others. In video chats however, we have to work much harder to send and receive these signals, greatly increasing the cognitive load. Whilst we are still receiving the verbal cues from our coworkers, it’s the non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language we are likely to miss.
A study from the American Psychological Association on Non-Verbal Overload found that most of us are actually overcompensating to make up for the lack of cues. We find our head nods are more exaggerated, we speak 15% louder (which is exhausting when you’ve got a full day of meetings lined up) and we maintain constant eye contact with the speaker which goes against the natural way we physically interact.
We try and do other things
Many of us don’t see meetings as the best use of time, physically or virtually. But with Zoom, often it’s tempting to start to do other things (checking emails, catching up on Teams chats, online grocery shopping, social media) and as long as you’re still looking at your screen, generally no one will notice. The downside of this is that our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that processes information, is working overtime trying to keep track of the meeting plus ‘send that data to Greg after the call’, so we burn up our energy supply (glucose). Trying to do more than one thing at once puts us in a heightened state, releasing the stress hormone cortisol, leaving us feeling tired and depleted.
Tips to tackle fatigue
There are a few simple strategies to adopt to help change the way virtual meetings affect your energy levels; from small changes to your behaviours and rituals, to rewriting the rules of Zoom etiquette.
- Give permission to turn off the camera – after you’ve finished greeting and welcoming participants to a meeting, give permission for everyone to switch their cameras off. This will be a welcome break, especially if they’ve had multiple meetings in their day. If you can’t do that? Grab a sticky note and place it over your self-view to give your brain a rest.
- Stop multitasking – remember your prefrontal cortex is using all your glucose and making you stressed when engaging in video calls. If you commit to focusing on your meeting and resisting the urge to check your notifications, you’ll feel all the better for it.
- Take regular breaks and make it brief – this seems obvious but how often are your meetings back-to-back? A study from Microsoft has found that Zoom fatigue has well and truly set in by 30-40 minutes into a meeting. Schedule your meetings for 25-35 mins, allowing participants a short break to move around, stretch and clear their mind before their next call. It’ll greatly reduce cortisol levels and improve your concentration.
In a time when our interactions are limited, Zoom and other video conferencing tools have allowed us to stay in touch with our family, friends and colleagues in a way that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. The important thing is understanding the effect being tech-enabled has on our body and taking steps to alter our behaviours to protect ourselves from digital depletion and fatigue.