What’s Zoom fatigue and how can you combat it in your team?

It’s hard to overstate how popular video conferencing services have become in recent years. For instance, according to Backlinko, Zoom amassed an impressive 200 million meeting minutes in its first year of operations. Fast forward to 2022, though, and it racks up 300 million minutes every single day.

However, these platforms also come with downsides – especially in modern employment settings, where they’ve become go-to communication tools for remote and hybrid teams. Today, we’re going to talk about one particular concern that’s received an increasing amount of attention recently: Zoom fatigue. Read on to learn what it is, how it manifests, and what you can do to tackle it in your team.

What is Zoom burnout/fatigue?

Zoom fatigue, otherwise known as Zoom burnout, is exactly what the name suggests: a feeling of extreme tiredness following a video call or conference.

Now, you won’t see it on lists of formal medical diagnoses. But – ask your colleagues – Zoom fatigue is a) very real and b) a growing source of alarm among employers who are relying on video conferencing tools more than ever.

We should also point out that Zoom fatigue doesn’t have to involve Zoom. This is a catch-all term that applies to any platform of this nature. It could just as easily be called Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime fatigue, which explains why another moniker for it is simply virtual fatigue.

Who gets affected by Zoom fatigue?

Anyone who spends lots of time attending video meetings could experience zoom fatigue at some point. Heck, even the CEO of Zoom himself, Eric Yuan, has suffered from it in the past. Want to find out why it happens?

Here are 4 main causes involved, according to an article in the scientific journal, “Technology, Mind, and Behavior”:

Cognitive overload

Nonverbal communication’s easy when you’re face-to-face, right? After all, you can see each other’s gestures and other nonverbal cues.

This changes on Zoom calls. Because your body isn’t as visible, you have to be more intentional with nonverbal messages (e.g. thumbs up and exaggerated nodding). That’s a big deal when you consider that 55% of face-to-face communication’s nonverbal. Suddenly, it requires more effort, which is tiring.

Furthermore, you have to devote added attention to monitoring the technical aspects of video calls. This increases the cognitive load involved even further.

Excessive eye gaze

Video calls force us to butt heads with our natural tendency to avoid eye contact with people we don’t know very well. Think about being an elevator, for example. You’re so close to a stranger (or set of strangers) that you instantly look down at your feet, or up at the ceiling – anywhere but at them!

But on video calls, you can be gazing into the eyes of multiple people at once, for extended periods. And that’s not all. Those on-screen faces can be significantly larger in your field of view than they would seem in an in-person interaction. The result’s intense; you can feel scrutinized and self-conscious.

Constrained mobility

Think about traditional conversations for a moment. Whether you’re there in person or talking on the phone, most of us perform all sorts of movements at the same time (e.g. pacing around the office, moving our hands, or stretching our backs).

This is another reason why being on lots of video calls can have such negative effects. To stay in the shot and abide by social norms, you end up sitting down, staying still, and staring at a screen for hours on end. 

Heightened self-evaluation

Finally, seeing yourself on-screen all day isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Sure, you can turn your video off on these platforms occasionally, but a big proportion of each working day could still be spent staring at yourself.

This may seem harmless, but numerous studies have shown how the increase in self-evaluation that’s triggered in similar circumstances (e.g. when looking in a mirror for a long time) can cause both distress and negative affect. It’s also a distraction that pulls your attention away from the conversation.

What are the main symptoms of Zoom fatigue?

Here are the primary symptoms that someone on your team might experience when suffering from Zoom fatigue:

Extreme tiredness

As we noted above, the primary symptom is a deep sense of tiredness. Although some weariness during or after a long day’s normal, someone with zoom fatigue’s likely to feel far more drained after video calls than usual.

Left unchecked, it can lead to actual burnout – a type of work-related stress that results in exhaustion, reduced productivity, and loss of motivation. So, keep a watchful eye on your team’s energy levels! If anyone appears wiped out for days on end, then you may want to step in.

Refusing calls and/or turning video off

Some people with Zoom fatigue may also start expressing their reluctance to take further video calls. They might try to reschedule Zoom meetings or request email exchanges and in-person meetings instead – anything to avoid more video calls.

Oh, and be wary of employees who start turning off their video regularly too. It’s another tell-tale sign that they’re tired of being on-screen and at risk of developing Zoom fatigue.

Lack of engagement and/or concentration

Do team members who spend lots of time on video calls seem more distracted than usual? Are they finding it harder to focus and work efficiently? Are they turning up late to meetings, daydreaming in meetings, and being less productive in their roles?

There could be many explanations for this, of course, but Zoom fatigue’s definitely one of them. These symptoms relate to feelings of tiredness. As you know, it’s infinitely harder to stay engaged and function at 100% when you’re exhausted.

Headaches and eye strain

Attending endless video calls can have a physical impact as well, with headaches and eye strain being two common complaints among employees. Alongside the other symptoms we’ve described, they could also be a sign of Zoom fatigue.

On a similar note, some people with Zoom fatigue can seem uneasy during calls – sweating and showing other signs of anxiety. Again, this may have nothing to do with the number of video conferences they’re attending, but that possibility’s always worth taking into consideration.

7 Ways to tackle Zoom fatigue within your team

By now, we hope you have a better understanding of Zoom fatigue, including how and why it occurs in the workplace. In this section, we’re going to offer some proven tips to help you combat it if/when it features in your team.

1. Reduce the regularity of video calls

Too much of anything is bad for us! That’s why the first (and most obvious) solution is to limit/reduce the number of daily video calls your team has to join.

Ask yourself whether something has to happen via video. Could you settle the matter on an ordinary phone call instead? Or by swapping a few emails? Or by communicating on Slack?

Oh, and be sure to include sufficient time gaps between calls when they do turn out to be essential. There’s nothing more depressing than seeing an entire day of meetings ahead – especially when you’re on the cusp of Zoom fatigue! Avoid stacking people’s calendars with them whenever possible.

2. Keep meetings short and sweet

Reducing the number of video calls is great. But you should try to limit the length of any meetings your team members attend as well.

This is partly because meetings that drag on too long can be a waste of time. Indeed, 90% of people daydream and 73% admit to doing other work during them! And it’s even worse when they’re virtual. Not only are you bored, but you’re also sitting down and staring at a screen for ages.

Conversely, short meetings tend to be more focused and less demanding, producing better outcomes and reducing the risk of Zoom fatigue in the process. Everyone wins when you stay on-topic and end meetings on time.

3. Leverage asynchronous work instead

Asynchronous work is a fancy term with a simple meaning: team members can perform their duties without having to be online at the same time. Instead, they can work at their own pace and to their own schedule.

Adopt this practice and video calls become the exception rather than the rule. Because people aren’t all online at once, most communication has to happen in writing instead. Symptoms of Zoom fatigue should become distant memories (or never become a problem in the first place). 

4. Turn off self-view whenever possible

Remember how seeing your face on screen a lot can be distracting, off-putting, and lead to unhelpful levels of self-evaluation? Well, a quick fix is to allow/encourage the team to hide from view during meetings. Heck, you could go one step further and make it the norm – saving self-view for special occasions.

You can do this at the click of a button on most video conferencing platforms. But if this isn’t available, people could do it manually by putting a sticky note over their box on the screen. With any luck, it’ll improve their focus and make them feel less self-conscious.

5. Don’t make virtual social events obligatory

Not all Zoom meetings are work-related! For many remote and hybrid teams, they’re also the only way they can socialize and get to know each other.

For that reason, some managers and CEOs go out of their way to set up virtual events – whether it’s an online conference complete with guest speakers or a casual meet-up for team-building games and post-work drinks. Their intentions are great, but they can backfire if the team’s already close to Zoom burnout.

That’s why we recommend making these online social events optional. It’ll allow anyone who’s exhausted to take a much-needed break without feeling guilty.

6. Go on work retreats with Surf Office

Company retreats are fantastic ways to tackle Zoom fatigue while still being able to meet up, solve problems, work together productively, and/or socialize as a team.

They help prevent Zoom fatigue for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the team gets to hang out in real life! Screens get side-lined in favor of face-to-face interactions and everyone gets a break from video calls – often for days at a time.

Depending on the retreat in question, you could be enjoying fun team-building activities, learning new skills, brainstorming ideas for new projects, or doing work that’s hard to do remotely. Whatever the case, you’re off Zoom and away from the normal routine. Expect to feel re-energized as a result.

Worried about the time and effort that goes into organizing a retreat? Don’t be! Surf Office can handle the hard work for you.

7. Allow occasional no-shows

Many employees with Zoom fatigue face a dilemma. If they attend every meeting, then their symptoms will probably worsen. But if they don’t attend, they might miss important information or get rebuked by their boss. It’s a catch-22 situation where there’s pressure to turn up – regardless of how they’re feeling.

Think about the culture in your own team. Rather than obligating 100% attendance and making employees feel guilty if they’re too burnt out to come, why not take steps that help them prioritize their well-being? For example, you could record meetings and/or ask someone to take notes to share with employees who couldn’t make it.

We can help you combat Zoom fatigue

Video conferencing tools offer compelling advantages to modern employers. They facilitate communication among remote teams, streamline collaboration, make it easier to build relationships with distant clients, save time and money by reducing the need to travel, and much more.

They aren’t perfect though! As we’ve seen, relying too heavily on video calls and virtual meetings can lead to so-called Zoom fatigue in your team. Hopefully, the insights in this article will help you identify and tackle this common bugbear before it becomes a problem.

Do you like the idea of going on a work retreat? Would you like Surf Office to organize it for you? Contact us to get the ball rolling.

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