‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing, but there are simple ways to fix it

STANFORD, Calif. — Zoom meetings have become the new normal for many people, from students to office workers around the world. All those video chats day after day however are starting to wear on people’s nerves, a new study finds. The director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab says “Zoom fatigue” is real for people working and learning remotely. Luckily, there are some simple tricks that’ll snap you out of your video screen daze.

“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” says Jeremy Bailenson in a university release.

In the study, published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior, Bailenson lays out the four main reasons users are experiencing Zoom fatigue and the solutions to fix each one.

Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact are highly intense

The study author says it’s not normal to see faces on a small screen in that manner, nor is the constant eye contact. Zoom meetings differ from in-person meetings. In-person, you’re likely looking back and forth between the speaker and the notes you’re jotting down. As for Zoom, there’s more eye contact for a vast majority of the time. For the speaker, this can cause stress, due to all eyes being on you.

“Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exist in our population,” Bailenson says. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

The solution: Bailenson recommends that until the interface of Zoom is corrected for better use, users should do away with full-screen mode.

Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing

Viewing a square video of yourself all the time — which most video platforms have — is not a natural thing either.

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” Bailenson explains.

The solution: Bailenson offers the option to use “hide self-view” until (what he suggests) video calls only show the speaker and others when necessary.

Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility

Reduced mobility is often the result of video app usage. Due to the stagnant nature of a virtual meeting, a person is more than likely to remain still for the full duration of a video call.

“There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson continues.

The solution: Bailenson’s recommendation is to use a wireless keyboard and being mindful of the room someone is video conferencing in. The ability to turn your camera on and off is also an effective measure to take.

The cognitive load is much higher in video chats

The study finds communication through video chat is also far more difficult than in-person, face-to-face delivery. Non-verbal communication feels natural in-person. During video chats, the cognitive part of the brain works overtime to send signals. Video gestures can also mean different responses than in-person.

“You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate,” the researcher writes.

The solution: Taking breaks from audio and video can help relieve some of this fatigue too.

“This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson notes, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

The Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale (ZTF) has been tested by five separate studies using 500 participants. ZTF asks about a person’s general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue, and motivational fatigue. Researcher Jeff Hancock is hopeful for change, mentioning past developments that we’ve had to adapt to.

“When we first had elevators, we didn’t know whether we should stare at each other or not in that space. More recently, ridesharing has brought up questions about whether you talk to the driver or not, or whether to get in the back seat or the passenger seat,” Hancock concludes. “We had to evolve ways to make it work for us. We’re in that era now with video conferencing, and understanding the mechanisms will help us understand the optimal way to do things for different settings, different organizations and different kinds of meetings.”

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