Odds are, you’ve never videoconferenced this often before. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless workers have had no choice but to use platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for communication. They certainly have their benefits — who doesn’t enjoy skipping their commute? — but after a long day of Zoom meetings, it’s understandable if you feel more tired than usual.
Why is this the case? Powering through several meetings a day in the office wasn’t fun, but something about being on camera all the time feels different. If you feel this way, you’re onto something: the phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue” is very real, so let’s address what it is and what you can do to avoid it:
Zoom fatigue has several legitimate causes. One of them is because your brain is not used to communicating this way. When talking to someone in person, you partly focus on the words someone is saying, but you also have several other cues to pull from to interpret what they’re actually communicating, including facial expressions and body language.
Much of that is gone during a video chat. Instead, your brain has to work harder to send and receive the right signals, and constant eye contact is a little intense. You now have to focus intently on what someone is talking about instead of having nonverbal hints to rely on. The cognitive strain on your mind is higher than you’re accustomed to.
Another cause of Zoom fatigue is the fact that you can see yourself. How often do you see your own reflection when having a conversation in person? Unless plenty of mirrors are nearby, probably exceptionally rarely, and definitely not straight-on like you’re seeing yourself in the bathroom mirror. Your little window is distracting. Instead of focusing on the other person, you can’t help but scrutinize how you look today and drift off. Several meetings like that in a row, and you wonder if you were present at all.
Constant videoconferences and gazing intently to prove you’re paying attention — and being stared at, feeling like you’re unable to shift — is uncomfortable and tiring. Fortunately, you don’t have to be stuck feeling this way while you work.
To combat Zoom fatigue, you can try the following methods and use Zoom alternatives for conferencing:
It can be exhausting feeling pressured to make eye contact with someone for an extended period. You’re not even making actual eye contact with them — you’re looking at a bright screen, which strains your eyes. Plus, you have all sorts of other visual cues to look at in the background, like if your fellow participants use custom themes, so the visual overload can result in fatigue.
Instead, stick to voice-only meetings whenever you can. It gives you a chance to look at other things and rest your eyes. Voice calls enable you to communicate everything you need to — unless you’re giving a presentation — and they provide a reprieve from others looking at you as well. Just don’t forget to take notes!
Better yet, take your meetings away from your desk and get some fresh air. You probably pace around your office during voice calls anyway, so why not get some real exercise? You’ll find that walking meetings boast countless health and productivity benefits. A Zoom alternative optimized for walking meetings like Spot gets your creative juices flowing and supports your mental health by allowing you to go for a walk in the park and enjoy nature. You may even start to look forward to meetings because going outside refreshes you and breaks up your day!
If a video call is unavoidable, find ways to reduce your visual overload. One of the reasons you may find video conferences so exhausting is because there’s no shortage of things to look at, so don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues to use blurred or unexciting backgrounds.
Consider hiding yourself on your personal screen, too. Many of us tend to be over-concerned with our appearances and spend more time looking at ourselves on screen than the people we should be talking to. Removing your own face from view eliminates this temptation and helps you focus.
Besides work, people use video conferencing platforms for fun and leisure more than they ever had before. From virtual happy hours to long-distance digital board game nights, you might find yourself on camera even when you’ve clocked out for the day.
Video chatting for fun can be an excellent way to connect with friends and family members you can’t see in person, so strike a balance that doesn’t exacerbate your Zoom fatigue. Perhaps doing fun things with friends in the evening over video lessens your negative associations with the platform and helps you dread it less at work. Then again, maybe being on camera makes you feel drained, so you’re not as present when it’s time for more enjoyable activities. Determine your mindset regarding remote social events, so you know which to participate in and which to sit out.
Zoom fatigue is frustrating, but you don’t have to accept it as part of your work and social life. Be mindful of why it happens and the techniques above to make communicating with the people in your life more enjoyable.