Zoom Fatigue Symptoms: Causes, prevention and recovery





Future of Work


“Another Zoom meeting? No, please! I already have a Zoom headache”. 

Since the pandemic hit, we have been on video calls more than ever before. Virtual meeting burnout is a very real thing. And more and more people are suffering signs of Zoom fatigue these days. 

Let’s talk about the “elephant in the Zoom”: Zoom meetings can be draining. Pressing the Leave/End button and relaxing the “Zoom face” is the ultimate moment of relief for many.

But what’s wrong with Zoom meetings and why are so many people experiencing Zoom exhaustion? What exactly is tiring us out? In the following article you will find all you need to know about Zoom fatigue symptoms and how to deal with Zoom burnout. Read along!

What is Zoom fatigue? 

The term “Zoom fatigue” (also called virtual meeting fatigue) was popularized on social media during the first months of 2020. But it has been continuously searched online afterwards, according to Google trends.

Over two years into the pandemic, a recent survey found that nearly a quarter of American remote workers (23%) say that their Zoom fatigue is worse than ever. But it is not just an internet phenomenon. And it is not just about Zoom. It was called “Zoom fatigue” because of the popularity of the platform among the available remote work tools

A first peer-reviewed article about the so-called Zoom fatigue symptoms from a psychological perspective was published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior in February 2021, by Stanford University communication professor Jeremy Bailenson.

Bailenson researched the symptoms of Zoom fatigue. He concluded that Zoom was “an amazing tool”, but its continued use can have “psychological consequences”. According to the Bailenson study, Zoom and other popular video chat platforms have “design flaws” that exhaust the human mind and body. 

After too many Zoom meetings, you can feel extremely tired and have some signs of Zoom burnout, such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension pain, fatigue and insomnia. 

Let’s find out why, and what you can do to reduce Zoom meetings while staying organized at work

Why do I feel drained after meetings? 

As the Bailenson research shows, video calls exhaust humans and cause Zoom fatigue symptoms. 

There are different reasons that explain why you can experience meeting fatigue when using videoconferencing technology.

Here are the five main reasons:

1. Too close up eye contact

When you talk to someone face to face, there is usually way more distance with the other person than in a Zoom meeting. 

However, if you use video conferencing platforms, cameras are often very close. As a result, the amount of eye contact becomes too intense, and the size of faces on screens seems unnatural.

Besides, in a Zoom call everyone is mostly looking at everyone all the time, so even if you don’t speak, you still have faces staring at you. It can cause Zoom exhaustion because we are not used to that permanent eye contact.

“This is similar to being in a crowded subway car while being forced to stare at the person you are standing very close to, instead of looking down or at your phone”, explains Bailenson.

“On top of this, it is as if everyone rotated their bodies such that their faces were oriented toward your eyes. [...] For many Zoom users, this happens for hours consecutively”, says the psychologist.

2. Seeing yourself

Another cause of Zoom fatigue symptoms  is what Bailenson calls “an all day mirror”. You don’t see yourself when communicating in person. In a Zoom meeting, you see yourself all the time. It’s very hard for us not to look at our own faces if we can see them on screen, or to not be conscious of how we behave in front of the camera.

Imagine an assistant following you all around the office with a handheld mirror while you have meetings with people, making sure you see yourself in that mirror while you have those conversations. Does it sound like a weird or even worrying example of a toxic work culture? Well, it is not much different to what happens in a Zoom call.

“Even though one can change the settings to ‘hide self view’, the default is that we see our own real-time camera feed, and we stare at ourselves throughout hours of meetings per day”, stresses Bailenson in his report.

Marissa Shuffler is an associate professor at Clemson University. She says that being on camera makes you aware of being watched, which can result in “social pressure” and “feeling like you need to perform”. “Being performative is nerve-wracking and stressful”, adds the psychology professor.

3. Too long

Meeting in person and online are different. A lot of virtual meetings are too long, causing exhaustion and leading to Zoom fatigue symptoms.

“After a long day of back-to-back video calls, it’s normal to feel drained”, explain authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy in a Harvard Business Review article. The length of Zoom meetings is a shared complaint among many remote workers.

There are countless posts on blogs and social media platforms from users suffering from Zoom exhaustion. Many people complain about “too long” virtual meetings. For some, virtual meetings transform into a “Zoom all day long”, as stated by workplace advice columnist Alison Green. 

2021 Zoom data shows that meetings are still too long. A Zoom survey of nearly 1,700 users suggests that the average meeting length was nearly an hour. That is a rather long meeting, and nearly twice as long as our attention span allows for. According to Microsoft research, fatigue sets in about half an hour into video meetings. 

We all have been in meetings that weren’t needed. You can try out these meeting agenda examples to improve the length and productivity of your video meetings.

4. Little mobility

Staying seated in a chair for prolonged periods of time can be challenging and unhealthy. Also, staying within the angle of the camera can come unnatural.

In-person and phone conversations allow you to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most cameras have a set field of view, meaning you have to generally stay in the same spot. 

According to Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson, when we move, we “perform better cognitively”.

5. Cognitive load

In regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is natural and helps us to interpret messages subconsciously. But in video chats it is harder to send and receive gestures.

We make our brain work harder by exaggerating our facial expressions. We also have to make more conscious signs (such as thumbs up or down) to note if we agree or disagree with something, explains Bailenson.

That adds cognitive load and the use of your “mental calories” to communicate and to understand others. As a result, you carry a heavier cognitive load and it adds to Zoom fatigue.

Things to do during your meetings to prevent Zoom fatigue

So now that we have explored the problem, let’s explore the solution.

Here are some things you can do to avoid Zoom fatigue symptoms, in case those Zoom meetings can’t be avoided:

  • Turn your camera off every now and then: Take breaks from the camera every now and then to recharge your batteries.
  • Move around: Take meetings while going on a walk if possible, or move around the house. 
  • Sit further away from the screen: usual interactions have 1 meter between people, try sitting away further from your screen.
  • Reduce meeting time: Try to keep meetings at 30 minutes max. Reducing items on a meeting agenda might also allow for a smaller group to attend, so it’s a more focused conversation.
  • Set up a meeting agenda and follow virtual meeting best practices: improve virtual meetings and make sure you are getting the most out of that time.

How to avoid meetings altogether

It is not always possible, but for some companies it might be a good idea to reduce Zoom meetings to the bare minimum and apply other communication strategies.

If that is your case, there are three options you can try to implement to leave video conferences behind and forget about Zoom fatigue symptoms once and for all.

1. Switch to asynchronous by default

“We should evaluate why we are choosing a video for so many calls that previously would never have warranted a face-to-face meeting, or perhaps any synchronous meeting at all”, says professor Jeremy Bailenson.

Asynchronous work requires less direct response and allows people to get work done in their own time. This allows team members to pick up tasks from others without waiting for meetings or direct messages.

2. Learn to say no

Sometimes you just don’t need another meeting. Learn to say no when you don’t think you will bring value to it.

Task management skills can be useful for that purpose, as you will learn to prioritize which meetings are more relevant.

3. Leverage documentation

Storing information means team members can find information more easily without needing to reach out to or schedule a meeting for clarification.

If you look into how to improve productivity in an organization, you will start having your documents more structured and organized, thus less meetings will be necessary.

How do I recover from Zoom fatigue?

Already experiencing Zoom headache, virtual meeting burnout and other Zoom fatigue symptoms?

Here is some advice for you:

  • Communicate with your team: Share your issues with your coworkers. You might be able to brainstorm a solution together. Check in questions for meetings can be a good start for it.
  • Take some time off: Taking a few days off can have positive effects on your mental health.
  • Set a no meetings day: Set a day in the week in which you don’t accept meetings. This allows you to clear your mind for a complete day. 

Stop zooming, start rocking!

Rock is designed to help you avoid unnecessary meetings, so you can reduce meeting fatigue. Use messages, tasks, notes and files to increase the efficiency of your meetings or to not need them in the first place!

However, we do believe that when necessary, virtual meetings should be easy to carry out. Rock has Zoom, Google Meet and Jitsi integrations, so you can start rocking in all you meetings!

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