Not Another Video Conference: How to Manage Zoom Fatigue
You’re learning that back-to-back video conferences are more exhausting than in-person meetings.
Zoom is exhausting, in part, because everything is harder during disruption. But National Geographic, USA Today, and others are posting articles on a new problem dubbed “Zoom fatigue.”
Why “Zoom fatigue”:
#1. Everyone looks like a stoic from New England on video conference.
Emotionally intelligent leaders use inter-personal cues to monitor and manage relationships. Strong relationships enhance results.
Every group on zoom looks disinterested, depressed, or adversarial. You might look at people’s faces on a video conference and wonder why they’re mad at you.
Looks of frustration or disinterest signal a need to adapt inter-personal strategies. Adding more detail may help ease furrowed brows, for example. But everyone looks like a New England stoic in a group video conference.
Humor is another challenge. People tend not to laugh when they’re alone in the family room.
#2. Looking at yourself complicates communication.
One nice thing about in-person conversation is you aren’t staring back at yourself. I recently had a zoom call where the video of myself was in a separate monitor.
It felt weird that I couldn’t see myself. When I dragged my image to the main monitor, I realized that it felt good to NOT see myself.
#3. Nostrils are distracting and exhausting.
You look at others too closely on video conference. Camera angles make others look scary. I’m tired of looking up your nose.
Why don’t people change the lighting? Did you shower yet? Your hair looks greasy.
#1. Try using your cell phone as a phone once in awhile.
#2. Set the screen to speaker view so you don’t have to see everyone on the call.
#3. Schedule time between calls so you can do some crunches or get the mail.
What causes Zoom fatigue for you?
What suggestions might you offer to alleviate Zoom fatigue?
Why Zoom Video Chats are so Exhausting (BBC)
Another Pandemic Woe: Zoom Fatigue (Axios)
Zoom Exhaustion is Real. Here Are Six Ways to Find Balance and Stay Connected (Mindful)
Regular in-person meetings can be challenging. Add a video camera and attention spans, goal setting, and focused objectives become more important. Plank in between sitting meetings, add a stand-up desk, and/or be aware of individual motivators to maintain engagement. I do see some of the benefit to Zoom meetings and how they will shape our future and behaviors.
Thanks Kishla. Variety is the spice of life. 🙂
Anything done as a unchanging routine gets old fast. I too see our video-conferences as something that is here to stay. I think the solution will be to simply mix it up: live meeting this week, video-conference next week. Some people in person at this meeting, next week others in person. In that world, there’ll be days when we’re thrilled to be on the video-conference list, while other days we’ll be happy to see each other in person. Here’s to a brave new world!
Stay Safe out there Everyone!
Thanks Mary Ellen. Looks like another vote for variety. Seize options when possible.
Surely “Focus” on Conference ” intent and content”!
Pay attention to presenters.
Understanding what’s most important and perhaps realign with items not so critical.
If your topics have been presented perhaps breakaway to more important business.
Keep a stimulus drink or snack nearby to get through the doldrums.
Thanks for your practical suggestions, Tim. I just got off a video conference with one person. Rather than using the presenter view, I used the speaker view. It kept the image of my video stream smaller. I think it was better.
With zoom or video-conferencing, I have no “down time” in between meetings, one ends at :57 and the next one starts at :00, no down time, no breaks, no commute time. The other thing is, with video-meetings, it’s hard to have a group conversation. Sure, there is the “small group function” but in the large group people can talk over each other.
I have found “wait time” to be helpful, but even longer than normal. I also think people overgeneralize the “videomeeting” feature. Some of my meetings have individuals whose technology is not working well. There is a phone in feature that only means one can’t screen share or see screen but for many meetings the audio-only option is as good as the video feature but many people I think feel obligated to video call rather than join via audio.
As a facilitator one has to be very proactive in muting participants and reminding people to unmute, but one also has to be “talent, director, and producer” all at one time. It is very easy to forget to turn off screen share or sometimes I don’t have documents ready to share so there is the awkward silence. I will say though we are all getting better at letting silence be okay and letting on-the-fly adjustments take place, so that is a plus I’m experiencing. I also see myself being much more efficient on managing time: we get things done in 30 minutes that we used to allow an hour for.
Thanks Martin. Yes, the lag time is challenging. I agree. It seems we’re getting better at not talking over each other.
The schedule can be solved if organizations adopt a 50 minute hour. All meetings begin at 10 after the hour or end at 10 minutes before. (assuming an hour meeting) You might try scheduling 25 minutes meetings instead of 30.
What causes Zoom fatigue for you? I’ve spent enough time for the last 43 days on “safer at home” here in SOCAL on the computer screen working remotely doing more via Zoom or similar applications in a social sense just tires me. There is something about personal contact around a meeting table (as noted above) that is more fulfilling than a computer screen. I just can’t get around it. Also not being able to go out more than 1.5 miles from home these last 43 days just does not make me a happy camper. That affects any shared screen time.
Thanks Roger. I’m hearing introvert friends feel a bit more comfortable with social distancing. For me, I get so much energy from live interaction that video presentations take a lot of energy.
I wish you well
Me too Dan!
I think it was you who said in post ages ago “There is no substitute for your personal presence!”
For me, to simply decode what is being said, Zoom and its ilk necessitates a far greater degree of concentration! This is the draining bit!! And all the more so if the video lags or drops frames and sound is less than natural and low fidelity. The video at worst can distract from the audio.
I’ve learned …
Keep meetings short.
Facilitation is critical.
Repeat vital ‘bytes’ of info. This is because congestion and compression can mean audio dropouts.
Placement of microphone needs to be optimal. The closer to the presenter the better.
While Zoom does a reasonable magic trick at removing a lot of this, eliminate extraneous noise such as paper shuffling etc.
last, but definitely not least, optimise room acoustics. If your room is too ‘live’, this will muddy the water even further!
Wow! Thanks for all the great suggestions.
For me the fatigue is caused by the talk-on-top of one another problem.. the “no, no, you go ahead” — “Zoom facilitator” (aka referee) may be the unsung hero of pandemic communication. I also find larger groups (more than 4-5) more challenging, to a greater degree than live meetings.
Thanks Ken. It takes a while to get used to that lag!! 🙂
I thought it was just me….This is good news, because it gives me freedom to think about how we can do it differently. I believe we will all learn together how to make this work.
As a graduate student, Zoom has been utilized for every aspect of my life- I have four classes, two jobs, and an internship that all take place on Zoom now. I have found several pros and cons to the platform, and have indeed been exhausted by it.
I do find the self-view to be strange. I don’t like to see myself talking or sitting there listening to someone else. I usually find that either turning off my camera, removing the personal view of myself by switching to speaker view, or minimizing the window of participants altogether helpful.
I do find the chat box to be helpful. I am currently teaching a course, and I like that many of the students submit their questions there; it allows for a record of frequently asked questions, and it gives students the option to submit questions to me privately, if they are more introverted and don’t want to ask in front of the entire class. Although I have found it difficult to get the undergraduate students to contribute to class by actually speaking- I’d appreciate any suggestions for getting them to unmute themselves and actually talk throughout the class instead of relying solely on the chat.
In order to ward off exhaustion, I’ve found that planning short breaks can be helpful, and especially utilizing those breaks to get outside. In general, staring at a computer screen for that long causes eye strain. Getting some natural light keeps my mind and body alert.
Using visual aids like powerpoints or taking tours of websites with students and classmates has been an interesting way to break up the monotony of Zoom.
For certain circumstances, using a platform other than Zoom has also alleviated this exhaustion. For some types of work, such as editing papers with students, I also utilize a platform called GoBaord (goboard.com). It’s free to use, and allows me to make marks on students’ papers, write notes, and draw examples. For personal use, I use apps like Houseparty or Facebook’s facetime feature. Their self-views are a little different, and they have features that are more humorous. So, when Zoom just isn’t the best option, I do like to use other platforms as needed.
Speaking from the IT support side of things, an additional point to consider is the stress of not knowing how to use the software/app. Despite numerous training sessions and full support, we have seen our base go out of their way to avoid Zoom when possible. They are too worried about appearing ignorant in the ways of the program, so that the worry obstructs their focus on the meeting and their purpose in the meeting. In contrast, we have also found that our support base if more confident when they have in-meeting technical support to fall back on. Eventually these people became more confident with the software than those who did not have in-meeting support. We found that it became a matter of pride that the meeting participants did not need to ask tech support for assistance anymore.
Quite an interesting topic in the current context!
We are habituated with Zoom based meetings and the family meets filled with good fun! The speaker takes a good responsibility of running through the whole agenda in orderly manner. Listening carefully to the speaker and the subject address along with expressing views once checked become interesting & useful. Unmute discussion is good but has to be done keeping the respect of others.
There is no fatigue if meetings are not too often! One needs to give sufficient prior notice to get well prepared with factual information and data. Family meets are quite enjoyable if organized well giving chance to all to participate and contribute to the collective joy.
Luckily, I am not new to Zoom, however the stoic looks that this blog entry refers to remain as accurate as the first day that I used it for a meeting. I agree, it is very strange to look at yourself during meetings. I usually cover up my video picture with the chat box. It somehow puts me at ease to not see myself as one of the “Brady Bunch” members (as I call it). Once you get past the shock of having to look at yourself on camera, it becomes a little frustrating when 2 people are talking at the same time without realizing it and neither message gets conveyed. I am learning to embrace the change. This is our new norm, for now.
Dan, I can feel a lot annoyance there. Could it be because of age difference? Our generation and those of our elders enjoy and appreciate physical meetings and though they like it at times to get connected virtually but not as a permanent mode.
What do you think?
Khawaja, That could be part of it. When adapting is difficult change is irritating. 🙂
For me, online video calls are a daily routine to connect with my family. Staying away from your family during this pandemic has made it more difficult. When you compare just a normal video call to a zoom call there is a huge difference. The more comfortable and smoother it gets on a video call, it’s easier while someone known is in front of you on the screen while the zoom meetings video box seems like the mental frustration and more time-consuming.
While few calls with a family feel refreshing and zoom sessions feel like, just a formality that we all have subscribed to. At a time, I have to sit from morning to evening on continuous zoom conferences, that’s very tiring for both mental and physical states.
I have never taken any online courses in my past education; this is the first time that I am experiencing this kind of platform. The beginning of the few sessions has been just like a new thing then I used to get a feeling of repetition, the same agenda of the meetings, sometimes the session is interesting, but in the end, the face to face conversations are meant to be more focused. Also, I have seen that the concentration during an online session tends to decrease after some point of time while in class discussions are more fun and engaging.
Before the zoom, the daily routine used to be a more productive and perfect day to day synchronous cycle. Later, shifting to an online format for all projects, lectures, I was finding difficult to manage all things together. The sleep, food, assignments, projects, exams everything felt like a burden all of sudden. In the beginning, I was struggling to manage all the routine due to excessive zoom calls later, I decided to change my schedule from morning to night. The before and after zooming meeting time should be more relaxing and away from the screen. Morning meditation, then one call to my mother, morning calls with mom always fills you with positive energy and happiness. The art therapy works, I am working on my sketches and found myself more productive doing that along with the studies. From next week as the semester gets over, I will spend more time on paintings and sketches and will have extra time to get hands-on baking.
The overnight transition from in-person interactions to online video conferencing on a near global scale has truly been astounding to observe. I feel like a very frustrating part of this phenomena concerns forcing those who are not very tech oriented, or have very little knowledge regarding how to use or operate apps, software, and cameras, to switch their entire persona to an online profile. Many times, this seems tom produce a lot of the disruption you discuss above since people who have no experience in operating online or simply have little disregard/understanding for their surroundings can impact a meeting. Some of the issues caused by this situation that I can think of off the top of my head is loud background noise, mute/un-mute options, proper mic usage, kids, and everyone’s favorite, awful internet, from which no one is safe.
All of these factors and little niche problems, in my opinion at least, are the primary drivers behind a good potion of the disruption fatigue you identify in your post here. And no one is immune or exempt from it which I think is an interesting point. I hear and talk to some people who just say, “ah no it’s for younger folk, it’s just the older people or the technologically illiterate,” but that is not the case at all. I know of multiple people who are more than competent with computers and in their twenties, who are already exhausted of this lifestyle, and it is the disruption fatigue from seemingly endless hours of webcam calls and video conferences. I think the suggestion you offer here will be a good refresher for me Dan, just using voice for once would be a nice change of pace. This tip also avoids as issue #2 as well, which is perfect because no one is used to looking at themselves present or talk on a regular basis.
The issues I’ve found aren’t with the software as such. Mainly, it’s from people doing it in dreadful, unsuitable little rooms, with lousy acoustics, appalling lighting, insufficient space to get decent camera/microphone positioning etc. Then you get hisses, pops, crackles, hiccups etc, picture jerks, people gaining/losing connection randomly and the whole thing is ineffective, irritating and downright draining to use. IT departments are helpful, but there isn’t much they can do about estate/infrastructure!
Zoom distractions seem to be my problem. While Zoom is a convenient way to connect and communicate by phone and computer from home, the distractions of the internet, text conversations, tv, and family remain. In a boardroom or classroom environment it is easier to hold oneself accountable for ones’ actions and amount of interaction within the group. I do however enjoy the chat function and find that helps. From the classroom perspective, it is not always easy to speak as it places you at the center of attention on a screen that seems to magnify the imperfections of our appearance. Using the chat function, it is easier to engage in the conversation of the topic. I feel it allows those who tend to be quiet and shy, the ability to interact without that “public speaking” feeling.
This pandemic has showed us the ability of Zoom and I feel we will continue to use Zoom in greater ways. Therefore, those who have the ability to use a stand-up desk or build office spaces with limited additional distractions, will aid in maintaining focus. Going for a walk in between meetings and using scheduled breaks as a way to look away from the screen and stretch are also beneficial to managing zoom fatigue.
This post reminded me of something I read recently that explained how body language accounts for more than half of communication. Obviously on zoom it can be difficult to interpret body language. I definitely think attending a bunch of meetings on Zoom is exhausting. You’re calling from the same place every day (for the most part) and you typically are sitting alone. Not to mention how frustrating it can be when someones connection dies out or forgets to put themselves on mute. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a pet or sibling drop in the background.
I can see how it could be helpful to not look at yourself while on video calls- it can definitely be distracting. However, to play devils advocate- this could be used as a good tool to make self- observations or analyze your own communication styles while giving presentations or such. It will definitely be interesting once we transition back to in person meetings. I’m sure from a psychological stand point it may be challenging for some to jump back into such settings. I think a lot of people are getting used to hiding behind a computer screen. We may have a lot to adjust to once we get back into the office.
This post is something I think that many of us can relate to in the current lock down situation. Between work and school, I have had so many zoom meetings that I cannot even keep track. However, these have been leaving me even more drained or socially confused than in person meetings. Even when zooming with friends or family I still walk away with a bit of exhaustion from it all. I think the exhaustion comes from a few factors. As you have mentioned, you can see everyone all at once, but you do not really see their body language which can be confusing. I also think zoom causes fatigue because there is no excuse to not be there (especially in a social context), which blurs the line of personal time and work/social time. I have noticed different approaches to reducing zoom fatigue from friends/family, colleagues, and professors.
One of the first methods that I have seen in many of my classes is to have everyone turn their cameras off and to use the zoom meeting as more of a phone call. Another method I have see is to limit the number of individuals. I also think that some other apps such as google hangouts are a lot of better alternatives, because the camera will only show whoever is speaking/making noise, and you do not really see much of yourself in the screen.
Often I turn off the camera for our full staff (20) meetings, with the exception of a meeting with only my supervisor and one associate. It’s easier to remain somewhat “invisible” and focus on what is being said by others, instead of wondering how bad my hair looks or if the cat is going to jump up on the desk. On only a few occasions, a participant was eating; the clinking of dishes and watching them chew was most distracting. I don’t mind if participants are drinking coffee or water. Hydration and/or caffeine are essential in long meetings! Numerous Zoom meetings in may be tiresome, but they do provide some human interaction while we’re teleworking.
What an interesting world that we live in where everything is now on a laptop. Some advice I would give to prevent Zoom fatigue: my favorite addition has been “AirPods”, or wireless headphones. This prevents the sound of the meetings echoing throughout my house, and also allows for a little flexibility in movement. If I want to refill my cup of coffee, I can still listen to the meeting. I also don’t have to worry about my cats walking through and stepping on the wires and yanking the headphones out of my ears or off of the laptop. On the food/water aspect, I think it is important to try and have everything within arms reach. For me, this means water, coffee, chapstick, phone, and any necessary books/school supplies.
I agree the most difficult part of Zoom meetings is eating while on camera. When having back-to-back meetings, snacking is almost a given. Being watched while eating is super awkward. My favorite part of zoom meetings is being at home and the time saved from commuting. I have enjoyed my moments outside on my porch or backyard so much more now. Getting fresh air is essential to prevent zoom fatigue.
It’s interesting that you mentioned how people look angry on Zoom even when they’re not, and that’s definitely something I have noticed as I’m in Zoom meetings. We use Zoom a lot in my department even when we’re not facing a global pandemic, and I dislike it because it’s impersonal.
I’ve noticed the disconnect that I feel even more since my husband and I moved the small group (Bible study that we lead weekly) to Zoom as well. I’m thankful for the technology, but in these groups, people tend to confront feelings or situations in a safe space (in our home). Zoom has its perks, but it absolutely is not conducive to people opening up and being vulnerable in a space that allows them to heal. It’s better than not meeting at all, but it’s more taxing than meeting with people face-to-face.
As our team expands at work, even during this pandemic, we’re considering ways we can connect that keep up from disliking Zoom. One thing we’re doing in a bi-weekly “brown bag lunch” with a theme. Next Monday we’re introducing our pets, which should be fun. We’re doing our best, and I’m glad Zoom allows us to try.
The frustration of excessive zoom meetings is exhausting! And it certainly doesn’t make it any better when everyone else on the call visibly looks how you feel—“over it”. I think my zoom meetings pre-pandemic (which as you can imagine were far less frequent than they are now) had a completely different tone than the zoom meetings now. Before you would still see classic zoom fatigue, but it was nothing more than the expected level associated with “grad school stress”. During the pandemic, however, there was a sharp shift in the tone of meetings, especially in those of 20+ people, where it created this almost eerie feeling of everyone knowing the world is going through a crazy time, but still trying to carry on with “normal” life? The tone of conversations shifted too between coworkers and students/professors. People seem to be irritable or triggered easily. I’ve seen more and more heated discussions, and it seems everyone is on edge during this time which makes it even harder to be mindful of zoom etiquette. Your post is especially helpful because it focuses more on redirecting thoughts and behaviors to suit the current moment. A lot of people are stressed about things outside their zoom meeting, and your simple suggestions help people be more present and focus on their current task at hand. I do believe this technique can be a useful grounding tool is managing emotions.
I was unaware there was a term for how I have been feeling! The “tech neck” aches are starting to become a regular occurrence. I find that Zoom meetings feel more serious and formal compared to just gathering at a desk at work or a phone call. Does my hair look ok? Should I go outside to avoid noise? So many factors to consider to be courteous and make the meeting flow more efficiently. I definitely think Zoom meetings require more thought and effort.
When my team first started using Zoom as our main outlet of communication, an issue arose that my boss wanted to discuss with me. Instead of just emailing about it or talking over the phone, she wanted to Zoom chat about it. I was so anxious and felt like having the Zoom meeting made the issue more serious. The meeting went well, and a lot was accomplished. Looking back on the experience it allowed her to see my expressions and true feelings towards the matter.
My suggestions to alleviate Zoom fatigue is to have fun with them. Act how you normally would if it were in person. Add a fun background, create themes for the meetings and dress up, or start with an icebreaker. Seeing your coworkers in an environment outside of work is always odd at first, but once we become more comfortable and have more fun the fatigue will fade.