Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, actually coined the phrase Zoom fatigue. Also known as virtual or video-conferencing fatigue, it happens when constantly being on video calls drains you mentally and physically. And with more than three hundred million daily Zoom participants alone, it’s taking a worldwide toll. Though not a formal diagnosis, Zoom/video conferencing fatigue is real. Most people are heavily engaged in the digital world on a day-to-day basis, but the increase in Zoom and other video conferencing calls has caused profound stress.
What causes Zoom fatigue?
In a 2021 Stanford University survey, 10,000 participants were asked a series of general questions about the five different types of video fatigue. They were measured by levels of overall tiredness, social interactions, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, stress on their eyes, and a lack of drive to engage in new activities. Results showed that women experienced more Zoom fatigue than men. Reasons pointed to what is called “mirror anxiety,” which triggers someone to be hyperfocused on what they look and sound like and to be in a constant state of self-monitoring and criticism, which has been shown to lead to anxiety and depression.
Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, concluded that because people do not stare into someone else’s face when at close range, it’s an unnatural state to be in while video conferencing. At in-person meetings, the attendees may be taking notes or reviewing informational handouts. Video conferencing or Zoom calls interrupt this natural flow, coercing attendees to hyperfocus on everyone during the call; Bailenson calls this a “hyper gaze.” The continuous fear of being perceived as inattentive during video meetings can be stressful and exhausting; this makes people feel that they are always on high alert, causing undue stress. Technology can also cause slight delays, which may result in people speaking over one another, creating confusion and necessitating extra effort for everyone to be heard.
Warning Signs and Coping Mechanisms
Zoom fatigue can show up differently for each individual, but, in the end, it can result in burnout. Physically, you might experience fatigue, sore muscles, and even insomnia. Mentally, it can cause concentration issues and forgetfulness, and you may find yourself getting easily frustrated and irritable with your coworkers. Ultimately, it can branch out to impact your personal relationships; for example, you might be so exhausted that you find it difficult to be emotionally available to your loved ones.
You can lessen your risk of being affected by Zoom fatigue by doing the following:
- Create boundaries for yourself by letting your team know if you need time away from your computer
- Take mini breaks—stand up and stretch, or go for a short, vigorous walk
- Avoid multitasking, and try instead to concentrate on one thing at a time
- Turn your video off if you are able, and, if possible, schedule a phone call instead
- Check your calendar to avoid too many Zoom calls in any one day
- If you are a manager conducting the meeting, try to make it as short and direct as possible
Balancing Zoom call expectations
Zoom etiquette varies from company to company, and, depending on your company’s rigidity or flexibility, it can place cognitive demands on you that can become quite challenging over time. For example, does your company require you to be in a shirt and tie or wear a dressy top to show a formal, corporate look every day? Or is it a more laid-back environment where you are not required to be dressed to the nines? How tolerant is your superior to possible background interruptions, such as your dog barking, your baby crying, or construction happening outside your window? It can be difficult to completely separate your work life from your personal life when working remotely. Knowing the expectations and having an open conversation with your manager about your work-life/home-life challenges can help alleviate additional Zoom fatigue.
Mollie West Duffy, an expert in organizational design, development, and leadership coaching, and coauthor of the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, has been consulting with companies on how best to return to the workplace post COVID-19. She believes that businesses will need to continue to work with their employees on how to best navigate the postpandemic workplace ethos.
The bottom line is that videoconferencing calls are here to stay, but it’s important to understand your company’s expectations and find the right work-life balance for job satisfaction.