According to a peer-reviewed study from Stanford University, “Zoom Fatigue” is a real thing, and it happens to come with real psychological consequences. The good news is that there are ways to combat what the Stanford study refers to as “Nonverbal Overload” and it only takes a bit of vigilance and practice to start reaping the benefits. Let’s take a look at seven practical tips you can start using right away to help clear the mental fog.
Those long days of virtual meetings come with a psychological cost
Although Zoom is the brand name of a commercially successful videoconferencing product, it has also been picked up widely during the coronavirus pandemic as a verb for this activity regardless of the platform used. It’s in this context that the author of the Stanford study, Jeremy Bailenson, adopted the popular term “Zoom Fatigue” even if you’re on Microsoft Teams, WebEx, RingCentral, or some other conferencing product most of the day.
Because of the highly collaborative nature of their work, architecture and engineering teams can be especially susceptible to this kind of nonverbal overload. The study found that there are four main things about videoconferencing that wears us out.
- It takes more mental energy to process what’s happening. In normal social settings, we send and receive nonverbal cues in a more relaxed and structured way. In a videoconference, our brains have to work overtime to monitor and sift through these cues from a continuous, yet slightly delayed and compromised stream of audio and video.
- It exposes us to exaggerated and multiplied eye contact. When we’re in a live conference room, direct eye contact is relatively rare and intermittent. On a Zoom call we’re responding to as many as nine pairs of eyes the whole time. It also creates a kind of forced (and sustained) intimacy we usually save only for close personal relationships.
- It forces us to sit still for artificially long periods. Regular calls and meetings allow us to move around and do minor tasks while we’re talking. Videoconferencing tends to keep us trapped in the fixed cone that the webcam sees and in reach of the keyboard. Data suggests that cognitive performance goes up when we’re able to be physically active.
- It keeps us stuck in a virtual mirror. Videoconferencing forces us to concentrate on our own images for much longer periods than we normally would. The tiring part of this is that it can trigger negative self-evaluation in both sexes, although in study research data it was statistically more prevalent among women.
These 7 simple techniques can help you manage the effects of “Zoom Fatigue”
Once you know what you’re up against, there are steps you can take to reduce the energy drain that comes with all day videoconferencing. Many can be put into effect immediately.
- Look for ways to shorten online meetings and make them more efficient. For example, consider replacing long discussions with simple numeric chat voting or stack ranking.
- Stick to your published agenda and distribute review documents like specs, submittals or file views in advance so meetings don’t run longer than necessary.
- Give people the option of going off camera more often and making their meeting contributions via chat. Turn your own camera off as frequently as you can.
- If the platform allows it, adjust your meeting display so faces are smaller in tile view and move your own position farther back from the camera.
- Invest in an external webcam with a wider field of vision so you’re not as space-constrained by your computer’s built-in camera.
- Invest in a quality wireless headset that gives you more freedom of motion in your remote workspace. This will give you the option to move and stretch, especially when you can participate in the meeting with your camera off.
- Reduce the strain of watching yourself by adjusting your background and lighting. If the platform allows it, try minimizing your self-view as much as possible.
As we navigate the massive shift to remote work we’ve experienced over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that people are doing the best they can to manage and adapt. We’d love to make this a two-way conversation. If you have an idea or success story to share about addressing “Zoom Fatigue,” we want to engage with you in the comments section or through our contact page. For additional information, or to talk about financial considerations for architecture or engineering firms, contact us to learn more. We look forward to speaking with you soon.