Zoom fatigue and how to beat it

In the post-pandemic world, a few things have become quite common: masks, hand sanitizer and Zoom fatigue, or the feeling of being worn out after a long day of virtual meetings. But new research from a team led by University of Georgia psychologist Kristen Shockley suggests that it’s not the meetings causing the fatigue—it’s the camera.

Zoom fatigue and how to beat it“We knew people had the perception that Zoom meetings were leading to fatigue, but we didn’t know what about those meetings was the problem,” said Shockley, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study revealed that there’s something about the camera being on that causes people to feel drained and lack energy.”

Remote work and video collaboration

For the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Shockley and the team worked with BroadPath, an Arizona-based health care services company. BroadPath has been in the remote-work field for almost 10 years using its own proprietary video software, and CEO Daron Robertson wanted to quantify how video can add or detract to the experience.

“A lot of the prevailing thought around remote work and video collaboration technologies has been, ‘More is better.’ It’s like saying, ‘Drinking a glass of wine every night is good, so drinking a bottle of wine can only be better,’” said Robertson, co-author on the paper.

“Our experience is that using front-facing video cameras in back-to-back Zoom meetings doesn’t feel good for a lot of employees. We wanted to quantify that and establish a baseline to measure improvements against.”

BroadPath employees were 95% remote before the pandemic and quickly transitioned to 100% after the pandemic, providing the team with a valuable opportunity to investigate a new phenomenon.

Experimenting with video meetings

“I never heard the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ before the pandemic, and it’s rare that you get to study something that’s so relevant and new,” Shockley said. “We were able to conduct a study using the gold standard design—a true field experiment, with random assignment, which is also rare.”

Using a sample of 103 BroadPath employees, the team randomly assigned half the participants to have their cameras on during meetings, and half to have their cameras off. After two weeks, the groups switched. Participants filled out a daily survey assessing fatigue, voice (the feeling that you can speak up in meetings) and engagement for that day.

After accessing calendar data for the employees, the team was able to control statistically for the number of meetings and total time spent in meetings, allowing them to isolate the finding that having the camera on during meetings led to fatigue, rather than just being in more meetings.

Zoom meeting fatigue especially affects women and new employees

“We’re not advocating for cameras off all the time,” Shockley said, “but we are advocating for allowing people autonomy and being more strategic in the way that we do meetings with Zoom and other video platforms.”

The researchers also found that the effects were stronger in women and people who were newer to the organization. These groups exhibited more fatigue when their camera was on, perhaps because women feel heightened pressure to demonstrate competence by appearing extra vigilant on camera, and because newcomers may feel the need to prove themselves since they do not have established relationships with others, according to Shockley.

Additionally, there are issues related to child care and appearance norms.

“Women are statistically more likely to have kids running around in the background, and we also hold higher standards for physical appearance for women, which can add to stress and fatigue,” she said. “That just speaks to the need for people to have flexibility and more autonomy when it comes to video.”

UGA’s office of online learning acknowledges online students and working professionals are likely to experience zoom fatigue and found these tips to share. 

Tips to beat Zoom fatigue

  • Avoid multitasking

It might be tempting to do several things at once during Zoom meetings, but you probably aren't as good at multitasking as you think.

Multitasking can be hard to resist, especially during busy days with multiple calls or meetings, but there is a reason why focusing on the task at hand is one of the top tips for online learning. Removing distractions will have you more present and effective and less fatigued.

  • Schedule breaks

Online learning can make it difficult to break your day into manageable segments. Back-to-back Zoom meetings and other consecutive tasks can contribute to fatigue and exhaustion.

Before the recent shift to remote learning, commuting to attend meetings or classes in person created natural and necessary breaks in the day. Replicating those breaks in your online environment can help you avoid days that feel like one long, unvaried task.

How you do this will depend on whether you're working in a synchronous or asynchronous format. Asynchronous work gives you more freedom to work breaks into your day, but even synchronous meetings can be scheduled with intention. If you can, try to plan short breaks in between meetings and classes. Stand up, stretch your legs, rest your eyes, or even take a short walk, if you're able.

  • Turn off self-view

Regular Zoom use can create interesting habits, such as constantly staring at yourself on screen. Knowing that your video is broadcast to others can heighten your awareness of being seen, and that awareness can induce anxiety and make it difficult to focus. It can also be exhausting.

It's important to make sure your appearance and background look professional, but you don't need to go overboard. Andrew Franklin, a cyberpsychologist at Norfolk State University, calls this phenomenon the "imaginary audience." He says that knowing we are viewable on Zoom can lead us to assume that everyone is paying close attention to every move we make.

This isn't really true, of course: Other participants are probably thinking the same thing about their self-views! To help reduce your anxiety, turn off your self-view. You'll have an easier time focusing on your work.

  • Shorten meetings

Maybe you've heard the joke before: "This meeting could have been an email." It's a funny commentary on office culture, but it has taken on new meaning in light of the pandemic and recent shift to remote work. The length of our meetings is not an indicator of their success or effectiveness.

Nobody enjoys overly long meetings even in person, and lengthy virtual meetings can be tiring and frustrating. The shift to remote learning and virtual work makes it easier to schedule even more calls than before.

Instead, keep meetings short and to-the-point if you can, and consider using a different mode of communication whenever possible. Use that extra time to take a much needed break instead.

  • Send an agenda if you’re the meeting host

If you're hosting a meeting — like leading a group project, for example — make sure you're well-prepared. Taking an extra few minutes to make an agenda in advance can help the session flow efficiently and save a lot of time in the long run. It is also a good professional habit that shows that you respect your peers' time and effort.

Once you've made an agenda, be sure to send it out to participants before the scheduled call. This will help your peers prepare and keep them engaged. Having clear expectations with specific points and time limits will prevent your meeting from going over.

 

Original UGA research article can be found here.

Article for tips that were referenced can be found here.