4:53 PM. You just hit the “Leave Meeting” button on your sixth and final video conference of the day. You think about sending an email to confirm the meeting’s action items, but you’re too tired and scattered to remember what they were. Your eyes are dry and sore. Your shoulders are stiff. You’re grouchy and can’t understand why you’re so drained when all you’ve been doing is sitting in front of your laptop all day. This is Zoom Fatigue.
One thing the COVID-19 lockdown taught us is that we must take care of our mental health as well as our physical health. Somewhat ironically, another thing the pandemic taught us is that, when it’s not safe to go into the office, we can work from home and be in virtual meetings all day, every day. Whether we realize it or not, communicating via videoconference demands more brain power than meeting in person. And doing it for hours on end can start to take a toll on a person’s mental health.
Before we get into “symptoms,” let’s zoom out (see what we did there?) for a moment and talk about videoconferencing itself. Virtual meetings are not inherently a bad thing. On the contrary, videoconferencing platforms are wonderful tools for team collaboration and communication. They have been especially vital to staying productive and collaborating while working remotely, as the pandemic has forced many of us to do. However, the rise of Zoom fatigue has shown that we should develop healthy habits in our use of videoconferencing.
The signs of Zoom fatigue are similar to those of classic occupational burnout:
Also, it should be noted that even though the term has been coined as “Zoom fatigue,” it is used as a blanket term not exclusive to Zoom. It can refer to exhaustion related to prolonged use of any videoconferencing platform, including Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Slack, GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex, etc.
Researchers at Stanford University published an article that posits “nonverbal overload” as a possible explanation for Zoom fatigue. To explain what is meant by nonverbal overload, think about the things that are associated with being on a videoconference:
All the above behaviors are quite unnatural to normal human interaction. As a consequence, our brains have to work harder to process them. Although we may not consciously realize it, virtual meetings are quite the mental workout, and we’re doing them for extended periods throughout the workday.
Another factor that can contribute to Zoom fatigue is the mixing of home and work environments. It can be embarrassing or even nerve wracking to be in a meeting while having to worry about your kids crying, your cat jumping on the keyboard, or your neighbor cranking the lawn mower. And while many videoconferencing platforms offer virtual backgrounds, they can sometimes glitch or fail, exposing your messy living room.
Again, Zoom fatigue is not a direct effect of videoconferencing itself, but rather a reaction to repeated and prolonged meetings on camera. There are several steps we can take to reduce or avoid the exhaustion.
Even though things are slowly returning to normal and businesses are starting to re-open their offices, videoconferencing is here to stay. Making these small adjustments can have a big impact in your comfort and well-being at work, which will in turn effect your overall mental wellness.