As COVID-19 cases surged in late March, so did the number of Zoom video conference invites. All life events were suddenly rescheduled to take place at the very same venue. As work wrapped up for the evening, we’d click on the next link and transition to cocktail hour, a group workout class, or long-distance family dinner. RSVPs were both quick and enthusiastic, attendance far better than in “real” life. I registered for a Pro plan and relished in the novelty of our new virtual world.
Four and a half months later, the collective exhaustion is palpable. The line between home and work continues to blur (serious props to anyone still putting on makeup or button-down shirts). Though many of us are still staying home, virtual social activities have primarily fallen to the wayside due to a lack of interest. Without the additional toll of daily commuting and general out-and-about bustle, why are we feeling more drained than ever?
The human brain is not naturally wired for virtual interaction. Much of the way we communicate is nonverbally, like through body language. We continually scan for nonverbal cues, but are overstimulated from trying to process and interpret a gallery view of as many as 25 different faces at a time. Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Norfolk State University, attributes what has been coined Zoom fatigue to these factors. “We’re engaged in numerous activities, but never fully devoting ourselves to focus on anything in particular,” Franklin told National Geographic Magazine.
This constant multitasking makes it harder to be productive and leaves us not only exhausted but also feeling a lack of accomplishment. With many companies including Google extending work from home through the summer of 2021, remote work/life balance and combatting employee burnout are top-of-mind conversations. Here are five thoughtful tips to help combat Zoom fatigue as we continue to navigate an increasingly virtual world.
From the comfort of your couch, and without the usual constraints of commuting to the office or traveling to client meetings, it’s easy to feel obligated to say yes to every invite that comes your way. Be realistic about your capacity for engagement. Give yourself ample time to prepare and recharge between meetings. You’re not going to be fully present or thinking creatively during your fifth straight hour on video chat. If you see your day starting to fill up, take a moment to determine the highest priority events. Propose alternate times for less pressing or on-going internal meetings.
Before joining a video call, give yourself five or ten minutes away from the screen to recalibrate and recenter. If you only have a few minutes to spare, stand up, do a light stretch, and walk around the room. Tap or pat your arms and legs to feel more present and aware of your body. Close your eyes and take some deep, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you have the time, step outside and take a walk around the block. Leave your phone in your pocket and give your eyes a chance to refocus on your physical surroundings. Try to be fully present. If, like me, you mindlessly sip coffee all day, consider switching to a glass of cold water to hydrate and slow your heart rate. With as little as five minutes of concentrated recentering, you can give your brain the quick reset it needs to focus for the duration of your next meeting.
A key difference between video calls and in-person meetings is the ability to see your own reflection. In a conference room at the office, you may be somewhat aware of how you’re showing up physically but are generally much more observant of the other people in the room. On a video call, you have the ability to watch yourself engage in an entirely new way. All of your reactions are not only on display for those around you, but also for yourself. We have a tendency to focus on our own square within the larger grid, which can easily lead to comparison, self-criticism, or self-doubt. While this specific topic has yet to be widely researched, there have been some discussions surrounding relevant research on the impact of looking at yourself reflected in a mirror. A study conducted in Italy with young adults reported that 66% of participants started to see “huge deformations” in their own faces after looking in the mirror for only one minute.
While you might not see yourself growing horns during your third Zoom meeting of the afternoon, don’t give yourself the extra opportunity to nit-pick. If you have the option, turn off your camera. Allow yourself to focus on the speaker and the dialogue rather than how you’re responding to it. If you’re simply listening in, try sitting outside and dialing in from your phone instead of your computer. If you have to be visible for the meeting, enable the speaker view. Choose this rather than the gallery view to reduce the amount of visual stimulation. This will make it easier to listen with intention and avoid Zoom fatigue.
Zoom and other video conferencing platforms quickly became the default communication mode, both personally and professionally, during the pandemic. While seeing colleagues, friends, and family on video established some semblance of normalcy and eased the transition to our new reality, a few months later, much of the novelty has worn off. If you use Zoom at work and can’t face it in the evenings too, suggest another platform for social connections. Rather than a virtual happy hour with a group of friends, try a one-on-one phone call while you take your evening walk. If you don’t have the energy to chat, try journaling! Or, write to a friend via email or creating a shared photo album of fun memories you’ve had together. Letter writing is another great way to break from our digital default. It will also help you establish a more physical connection.
With work invading our life at home and vice versa, it’s important to be intentional and efficient with our time. If there’s a meeting on the calendar, there should be a clear agenda to go with it. Before you share an invite, take the initiative to put together a list of objectives or critical questions to address and share it with the attendees. Going through the exercise of creating an agenda will help provide structure and ensure common goals are established and met.
Experiencing Zoom fatigue? What have you done to combat? Let us know!
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