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20 Solutions to Combat 'Zoom Fatigue'

By William Elcock     Feedback

The world has been battling with the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year at this point. Due to in-person meetings being limited because of the pandemic, we have been forced to rely heavily on video conferencing software for meetings. 

However, due to the increased usage of this type of software, both for professional and personal reasons, the phenomenon of video conferencing fatigue  — or “Zoom fatigue” — has popped up. With this comes the need for solutions to video conferencing fatigue.

Due to the way that video conferencing platforms are set up, more cognitive load is required for video calls than for in-person meetings. 

For example, during a video conferencing call, callers have to switch back and forth between looking at their cameras and looking at the screen to maintain and acknowledge eye contact. This eventually becomes exhausting and can lead to video conferencing fatigue. 

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Here, we’ll explore some solutions that can be used to combat video conferencing fatigue.

employee rubs eyes after video conferencing call

20 solutions to video conferencing fatigue 

While there are some negative effects of video conferencing, it should be noted that these only pop up after prolonged exposure. Video conferencing isn’t inherently bad. But we should seek out ways to improve our experience so that fatigue doesn’t affect us as much. Let’s explore this:

  1. Avoiding multitasking while video conferencing can help you to reduce your cognitive workload: This can help you to pay attention to actually making it through the meeting. Multitasking isn’t necessarily very beneficial anyway and can cost you up to 40% of your productive time, according to the Harvard Business Review. 

  1. Take breaks between calls: Due to the taxing nature of video conferencing, it’s advisable to take breaks between calls to recharge.

  1. Hide the image of yourself: You are usually presented with an image of yourself when using a video conferencing platform. Looking at an image of yourself makes you more self-aware. Having this image constantly present while using a video conferencing platform can be mentally exhausting, since you are more prone to judge yourself based on your appearance and any perceived mistakes you make. You can look into hiding this image to reduce your cognitive load. The method of doing this will differ between platforms. 

  1. Use an alternate form of communication: We don’t always have to rely on video conferencing. Since video conferencing can be taxing on us, it isn’t a bad idea to consider using alternate forms of communication where possible. For example, text-based messaging systems, voice calls and emails may work better in some situations. If it’s possible to use one of these forms of communication, then your cognitive load will be reduced. 

  1. Invest some time into learning how to read facial expressions: While we won’t be able to detect all forms of body language, facial expressions will be of course very prevalent. Science of People gives some pertinent examples such as how some smirks signal disgust. They also have a guide on how to read microexpressions, which may be useful for these trying times. Getting better at this can help to reduce our cognitive load, since we’re better able to interpret what the expressions of others mean.

  1. Set a timetable: It can be tempting to have video calls at all hours. However, this is very exhausting, so it’s important to set a timetable and stick to it unless there’s some kind of emergency. This ensures that you don’t sap all of your energy with video conferencing.

  1. Set an agenda or familiarize yourself with it: Having a meeting agenda reduces cognitive load since you know what to expect. If you’re hosting, try getting into the habit of creating an agenda. If you’re an attendee, then see if there is an agenda or try getting the host to create one.

  1. Minimize the video call screen: Minimizing your video call software makes the faces on your screen less prevalent and essentially helps to reduce the intimacy of the situation. This is what Professor Jeremy Bailenson thinks. After all, you don’t want to have this level of intimacy for a regular work call.

  1. Use an external keyboard: Baileson also recommends using an external keyboard helps to create distance between yourself and your computer monitor. This ensures that you are not within Hall’s intimate distance that is usually reserved from showing affection or for situations involving conflict. By avoiding being this close to an image of another person during a video conference we reduce our cognitive load since our brains don’t have to worry about interpreting being close to the face of someone on your screen as a situation that involves conflict.

  1. Disconnect when needed: Laura Dudley From Northeastern University has some solid tips for beating video conferencing fatigue that should be considered. Disconnecting when needed sounds simple but it shouldn’t be neglected. Video conferencing fatigue can be exhausting after all. Disconnecting when you’re feeling particularly depleted can help you to sustain your work performance in the long run.

  1. Schedule in meetings and meet up in safe environments in person where this is possible: This is another gem from Dudley. While in many cases, meeting up isn’t possible, meeting outdoors is a relatively safe option for catching up with those close to you and can be a great way of recharging.

  1. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is more than a buzzword. There is scientific backing that supports the many different parties out there that tout the effectiveness of mindfulness at reducing emotions such as stress and anxiety.

  1. Practice displaying compassion towards others as well as yourself: This is yet another one of Dudley’s suggestions for beating video conferencing fatigue. She suggests displaying compassion. This is understandable since she herself experienced some of the cognitive strain that is associated with prolonged exposure to video conferencing platforms. She reported that at one point she was having to use five different platforms so that she could keep up with work. She said that her “head was spinning” after having to deal with this. Being compassionate is important since recognizing the limitations and challenges of video conferencing platforms helps us to not have negative emotions towards those who may be struggling with video conferencing fatigue. Being compassionate also helps us to not beat ourselves up for experiencing video conferencing fatigue.

  1. Establish daily routines: We mentioned having a timetable which ties into this. Basically, we need to carry out the activities that help us to recharge. This includes activities like exercise which have been shown to reduce stress. Also, ensure that weekdays are structured differently from weekends to help reduce your cognitive stress.

  1. Zoom exhaustion and fatigue scale: Many organizations are looking for the best ways to handle video conferencing fatigue. They want to know what the best practices are to ensure that employees don’t get bogged down. With this in mind, Jeremy Bailenson from Stanford, along with colleagues, set about coming up with the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale. This helps to measure how much fatigue people in the workplace are experiencing. Results from this scale can help to draw attention to technology changes that may need to be made in order to make video conferencing less stressful. 

  1. Letting time run its course: One of Bailenson’s colleagues, Jeff Hancock, also had some good news when discussing the scale. He noted that people have experienced a similar type of cognitive fatigue in the past when elevators were first introduced. They weren’t sure where to direct their focus, but as we grew more used to elevators, this ceased being an issue. This is encouraging and maybe something similar will eventually be true of video conferencing. Maybe we’ll just implement the necessary best practices as well as get more used to it.

  1. Use plain backgrounds: This comes down to the number of stimuli in a video conference call. When talking to someone, their background may be filled with objects such as plants and paintings which can be distracting. If possible, you should switch to a plain background and ask your colleagues to do the same. In fact, some video conferencing platforms allow for the artificial superposition of backgrounds.

  1. Consider making social events opt-in: Whether it be work-related or personal social events, we should be mindful of the increased level of video conferencing that’s occurring in today’s world and not set the expectation that everyone needs to attend every single social event. It should be ok to skip a few of these outings so that we can recharge. 

  2. Have someone facilitate meetings: During video conferences, it can be difficult to keep track of everyone that’s talking and that can sometimes make it difficult to make your contribution. This adds to our cognitive load, especially if we felt like if we had something to add but because there was so much going on, we didn’t get around to contributing as we would have liked. Assigning someone to be a facilitator during video conferencing meetings can stop this from happening. The role of the facilitator would be to assign an order for everyone to speak in.

  3. Consider who you’re talking to: Video conferencing can be quite intimate. If you’re talking to a client that you don’t know well, then a video conference probably isn’t the best way to start off your relationship. Consider reserving video conferences for those who you know better. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for video conferences to be treated as the default mode of communication in today’s world. This doesn’t have to be the case. Reserving your video conferences for those who you know better can be more appropriate in the sense that this level of intimacy is better suited then and also in the sense that it will help you to reduce the cognitive load that you experience due to video conferencing. 

With the increased number of video calls in today’s pandemic stricken world, the resulting cognitive load can be exhausting. 

There are many tips, such as hiding the image of yourself in your video conferencing software, can help to reduce your cognitive load. 

Video conferencing must be optimized or substituted occasionally to accommodate employees who may feel overburdened due to too much video conferencing. 

Related articles

• 18 causes of video conferencing fatigue

• eWEEK: Video conferencing

• IT Business Edge: Video conferencing

This article was originally published on April 9, 2021
 
 
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