You’ve probably felt it. As though a switch has gone off somewhere inside your body. You find you’ve zoned out. You blink hard, zone back in, and unmute your microphone. “Sorry, what did you just say?”
Somehow, even the first video meeting of the day finds you bleary-eyed and feeling “out of it” and the last meeting leaves you drained to your bones. Life seems as though it has now narrowed into little squares and talking heads. Even the idea of a fun catch-up call with friends seems like a chore.
There’s a term for it, and it’s been dubbed Zoom fatigue.1
It’s being talked about more and more, and it’s not going away anytime soon. But here’s the good news: scientists are gaining a solid understanding of how it works, and there are research-backed ways to deal with it.
In this article, we’ll cover:
🤔 What are the top four affordable Zoom alternatives? Check out this comparison chart.
Zoom fatigue refers to the exhaustion one feels as a result of overusing online video conferencing. It can happen even when you run the best of meetings and do all the right things to strike a work-life balance while working from home, and it definitely doesn’t just happen on Zoom. It can happen on pretty much any video conferencing app.
It’s a funny idea. How can sitting comfortably at home with your cat at your feet, with the option of sneaking Cheerios from out-of-view of your colleagues, be stressful? Of all the things that are stressful about working from home, this has to be the breeziest? After all, unlike in real-life, nobody can tell if you’re in boxers or pants or if your cat is right behind your laptop. It should be awesome. But it isn’t, not even for introverts who constantly put themselves on mute and turn their video off.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, put it best in an interview with BBC.2 “Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents, or date someone. Isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now.” It would be boring, and above all, frustrating.
There are a range of biopsychosocial factors that contribute to Zoom or video meeting fatigue, some of which are so subliminal that they can be easy to miss:
1. Audio lags
The lags in audio communication that can be so common on video chat (even with the best of internet connections) often lead to a great deal of stress and frustration (and even a negative perception of the person you’re talking to). In one study, lags of as little as 0.6 seconds led to study participants ascribing “negative social attributions” to the “delayer”.3 (Even if it wasn’t their fault!)
2. Overall stress
We can’t look at Zoom fatigue without also considering the larger circumstances under which it came to be. A pandemic, for example, is a crisis that’s so monumental in its breadth and scope that it’s no longer just a disease, but a cause of financial uncertainty, mental health trouble4, and isolation. These other stressors are constantly at play in the back of our minds. It’s not surprising that we’re so fatigued.
3. Distractions can be draining
Since we’re spending so much effort and energy to focus on conversations occurring in what is essentially a relatively new format, the tiniest of distractions—the tap-tap of someone’s keyboard, the noise of someone munching “quietly,” a very heavy breather, or toddlers wreaking havoc in the background—can be extremely jarring.
4. Stilted conversations
The eye contact, nonverbal cues, the micro-expressions we so rely on in face-to-face communication help us read between the lines and sometimes complete multiple conversations in milliseconds. However, some of these important communication helpers are sometimes lost on video. Without their help, we have to overcompensate with added cognitive and emotional effort, which again can be draining.
5. Seeing so many faces in one screen is scary. Really.
According to Jeremy Bailenson, head of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab, “…on computer screens, ‘personal space’ is determined by the size of the face image and how far you sit from the screen.”5 On typical video chat tools, the speaker’s face is usually the largest, big enough to make you flinch.6 And some researchers say it can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
Pro-tip: Use the gallery view in your video conferencing tool so that everyone’s faces are the same size in the grid view. Or, if you’re talking to just one other person, shrink your window so that their face isn’t taking up your whole screen (if that bothers you).
Further, large meetings also mean more people, more backgrounds, voices, faces, and more stimuli to keep track of. Which, as useful as it is, can also tire you out if overdone.
Now, more than ever, we’re running more and more meetings and events online. That trend doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, but thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can minimize video meeting fatigue.
1. Switch to a voice-only meeting
The first thing you can do is to explore alternative ways of running meetings to break the monotony of video chat. Try dialing it back a decade or so and get your team on conference calls on the phone. Most video conferencing tools should have this option.
For example, the RingCentral desktop and mobile app allows you to switch your meetings from video to audio (and vice versa) with one easy tap:
2. Run fewer meetings and catch up with a message instead
This might sound obvious, but perhaps it’s time to step back and see if all the meetings lined up this week are necessary. Perhaps you could skip (or cancel) one or two? For instance, if you run stand-up meetings regularly and your schedule is super full, why not just keep everyone updated in a group chat? It just might help reduce your Zoom fatigue.
Here’s how it could look in RingCentral’s app:
🕹️ Get a hands-on look at how RingCentral can help reduce video meeting fatigue by giving you other communication options by booking a product tour:
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3. Run shorter meetings
Maybe what’s wrong with your video meetings has very little to do with the medium itself and instead has to do with the way it is run. There are a few simple steps you can take to make your meetings shorter, more concise, and easier on everyone. One of the best ways to do this is to send a meeting agenda to everyone on your team before the meeting so people can prepare their questions and comments in advance.
This creates specificity and intentionality to the meeting, respects everyone’s time, and gives the meeting closure.
4. Have everyone on your team do a self-audit
A lot of people don’t really know how they sound like on video chat, although they’re looking at themselves an awful lot. Although you might be under the impression that your room is the picture of tranquility, little sounds like the patter of pedestrians outside your street, or pigeons warbling at your window, might be making their way into your calls.
As we mentioned earlier, all these distractions can be physically tiring for the others in your meeting. So do this (and get your team to do as well). Record a meeting with yourself speaking on your video calling software (Here’s how to do it on RingCentral Video) and listen to it carefully. Is there an echo in your microphone? Are you speaking too far or too close to the computer? Make these adjustments during your audit to help others have a smoother meeting.
5. Don’t multitask during online meetings
Let’s face it—we all multitask during meetings. The temptation to try and get some work done while a meeting is carrying on is irresistible, especially when we don’t have such a large role to play in it. But apart from being rude, inefficient, and annoying, multitasking is bad for you. Some participants in a University of London study showed an IQ drop of up to 15 points when they multitasked.7
Juggling and rapidly switching between tasks drains your brain’s energy reserves, leading to more fatigue.8
Plus, trying to keep the attention of other call participants who are likely to be multitasking can be a big drain on one’s energy. So whether you’re doing it or your team is—it’s probably contributing to Zoom fatigue.
6. Follow basic video-chat etiquette
Much like regular meetings, video meetings should have their own set of rules for every team. Here are a few you could consider incorporating:
1. Mute your microphone after greeting your teammates, and only unmute when absolutely necessary.
2. Instead of unmuting to ask questions while someone is talking, see if you can write down your questions and ask them later. Or, use the chat box if there is one to interject or raise questions, especially during webinars:
3. Use screen sharing and other presentation tools to make your points more accessible to your teammates.
4. Do not multitask during online meetings.
5. Turn off video if a family member, pet, or any other distraction is in the picture.
7. Get some physical exercise
With remote work, a sedentary lifestyle becomes inescapable. Sedentary lifestyles are associated with poor health and greater levels of fatigue.9 Consider making time for at least an hour of physical activity during weekdays. Even better, consider beating Zoom fatigue by standing during your video meetings, or sitting on a gym (or stability) ball instead of a chair.10 As a bonus, it helps keep your posture good too!
8. Catch a break in between meetings
If you have a say in scheduling your meetings, make sure you keep at least 15 minutes handy between appointments to catch a breather. Even during unavoidably long meetings, look away from your screen from time to time, or minimize the window and give yourself a break. These are necessary to keep you attentive irrespective of how tired you might be.
9. Turn off your video
If your teammates are alright with it, turn off your video. One of the most distracting things about video chat is being able to see your own face. According to research, seeing your own face, especially your own negative expressions on video chat, can be exhausting.11
It makes sense, because laptop cameras can sometimes be a little unflattering and seeing yourself on video, much like hearing yourself talk can make you very self-conscious. To avoid this, turn off your own video from time to time.
We’re constantly adapting to new ways of communicating with each other at work, and although you might start to dread video chats after your 99th meeting, it doesn’t have to be all bad.
In moderation, video chat can be a lifeline that keeps us connected and keeps us going. (And if you’re an extrovert, you’ll probably lovin’ it.)
It’s a new way for us to get to see the faces of our coworkers when we can’t be in the same space—and can help us connect with teammates and clients in other countries too—so we can have an alternative way to build those relationships. And hey, now you’ve now got nine ideas to cope with video meeting fatigue if it ever strikes.
Originally published Nov 15, 2020, updated Jun 23, 2021