Since early March, Google searches for ‘Zoom fatigue’ have steadily increased: if you’re feeling a little stressed at the end of your workday, you’re not alone!
These days, we are likely spending more time in front of a screen – and likely in painfully ergonomically incorrect chairs – than at any other time in our lives: it comes with no surprise that when you’re on your sixth Zoom meeting of the day, or you’re hanging out with your friends for a virtual dance party, or with your colleagues for a virtual happy hour, you are likely to feel a kind of exhaustion from that screen time that’s not completely unlike the exhaustion you’d feel from an hour at the gym.
So, what’s the best way for all of us to manage this exhaustion and help make video calls less tiring? Let’s find out:
Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive time. We should all try to avoid being caught in the trap of “do more in less time”!
Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers. The next time you’re on a video chat, close any tabs or programs that might distract you, put your phone away, and stay present. We know it’s tempting, but try to remind yourself that the Slack message you just got can wait 15 minutes!
Managing Multiple topics
These calls are complex ones, you might only speak for less than a minute but the collective positive of group sharing, problem flagging and announcing work packages are on balance really productive calls, standups, catchups, check-ins, wash-ups, roundups etc. These all hands or all team video sessions can feel onerous. So what we’d suggest instituting name, department, workflow flags for people to use when topics specifically pertain to a business area in your domain. This way you can use selective focus and use the time in between, whilst on calls to continue your working motions.
We’ll admit it doesn’t work all of the time, but for developers, content coordinators and specific focus responsibilities it can strike the compromise between being ‘there’ without sacrificing 45mins x5 calls per day in quiet engagement with a zoom group
Take mini-breaks from video during longer calls! Remember it is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full thirty minutes, and your colleagues will understand more than you think.
Of course, this is not an invitation to start doing something else, but to let your eyes rest for a moment. For days when you can’t avoid back-to-back calls, consider making meetings 25 or 50 minutes to give yourself enough time in between to get up and move around for a bit. If you are on an hour-long video call, make it okay for people to turn off their cameras for parts of the call!
Reduce onscreen stimuli
Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face. This can be easily avoided by hiding yourself from view. Still, onscreen distractions go far beyond yourself. You may be surprised to learn that on video, we not only focus on other’s faces, but on their backgrounds as well. If you’re on a call with five people, you may feel like you’re in five different rooms at once. You can see their furniture, plants, and wallpaper. You might even strain to see what books they have on their shelves. The brain has to process all of these visual environmental cues at the same time. To combat mental fatigue, encourage people to use plain backgrounds!
Make virtual social events opt-in
After a long day of back-to-back video calls, it’s normal to feel drained, particularly if you’re an introvert. That’s why virtual social sessions should be kept opt-in, meaning whoever owns the event makes it explicit that people are welcome, but not obligated, to join. You might also consider appointing a facilitator if you’re expecting a large group. This person can open by asking a question, and then make it clear in what order people should speak, so everyone gets to hear from one another and the group doesn’t start talking all at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if we don’t know what’s expected of us, or if we’re constantly trying to figure out when we should or should not chime in.
External calls – Video should be optional
Many people now feel a tendency to treat video as the default for all communication. In situations where you’re communicating with people outside of your organization, you may feel obligated to send out a Zoom link instead. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations. For example, if you’re asked to do a career advice call and you don’t know the person you’re talking to, sticking to your phone is often a safer choice. If your client FaceTime’s you with no warning, it’s okay to decline and suggest a call instead!
Some of these tips might be hard to follow at first, but taking these steps can help you prevent feeling so exhausted at the thought of another video chat. It’s tiring enough trying to adapt to this new normal. Make video calls a little easier for yourself!