Zoom Fatigue: Why am I so tired working from home?

Having finished a 2 ½ hour video call (my 4th call that day), I needed a lie down, I was exhausted. Now I believe Teams is great, it makes working from home, sharing, managing and communicating possible when we are in lockdown. But I wanted to understand why it can be so tiring and what we can do to make it easier.

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead. We have developed acute skills to read peoples non-verbal expressions, body language, tone and gestures face-to-face, and this comes easy for us. But video chats mean we need to work harder to give and receive these non-verbal cues, and paying more attention to these consumes a lot more energy.

Picking up these non-verbal cues requires eye contact which is difficult because in order to provide eye contact to the people on your screen, you need to look at your camera. In order to receive it, you need to look at their eyes on your screen. Laura Dudley, an assistant clinical professor of applied psychology in the Bouvé College of Heath Sciences, suggests that throughout the call, you and the other callers are toggling between screen and camera which can be incredibly taxing for the brain.

Lack of eye contact mean there is also an issue about picking up the cues for when to speak and this often results in people talking over one another. The opposite is also true that being unsure of when to speak means some people do not speak at all! We are programmed to minimise silences between contributors and technology delays heighten our anxiety and mess with the turn-taking mechanics of conversation says UX researcher Zachary Yorke.

There are also physical and mental demands of being on lengthy video calls such as being hunched over a laptop for long periods or anxiety about how we look on camera. There is no wonder we are getting exhausted from video calls!

So how can we alleviate this so called “Zoom Fatigue”?

  1. Limiting video calls to those that are necessary and building transition periods between calls. Try stretching, making a drink or doing exercise or video call from the garden or patio!
  2. Turning on the camera should be optional and understand that cameras do not always have to be on throughout each meeting. I tend to find that switching off the camera allows me to concentrate on the spoken word and avoid looking at myself!
  3. Yorke suggests, we should “encourage more balanced conversation, help others get their voice heard and remind them to pass the talking stick”.
  4. Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings, says Petriglieri. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room and can be less tiring.
  5. It is worth considering if video calls are the best option. Making a telephone call avoids the need for our brain to multi-task and allows us space to take notes. Taking notes has been shown to increase retention, so well worth considering.
  6. Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, suggests taking time during meetings for non-business chat. “Spend some time to actually check into people’s wellbeing,” she urges. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.”
  7. Tips to look your best on camera and help your colleagues see your expressions:
    1. Illuminate your face with a window or other light source as this will avoid your face being in shadow if the light is behind you.
    2. Put your camera (or entire laptop) at eye level. Having it facing upwards from under your chin is not very flattering!
    3. Pay attention to the background. Having hanging washing behind you can be very distracting!

Video calls have allowed us to work from home and connect in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Just look at what Joe Wicks has achieved with his online daily workouts! We just need temper our usage in order to harness the technology and reap the rewards!


Kevin Thomas

Portfolio Finance Director

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