What researchers at Stanford University call the Zoom Fatigue is a fact for many working from home. The scientists say this is a phase when we don´t really know how to behave in video calls. When ridesharing was new, there was confusion about where to sit – in the back seat or on the passenger seat up front? We will learn also about video calls, they say but until then, they have tips like:
Get a separate keyboard so that you don´t have other peoples´ faces just centimeters in front of you. It´s not natural to have a strangers nose so close you feel you could bite it. And during longer calls, take some video-free moments so you can move around. It´s not natural to sit totally still during long conferences. You don´t do that at a physical meeting.
Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms and some of the results are presented in the Stanford News.
Bailenson appreciates video calls but stresses that they can be exhausting and would actually need software changes but there are also measures you can take yourself to save energy. He calls it Zoom Fatigue but it is of course the same if you use Skype or Teams or Meet or Hangout or BlueJeans or whatever platform for video calls.
VIDEO NO MUST
“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” Bailenson says.
Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens are unnatural. In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on video calls, everyone is looking at everyone. All the time!
Bailenson recommends that until the platforms change their interface, you can opt out of the full-screen and reduce the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size. Use an external keyboard which will allow you to increase the personal space bubble between yourself and the screen.
He points out that it´s stressful to watch also yourself all the time as most video platforms also shows what you look like on camera during a chat.
“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that.”
Bailenson thinks platforms should change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others. As we don´t know if this will ever happen, he suggests using the “hide self-view” button, which one can access by right-clicking their own photo, once they see their face is framed properly in the video.
At physical meetings or just phone calls, you can get up and move around but in video calls you are locked up staring at the camera normally fitted about the screen. Also for this Bailenson says an external keyboard can be useful so that you get more space between you and the camera. It will allow you to move more. And, of course, you can rest yourself from the video now and then and go only audio.
Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural. We make and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues. But in video chats, we normally just see the face as everybody makes sure your head in in the centre of the screen.
If you in a video call want to show someone that you are agreeing, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumb up.
“That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”
The advice is to give yourself audio only breaks, turn off the camera to get a break from having to be nonverbally active.
TEST YOUR STRESS
Stanford communication researcheers have launched the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale, or ZEF Scale, to help measure how much fatigue people are experiencing in the workplace from videoconferencing.
The scale is a questionnaire which is freely available. It asks questions about a person’s general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue and motivational fatigue. Some sample questions include:
- How exhausted do you feel after videoconferencing?
- How irritated do your eyes feel after videoconferencing?
- How much do you tend to avoid social situations after videoconferencing?
- How emotionally drained do you feel after videoconferencing?
- How often do you feel too tired to do other things after videoconferencing?
If you are interested in measuring your own Zoom fatigue, you can take the survey here and participate in the research project.