5 Easy Ways to Combat Video Conferencing Fatigue

Today we are going to talk about online meetings, why they can be mentally hard, and what we can do about it!

But first, to set the mood, we recommend you hit play on this very apropos jam before reading on.

Why Video Calls Mess with Our Minds

Whether for work meetings or virtual chats with the family at the weekend, video conferencing is very much part of the new normal. But have you noticed how tiring it can be? Have you found yourself oversharing or taking things the wrong way? The reason is that you are likely missing body language and social cues.

Real-life interactions are full of subtle, non-verbal communications, and we miss around 90% of those when videoconferencing. The brain tries to compensate by looking more closely at faces and filling in the missing gaps. This is why we get “Zoom fatigue” — because this is information we usually receive passively.

The lack of social cues also leaves more room for misinterpretation — you might end a call feeling deflated by a comment someone made, or have experienced a criticism much more strongly than it was intended. You might leave that meeting feeling much worse because you didn’t simultaneously experience empathetic body language or the warmth of eye contact.

Research shows in real-life group meetings, non-verbal cues enable people to know when they can jump in a conversation. Missing those cues, people often end up talking over one another on video calls.

And then there are the painful awkward silences, which are even more pronounced in a virtual meeting — meaning people tend to compensate by talking more, and thus ending up even more fatigued.

Five Steps to Avoid Zoom Fatigue

1. Avoid multitasking

Many of us tend to multitask during group virtual meetings, but research shows that switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive 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 (e.g., your inbox or Slack), put your phone away, and stay present. Try to remind yourself that you’ll likely be able to craft a better response to whatever came in once your meeting is over.

2. Build in breaks

Take mini breaks during longer calls by minimizing the window or just looking away from your computer for a few seconds. This is not an opportunity 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 scheduling meetings that last 25 or 50 minutes (instead of the standard half-hour and hour) to give yourself enough time in between to get up and move around for a bit. If you are hosting a 60-minute video call, make it clear to participants that it’s okay to be off-camera all or part of the time.

3. Reduce onscreen stimuli

Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the majority of the time gazing at your own face. This can be easily avoided by hiding yourself from view. Still, onscreen distractions persist. 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 (e.g. a poster of a peaceful beach scene), or agree as a group to have everyone who is not talking turn off their video.

4. Make virtual social events optional

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 always be optional. 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 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.

5. Switch to phone calls or email

Check your calendar for the next few days to see if there are any conversations you could have over Slack or email instead. If 4 p.m. rolls around and you’re Zoomed-out but have an upcoming one-on-one, ask the person if they'd like to have an old-school phone call instead or suggest picking up the conversation later so you can both recharge. Try something like, “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone?” Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, too.

Some of these tips might be hard to implement at first (especially resisting the urge to tab-surf during your next Zoom call). But taking these steps will help you feel less exhausted at the thought of another video chat. It’s tiring enough trying to adapt to this new normal — let's at least make video calls a little easier.