There has been a year's worth (or more) of chatter about the fatigue and exhaustion that employees experience being in (or on) virtual meetings or video conferencing much of each day. While Zoom and all of the other similar videoconferencing platforms (like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype, etc.) were heavily leveraged to pull companies through the pandemic-forced remote work experiment of 2020/21, the downside has been that some employees have experienced tiredness, worry and burnout due to the overuse of these virtual platforms. Research findings have shown that women experience higher levels of "Zoom fatigue" than men. Among the more than 10,000 study participants, about 14% of women self-reported feeling either very or extremely fatigued after video meetings compared to roughly 5.5% of men. Even Zoom employees have suffered from "Zoom fatigue," although they prefer to call it "meeting fatigue."
Researchers at Stanford identify four causes for this fatigue and have also provided some ideas for mitigating the issue. The issues at the crux of it are:
- Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
- Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
- Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
- The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.
They used the research data to create a "Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale" (aka ZEF Scale). The scale is a 15-item questionnaire, which is freely available, and has been tested now across five separate studies over the past year with over 500 participants. It asks questions about a person’s general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue and motivational fatigue. If you are interested in measuring your own Zoom fatigue, you can take the survey here and participate in the research project.
How might Zoom fatigue fit into the virtual assignment experience? While the verdict is out on just how popular virtual assignments will be in global mobility programs as we gain more control over the virus, the reality is that videoconferencing is sure to be a key tool utilized. That means this fatigue may have an impact on the effectiveness of some people doing virtual assignments. In this post we spoke to some of the challenges that come with effectively managing virtual assignments, and now this is one more to add to that list. While we don't think this will doom virtual assignments, being aware of the potential of Zoom fatigue and some of the solutions to those four issues listed above will be critical.
What are the solutions? Some of the ideas for best practices to minimize or eliminate the fatigue are to avoid using the "full screen" option, hide your view of yourself, use an external camera this sits further away so you can move about, turn the camera off sometimes and — while the camera is off and you are in verbal mode — look away from the screen for a little while.
Zoom themselves have come up with recommendations for addressing "meeting fatigue." Rather than institute shut down days, they have encouraged people to use their time off as they can, take their breaks, make sure that they are keeping their boundaries around time and maintaining a work-life balance as much as possible. They have moved meetings that are typically 30 minutes to 25 minutes and 60-minute meetings to 50 minutes to allow for breaks, and they claim that this makes a big difference. They have also instituted a policy of no internal meetings on Wednesdays. Additionally, Zoom just made their biggest acquisition to date by spending $14.7 billion on Five9, with claims that this cloud-based call center platform will be able to help minimize Zoom fatigue.
While some of these solutions may minimize or reduce the impact of "Zoom fatigue" for those on a virtual assignment, this is definitely something to consider when evaluating whether a virtual assignment is the right solution for a specific project. Look back at this post for some further considerations around virtual assignment success.
In the first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior on Feb. 23, Bailenson has taken the medium apart and assessed Zoom on its individual technical aspects. He has identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that he says contribute to the feeling commonly known as “Zoom fatigue.”