7 Ways to Beat Zoom Fatigue and Make Virtual Meetings Less Exhausting

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

While the pandemic may be gone sooner or later, video calls aren’t going anywhere. As the virus hit the world and Zoom’s stock price shot up, people were supposedly thrilled to attend meetings in their pajamas and waking up 5 minutes before the first call.

In no time, this excitement turned into fatigue. We found ourselves more tired at the end of the workday than we used to be. While we can talk to people face-to-face for hours, it’s not the same for video calls. Yes, we can see their face and hear their voice, but it comes at the cost of increased screen time.

It’s not just the screen time either. Video calls make it much easier to multitask and not listen intently. The urge to check your email, text a friend, and check a few memes during a call is not mild! And even though we think otherwise, we don’t end up doing much listening when we’re distracted.

On top of that, there are tons of work-from-home troubles that we have to deal with, especially if you live with others. Oftentimes my mom comes saying something into my room, not realizing that I’m on a call. I think hard of ways to politely tell them about my meetings but it doesn’t always work! Even when I’m alone I need to tend to doorbells, telephone calls, and whatnot.

I can go on and on about this, but the purpose of this article is not that. Since video calls are apparently here to stay, let’s figure out ways we can make them suck less.

The Elephant in The Room

The number one urge during a virtual meeting is to multitask. We all have things to do and we often wish we didn’t have to be in a meeting. So we try to make productive use of whatever time we get to squeeze in a little email or work.

Or let’s be more honest. Multitasking during a call is often not related to work at all. If we don’t get to enjoy random web-surfing during the day, boring meetings are the time to do that!

As pleasurable and harmless as it sounds, it’s not the best use of your time. It’s easy to think that we can do more in less time via multitasking but research shows otherwise. Stanford also found that multitaskers can’t remember things as well as their fully focused peers.

I can attest to this from personal experience. Whenever I’m multitasking, I tend to remember almost nothing about what happened in the meeting. Sometimes, I’d also forget what actionable item is on my plate after the call.

How to stop multitasking during a call?

Whenever a task lurks to the forefront of your mind, just write it down. By writing it down, you relieve your brain from the constant rumination and can get back to what you’re doing.

When the call is done, pick up all the things you noted and check them off one by one. It’s that simple.

A Way to Be Less Self-Conscious

When you’re on a video call, you spend most of your time watching yourself. It’s natural — we all want to ensure if our hair is fine, the background looks good, and that we’re in the center of the screen.

But this constant re-checking is taxing for our brains. Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab said,

“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.”

Not only does our brain have to deal with self-consciousness, but also the backgrounds of all the other people. On a video call of five people, you feel like being in five different rooms. This makes it tempting to look at the guitar behind one person or the beautiful curtains behind the other.

Processing these visual environmental cues at the same time leads to mental fatigue.

How to fix this

  1. Turn on the “Hide Self View” option in zoom so you don’t see your own video on the screen.
  2. Select the “Speaker View” to only see one person at a time, thereby reducing the amount of information thrown at you.
  3. Have a simple pact with your team to turn off videos of everyone except the speaker.

Basically, whatever helps you reduce the visual cues on the screen will be relaxing to your brain.

Go Old School

Some Zoom calls can be avoided if we’re smart about it.

A lot of work can be done on emails or text messages which might reduce or eliminate meetings altogether. Check your calendar and see if that’s the case.

If a call is needed, consider doing it over the phone so you don’t have the pressures of a video call. You can take the phone call away from your desk and recharge. I find phone calls to be really good since one doesn’t have to worry about internet connections and being at a specific place all the time.

Reduce the Size of The Application

When we talk to people face-to-face, we don’t see a zoomed-in version of their faces with eyes popping out. We get to see the whole person — both upper and lower parts! Plus, during a regular meeting, people are not always looking at each other. They’re taking notes, looking out the window, and doing other stuff as well.

During a virtual meeting, however, everyone’s staring at you whether you’re speaking or not. Bailensons says, “Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exist in our population. When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

How to fix this

Larger-than-normal faces staring at you is definitely stressful after some time. To avoid this, just take your application window out of the full-screen option and reduce it to your liking.

You can also use an external keyboard to get some more distance between you and the screen.

Think About Mobility

When people move, they think better. But the era of zoom has all of us stripped down to our chairs all day long. To get the blood flowing, try to orchestrate your environment so it gives you space to move around.

To do this you might need some or all of these things:

  1. Bluetooth earphones to maintain audio quality even when you’re far from the screen
  2. An external camera further away from the screen allows you to walk or doodle while still being in the frame
  3. Turning your video off and taking meetings outside (in the park, balcony, etc)

Bring Back Audio

The main point in all of these points is singular — the cognitive overload of staring at faces on the screen during a call.

This makes us think harder about things that are otherwise natural. For instance, nodding is a simple act of slightly moving your head. We don’t even think about it in normal conversations.

In a video call, however, we need to exaggerate every little gesture — like nodding or putting your thumbs up to show approval. This makes it harder on the brain still.

To remedy this, know that every call doesn’t need a video. In my opinion, videos do a great job of building a connection between remote workers but too much of anything is bad.

So take a few minutes, especially in longer meetings to switch off your video. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson says, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

General Tips

Here are some other tips that will help avoid zoom fatigue:

  1. Try to structure your calls in a way that leaves 10–15 minutes between calls to take a bathroom break, get some snacks, a glass of water or just sit there and do nothing.
  2. Make sure to provide an end time to the meeting and stick to it.
  3. Try using virtual backgrounds to make things more fun. Zoom also has a “Blur” feature that blurs everything except your face. This can be helpful to hide everyone’s background and not be distracted by any of them.
  4. Try making communication more asynchronous across your team
  5. Use blue-light blocking glasses, apps like F.lux, and a few eye exercises to reduce digital eye strain.
  6. Change your environment often.

Final Thought

Here’s a list of all things you can do to avoid zoom fatigue:

  1. Don’t multitask: While we all want to get things done faster, multitasking only gives us the illusion of speed, while slowing us down in the long run.
  2. Hide self-view: Avoid being self-conscious by changing to either speaker view or hiding your own face completely. Don’t worry, you look great!
  3. Go old school: Use email and phone more often. Avoid zoom calls for short conversations.
  4. Reduce the size of the application screen to make the faces of people smaller and less intimidating.
  5. Think about mobility before you get on a call. Get some BT earphones to roam around in a long meeting.
  6. Default more to audio-only meetings: Not every meeting needs a video. Ask the participants if they’re fine with turning the video off — they’ll likely be relieved too.

Let’s apply all these tips religiously to make virtual meetings less exhausting and work-from-home more enjoyable.

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Written on July 11, 2021