One of the stranger consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is a phenomenon known as Zoom fatigue. The term starts to make sense, however, when your workplace consists of your colleagues following you around with a mirror that forces you to stare at yourself for most of the day. While many people have been using videoconferencing technology like Zoom, Webex, and Microsoft Teams for years, the Covid-19 lockdowns have resulted in a seismic shift to virtual connectivity that can exact a heavy toll on users. Indeed, there are a number of aspects to this technology that can wear out even the savviest tech users.
Blurring Boundaries Between Work and Home
With Zoom, there is no longer a clear boundary between work and home. And preparing your home for video display carries its own set of challenges. You not only have to wear something presentable, but your home needs to look nice as well. After all, you wouldn’t want people from work seeing your house in complete disarray.
They also don’t need to be privy to your personal tastes in books or videos or magazine. So, you might have to work a bit harder to conceal certain items. Not only do these extra considerations add stress, but they lessen the once distinct boundaries between work and home life. In essence, both supervisors and colleagues now have access to at least part of your private life that was previously off limits.
Close Contact and Forced Intimacy Among Colleagues
Typically, people only make direct, sustained eye contact or stand very close to someone when they know them well or are in a particularly intimate situation. In a teleconference, however, people are forced to have this type of contact with colleagues or even strangers. Furthermore, our brains are wired to think that mating or some type of conflict is about to occur when another person’s face is very close to ours.
Essentially, being on Zoom for hours keeps people in this hyper-aroused state. As a result, it can be exhausting to maintain eye contact over long periods with someone on your computer screen. In these situations, it may help to shrink the Zoom window, so the faces are not as large when they’re staring at you.
Difficulty with Nonverbal Cues
Undoubtedly, nonverbal communication plays a big part in our relationships. Yet teleconferencing creates a situation in which we send and receive many nonverbal cues without knowing which ones we should respond to. Unlike face-to-face conversations, nonverbal gestures in a video conference may have little to do with that conversation or the gestures don’t match up. This difficulty can be compounded for children who are using Zoom for remote learning. They still aren’t familiar with many nonverbal cues and aren’t having the kinds of social interactions necessary to understand them.
Someone may be indicating something to a family member offscreen instead of contributing to the conversation. When people are physically near each other, they can receive certain social cues and hints for more easily than in a Webex meeting. In video chats, we have to work much harder to send and receive signals. This may translate into an exaggerated nod or putting your thumbs up into camera. But it can also be more exhausting mentally to communicate this way throughout the day.
Excessive Focus on Oneself
Another aspect of teleconferencing that can wear people down is having to look at yourself for inordinately long periods. This often causes greater anxiety over one’s appearance. Years of psychology research has shown that people scrutinize and evaluate themselves when looking at their own image. Eventually, this can lead to some pretty harsh self-judgement and negative emotions. Although we may try to be on our best behavior when forced to look at ourselves on video, this idealized version of ourselves does come at a cost.
While the demands of a normal workday compounded by a global pandemic could exhaust anybody, Videoconferencing leads to a different kind of fatigue for those who are tethered to it for most of their workday. Essentially, many workers are complaining about the increased professional and psychological burden of using Zoom as opposed to face-to-face interactions. Fortunately, there are some quick fixes to minimize the intensity of long Zoom sessions such as not using the full screen option or reducing the size of the video chat window or even using an external keyboard to create distance between yourself and the faces online.
Nevertheless, Zoom fatigue demonstrates a developing need for guidance and policies to adapt this new technology to a changing workplace. Such guidelines could help employees be more productive while avoiding possible psychological or physical harm. Similar to how we’ve evolved with other technological changes in the past, we now need to figure out to use videoconferencing to our best advantage.