Zoom Fatigue is real and it’s supported by Stanford Research.
Here’s the breakdown of real tips and strategy to combat zoom fatigue!
In a Stanford study, researchers found these four main issues:
- 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.
You can read their full research here: https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/
The big takeaways:
We aren’t designed to do this all day and the apps aren’t yet designed for human experience.
You need to change how you Zoom and meet.
After a decade of online training, hosting meetings, and events I’ve learned a few things. Here are the tricks I coach everyone on to make meetings and online events more sustainable:
- Time and expectation are everything. When people are trying to host all-day or several hour events I encourage them to build in breaks. When it comes to training I don’t go more than 90 minutes which is about the breaking point for most people.
- With all day events I encourage folks to cap sessions at 60 minutes. Then allow a few special sessions to run 90 minutes. In order to increase retention and engagement give your participants a planned break time of 15 – 30 minutes between sessions – it helps the all around human experience. When you think about in-person events we rarely sit and stare directly at a screen for hours on end.
- Don’t expect everyone to have their cameras on the entire time. You’ll see below from the Stanford research it’s actually not helpful for the user. I do this because it gives people the chance to focus on the content and not how they appear.
- As a host of a meeting or event you should decide if video on is actually necessary. If it is a short meeting or you know your team isn’t on video all day that might be OK. It’s OK to have people turn their video on and off. (On most video conferences the fewer video feeds on means the better the quality is for everyone.)
- Having the video off might seem less engaging but it is saving people mental energy. Energy that could be better used for critical tasks and projects.
Here is a summary of some of Stanford’s Zoom Fatigue findings:
1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural.
In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. A listener is treated nonverbally like a speaker, so even if you don’t speak once in a meeting, you are still looking at faces staring at you. The amount of eye contact is dramatically increased. “Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”
Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, and to use an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.
2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
Most video platforms show a square of what you look like on camera during a chat. But that’s unnatural, Bailenson 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,” he added.
Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others, when it only needs to be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use 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.
3) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
In-person and audio phone conversations allow humans to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most cameras have a set field of view, meaning a person has to generally stay in the same spot. Movement is limited in ways that are not natural. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said.
Solution: Bailenson recommends people think more about the room they’re videoconferencing in, where the camera is positioned and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther away from the screen will allow you to pace and doodle in virtual meetings just like we do in real ones. And of course, turning one’s video off periodically during meetings is a good ground rule to set for groups, just to give oneself a brief nonverbal rest.
4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.
Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.
In effect, Bailenson said, humans have taken one of the most natural things in the world – an in-person conversation – and transformed it into something that involves a lot of thought: “You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”
Solution: During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an “audio only” break. “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 said, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”