Avoiding fatigue from virtual meetings

A new study shows why people often feel fatigued after spending multiple hours on videoconferencing apps like Zoom. How can we stop it from happening to us? 

Photo of business woman seated at desk, looking at laptop of various people during a virtual meeting

Photo credit: istock.com/fizkes

The first time I ever used Zoom, I couldn’t stop looking at myself. I feel a bit embarrassed to admit it, but maybe you can relate.

Until then I hadn’t used video conferencing much, and it seemed strange to see myself communicating on screen.

“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,” says Stanford University communications expert Jeremy Bailenson, quoted in this Stanford News story.

Bailenson studied the psychological consequences of spending hours each day using videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Teams, and others. In his study, Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue, he describes how people tend to evaluate themselves and feel stressed when they see their own mirrored images.

Why you might feel fatigued

Participating in a virtual meeting is very different from participating in a phone call or attending a meeting in person. That feeling of being “on display” can feel overwhelming.

Other aspects of virtual meetings, like having long periods of direct eye gaze and looking at faces really close up can be mentally exhausting. We don’t seem to look away from the screen as much as we would glance around when talking in person.

We also tend to work harder to send signals that would otherwise be natural nonverbal communication. Gestures such as thumbs-up or exaggerated nodding for a few extra seconds takes more thought.

Tips to avoid fatigue

Here are some tips to help prevent videoconferencing fatigue:

  • If your role entails taking several video calls in a day, try to space them out with breaks between each one.
  • For group meetings, offer the option for everyone but the presenter to turn off their video.
  • For one-on-one meetings, consider having an audio-only call or talk on the phone instead.

You can see even more tips in the Harvard Business Review article, ‘How to Combat Zoom Fatigue’.

How about you? Do you have any tips or solutions for avoiding fatigue during virtual meetings? Do let me know in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding fatigue from virtual meetings

  1. Cherie M

    Thank you for the article. I think, however, that for some Zoom can be less fatiqueing. In person, I have to worry about how my entire body is being perceived and I have no way of checking in on how I look. In a virtual platform, I can choose which pieces people see (and figit nervously as needed with off screen components). If I need to collect myself, it is relatively easy to turn off the video for a few minutes if needed.

    Engaging in difficult situations in the comfort of your home, can bring a level of calm to conversations which allows for better problem solving.

    In diverse workplaces where there is a significant difference in physical size, virtual platforms remove the risk or perception of physical intimidation.

    I for one, will continue to use online platforms as much as possible. It saves time in commuting to a meeting room and puts everyone on a more equal playing field.

  2. Susan Post author

    Thank you. Some good points here! Personally, I appreciate the chance to save time by not commuting. Anyone else? What do you like about Zoom and other such platforms?


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