A few weeks ago, I spoke with 26 people in one day: I ran an online workshop; attended a group meeting; had three one-on-one chats; joined a networking meeting involving speed-driven conversations with eight people; and finished the day after another long one-on-one conversation. When I turned off the computer that night, I could barely think. My brain was completely fried.
While talking with 26 people seemed a lot, if I were to transfer the number into realtime encounters, it would have actually not been such a tiring day.
It was only when I woke up the next morning feeling like I had been run over by a truck that I realised I had overdone it.
It’s tempting to fill the days with online meetings. They are both necessary and effective. But as you already know, too much Zooming/Skyping/FaceTiming is not necessarily a good thing. Since COVID-19 made virtual meetings a critical part of daily interaction and doing business, ‘Zoom fatigue’ has quickly become part of our everyday experience.
The question is, what makes connecting in virtual space so much more intense than face-to-face meetings?
There are several reasons.
- You can only see part of the other person, often just their head and shoulders, which cuts out a big part of body language, i.e. gestures and movements and therefore the largest part of how we communicate. And because it can see hints that activate its pattering seeking function, the brain is constantly guessing at what’s missing: What does an incomplete gesture mean? This may not sound important, but do this many, many times in one day, it becomes hard work.
So how about moving back from the screen? Well, now you can see gestures better, but because if you are too far away, it’s harder to connect. For that, you really need to be able to see the white in someone’s eye. Moreover, you still only see part of the body, so the illusion of being in the physical presence of an incomplete person continues to confuse the brain.
- Tracking one person is hard enough. Tracking a whole group of people who sit closer or further away from the screen, with internet connection dropping in and out, with frozen images or portrait photo as well as challenging soundscapes is even harder. Yes, you can see everyone at the same time, but you won’t go into the physical alignment you experience when you are in the same room with others. When you minimise the difference in body language and tonality you build non-verbal rapport, your brain waves synchronise and your communication is more effective. On Zoom, the brain is overwhelmed with processing too much incomplete information and lack of synchronisation.
- Even when you maintain eye contact in real-time conversations, you will occasionally look away and let your eyes roam briefly. On Zoom & Co on the other hand, it’s essential to keep your full attention on the screen if you don’t want the other person to think that you aren’t interested in what they are saying or doing something unrelated outside the camera area. So you keep focussing and staring, which is also necessary if you want to participate in the conversation that switches faster than in person. There is no visual or mental break. Again, hard work.
Here are some tips to overcome Zoom fatigue:
- Have some meetings without video, especially with people you know well. Agree to say hi and then turn off the camera.
- If you keep the camera on, block the self-view feature. Monitoring how you look only creates another attention focus that potentially creates anxiety.
- In regular meetings, especially those involving numerous people, align your proximity to the camera, i.e. minimise the difference so you all have the same size on the screen.
- Make sure the room is well-lit so your face is clearly visible.
- Take breaks between meetings, ideally go outside. In real life you don’t go from meeting to meeting either. Generally there is some kind of commute involved.
- Limit the number of meetings to those you really need to have.
- Have your virtual meetings in different spaces. Meet in the dining room, on the deck/balcony (with good headphones and microphone only), or on the lounge room sofa.
- Wherever you are, elevate the screen to eye level, so that the camera is on the same level as your third eye in the centre of your forehead. If you and the person you talk with both do this, you will find your communication and connection greatly enhanced.
Many people are hoping that we will go back to ‘normal’. Maybe, maybe not. In any case, working from home has become part of work-culture. Companies are already making permanent changes. — Zoom meetings are here to stay. Make them work for you.