Has Zoom fatigue set in yet? If it has, don’t worry; you are not alone. A lot of people are reporting feeling unnaturally tired or stressed after a video-conference session, whether it’s Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype.
Instances of people being exhausted after a video call are not just anecdotal. “There's a lot of research that shows we actually really struggle with this,” Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, told National Geographic Magazine.
The magazine has a fascinating article titled ‘Zoom fatigue is taxing the brain’. It quotes Professor Franklin as saying people may be surprised at how difficult they’re finding video calls, given that the medium seems neatly confined to a small screen and presents few obvious distractions.
One of the big problems is that the video call, especially with a Brady Bunch assortment of faces crowding the screen, robs us of the ability to detect body language cues.
In a face to face conversation, our words are only part of the transaction. We are constantly monitoring a speaker’s eyes, mouth, hands and body position for signs that will support - or maybe contradict - the words being said. Our satisfaction with a conversation can depend on our ability to pick up these cues.
But we don’t get that in a video call. In a typical head-and-shoulders picture on a computer screen, we don’t get to see hand gestures, or subtle body movements. The picture may be so small, or of such low quality, that we can’t make out facial expressions.
“For somebody who’s really dependent on those non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them,” Franklin told the National Geographic.
Without body language to help, we’re left with prolonged eye contact. And that can feel uncomfortable, or even downright threatening, if it’s held too long.
The article continues: “Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem. Gallery view - where all meeting participants appear Brady Bunch-style - challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker."
But don’t despair. Often, when it comes to advice on virtual communications, we turn to an old friend of ours, Dr Nick Morgan, one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. He wrote a really useful book on the topic, titled Can You Hear Me? It has hundreds of suggestions for making the virtual working experience better.
And in a recent blog, Nick Morgan shared five tips for having a stress-free video call:
Share the load. “Online meetings are far more engaging if two people are running it, having a conversation. We like human interaction, which is why even Shakespeare kept the soliloquies to a minimum and got two people on stage whenever possible. But avoid the Brady Bunch Screen – too many people interacting at once is just confusing.”
Share the experience. “It’s no accident that virtual cocktail hours have become a thing. It seems a little silly, but it’s better to have us all tasting the same wine, or sampling the same chocolate cake, or reading the same book, even if we’re doing it in our own enclaves. Connecting the virtual and the real in this way makes for a stronger connection.”
Share the conversation. “Make the video conferences or sessions interactive. People passively watching on a computer screen rapidly lose interest. The typical drop off from a webinar is 90% after 10 minutes.”
Share other formats. "Add pictures, add video, add something we can look at or go to via our mobile phones. Mix it up.”
Share the feelings. “Video crushes people… our emotions and reactions are subtly lessened by being on video. So amp them up. Tell people how you are feeling. ‘Jane, that’s wonderful that you said that. I’m thrilled that you are able to get that done.’ And so on. Even though people can see you, don’t assume your attitudes and feelings – your intent – is coming through clearly.”