Stanford University has identified at least four aspects that cause tiredness when videoconferencing.
Zoom fatigue is a phenomenon identified as the exhaustion that occurs after spending hours of the working day videoconferencing in front of a screen.
Lockdown, the measure implemented to reduce contagion as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, has normalized daily contact through computers for just over a year.
All the video chats scheduled on a normal day may appear to be activities that simply replace in-person face-to-face contact, but they are actually causing fatigue.
Stanford University is conducting a study to develop a scale that measures the degree of fatigue caused by videoconferences through digital platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet.
The project has been named the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale (ZEF Scale) and is part of an ongoing study by the California-based university that you can participate in via this link.
In short, Zoom fatigue is physical and psychological exhaustion caused by new and unnatural mechanisms for verbal and non-verbal interaction via a computer screen.
Jeremy Bailenson, the director and founder of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), has identified four causes of the fatigue that Zoom sessions have caused for millions of people around the world during the pandemic.
His first peer-reviewed findings were published on February 23 in the Technology, Mind, and Behavior journal, and comprise a systematic deconstruction of so-called Zoom fatigue, which he identifies as having four causes.
“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” said Bailenson in a Stanford University news post.
The researcher has clarified on several occasions that the study does not seek to spark a negative reaction against services such as Zoom (he is also a frequent user of videoconferencing), but rather is trying to identify the issues causing exhaustion and find solutions to them.
Videoconferencing has disrupted the normal interaction that people have or had during meetings that we considered normal.
At these, people would be variously looking at a speaker, at others, elsewhere, or taking notes.
But with the new normal of videoconferencing, any attendee at a virtual session is treated as if they were a speaker; every meeting attendee is constantly watching all the others and being watched.
This triggers one of the most common social phobias: the fear of public speaking, Jeremy Bailenson explained. The consequence of this is constant stressful situations and Zoom fatigue.
Another issue related to this is the size of the meeting participants’ faces, mainly due to how computers are set up. This means that faces may be too large for emotional comfort.
Bailenson explained when someone’s face is that close to ours in real life, our brains interpret it as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or to conflict.
“What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours is you’re in this hyper-aroused state.”
The solution: A simple way to reduce these stressful and hyperactive situations is to disable the full screen option in Zoom.
He also recommended reducing the size of the Zoom window in relation to the size of the screen, as well as using an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.
Watching ourselves for hours and watching what we do at all times is unnatural, said Bailenson. However, virtually all video conferencing platforms offer the option to see ourselves.
“It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.”
The solution: An easy solution is to deactivate the camera to avoid looking at each other at all times, or to activate the Zoom function to “hide self-view”, so that others can see us, but we cannot see ourselves.
During video conferences, people sit in one place for several hours. Because device cameras have a limited aperture, we need to sit still.
Limited mobility does not only have physical consequences but, according to the researcher, there are studies indicating that people have an improved cognitive performance when they have the ability to move, as they would in a normal conversation.
The solution: Installing an external camera offers the possibility make better use of the space where we work and provides the possibility of moving. Temporarily turning off the video in group sessions is also recommended, so participants can have a short break from non-verbal communication.
Virtual meetings increase our cognitive load, as people have to make more of an effort to interpret the non-verbal signals produced by the other participants.
“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: If you have to attend long meetings via videoconferencing, you should take a break and turn off your camera, and also move away from the screen, even if you continue listening to the session.
This will avoid the overload caused by interpreting non-verbal signals from everyone in the meeting.