My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.

With COVID 19, Zoom and web conferencing have become mission critical for enabling team members to communicate while at home. Pre-COVID, many of us already had days filled with meetings; and with COVID, the need for more face-to-face communication and daily meetings has grown (selfishly some of what we’re trying to solve at Loop Team).  With back-to-back virtual meetings, we are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and “feeling more tired” at the end of our workdays.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen several Twitter discussions extrapolating as to why a day of video conference calls is making one feel so tired.  I don’t think there is an exact answer, but I’ve collated below some of what I’ve read, as well as some tips that I found that may be helpful.

Why Do I Feel Tired?

1. Detailed in Nick Morgan’s book, called “Can You Hear Me?,” he discusses that in IRL (in real life), you can see people and their “body language” from head to toe, which enables you to interpret non-verbal cues including moods, feelings, reactions and more.  When virtual, you are unable to see body language nor even make proper eye contact, so your brain must work double-time to fill-in those missing non-verbal gaps.

2. When you are physically talking to someone, you look at the person. Web conferencing tools recognized this early and pushed “speaker view” as a default experience where the speaker is enlarged.  But speaker view makes it more difficult to see your whole team and some consider this not egalitarian.  As a result, some conferencing tools offer “gallery view” also known as “brady bunch view”, but this means you now have to subconsciously process multiple people at the same time which further exacerbates the problem detailed in #1. Scientists have also given this a name – it is known as “continuous partial attention.”

3. Extending on #2, you can’t make real eye contact when virtual. This gives a feeling of needing to be “always on” as if the paparazzi is following you.  In IRL, you know when someone is looking at you, and these intermittent breaks give you much needed moments to relax and close your eyes.

4. Working at an office not only creates work/life separation, but it also provides for natural breaks.  Between each office meeting, you are often walking to another room which provides a few minutes before and after the meeting that help to serve as a warm-up and cool-down period.  These “watercooler” moments help ease the transition to the more demanding and focused discussions. However, virtual meetings see little opportunity for side watercooler chat due to the formal nature of conference calls and the inability to have side discussion.

5. As alluded to in #3 and #4, our brains need frequent short naps, but the nature of virtual conferences make it challenging to find these healthy “time outs.” When virtual, every sound is amplified to the same volume regardless of whether or not you are wearing a headset. This is considered a feature, which makes sense with the varying microphone hardware across laptops and devices.  The pitfall though is that conversation audio has no depth and no conversation is private.  Everything is interruptive – you can’t zone out.

So What Can We Do?

1. Adjust your meetings to 20 or 25 minutes, especially if your schedule is back to back. These 5 to 10 minute breaks will give you an opportunity to stand-up and have a more natural break.

2. Schedule phone calls again. Yes, that may sound counterintuitive, but walk and talk where you don’t have to feel that you’re on camera all the time. Video use is becoming even more of a necessity to feel connection, but audio-only calls take the pressure off.

3. Have smaller meetings. The more people in the room, the more processing you have to do and the more your brain has to work. Smaller meetings encourage more watercooler chat which provides an opportunity for your brain to decompress.

4. Invest in an external camera and mount it to the TV. This obviously won’t work for everyone but the idea here is to have a camera that is farther away from your face so you don’t feel always on. In addition, the other party can now see the entirety of you so they can visually read when you are in and out of focus – which actually helps both sides. Of course, this won’t work if you are doing most of your calls from your PJs.

If you have other ideas and tips to help make video conference calls less mentally taxing, please share.