The ‘new normal’ is here to stay. Every aspect of our life has changed since Covid 19 stuck us. The video conference is an integral part of the new normal and is creating Zoom fatigue, new stress in our lives.
If Covid 19 brought about despair and hopelessness in the world, the only ray of light in the gloomy period of 2020 was Zoom.
Zoom Video Call meetings became the go-to software for virtual conferences, family reunions, company board meetings, and even religious gatherings. Like the word “Google it”, it became common to say, “Let’s Zoom”. Because of Zoom, everyone was in ‘touch’ with their friends and families, though virtually.
But there is a downside to this convenience. Many are suffering from Zoom fatigue because of the long hours we spend on video conferences. Consequently, this is the new stress that is silently creeping and getting a hold of us.
Most video conference apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc., are likely to cause this fatigue. Because of its popularity, the word “Zoom fatigue” has become synonymous with the stress associated with all video conference apps. And Zoom fatigue is real.
When the pandemic struck
The novel coronavirus spread from the Wuhan market in late 2019. Whereas the disease that started in December 2019 is still raging as of March 2021. As a result, it caused billions of dollars of economic loss and plunged the world into a recession and depression. As of February 2021, there are more than 113 million confirmed cases, with more than 2.52 million deaths caused by the virus.
Generally, the WHO’s recommendations on lockdown were to help the countries reorganize, regroup, rebalance resources, and protect the health infrastructure. As a result by April 2020, nearly 3.9 billion people – more than half the world’s population were under some form of lockdown.
Obviously, the initial reaction to this severe form of quarantine and lockdown was chaotic. There was no precedent to a situation like this in people’s living memory.
Consequently, in many cities people started hoarding up essentials, creating a shortage of basic things like toilet paper and food items. It was a curfew-like situation in towns and cities across the globe.
Very soon, the health infrastructure was under pressure with more people reporting sick. Further, fake news and rumors dominated social media with room scrolling becoming a norm.
Initial Covid 19 patients were treated like pariahs, and in some countries, it was even difficult to bury the patients. Organizations reviewed their operating procedures and Disaster Recovery Plans to ensure business continuity.
With the shutdown of the airports and airlines, travel came to a halt. Very soon, the world went into recession, and an estimate from the Washington University put the impact at $300 billion implications on the world’s supply chain.
Work from Home (WFH) and Video Conference or Zoom Meetings
The new term in vogue in 2020 was WFH. Companies had to reinvent themselves quickly to ensure the work continued.
Offices quickly reviewed and revamped their infrastructure to fit the “new norm”. The sale of laptops and home internet devices skyrocketed. At the same time, the sales of formal clothing and other office fashion declined.
The world scrambled around to find a suitable video conference app and Zoom cloud meetings became the favorite. Overnight, Companies conducted most of the business online, and the world caught on to a new way to run their day-to-day business.
Schools started holding their classes using Zoom cloud meetings. Religious institutions used it to conduct prayers. Friends and families got around and had reunions online.
Customers had their queries were resolved online, and doctors treated patients using the Zoom cloud meeting software. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, and even court proceedings went online.
Suddenly Zoom was everywhere
Founded in 2011, the communication technology firm, Zoom Video Communications became a unicorn company in 2017 with a valuation of US$ 1 billion.
Thanks to its free version and the flexibility to use it for a conference with 100 people at once, the Zoom meeting app was the most downloaded app in 2020. In March 2020, the app was downloaded 2.13 million times on a single day! Because of this popularity, the company’s stock went from $70 per share in January 2020 to $150 per share in March 2020. More than a 100% increase in just three months!
Other video conference apps like Skype, Google Duo, Microsoft Teams, etc., were caught napping. They scrambled to grab a slice of the booming video conferencing market and hurriedly introduced several improvements to their video conference apps.
But none could catch up with Zoom’s pace and be forced to fight for the second slot. The Work From Home (WFH) became the single most prominent usage for video conference apps like Zoom.
What is Work From Home (WFH)?
In the WFH mode, employees reported’ to work on video conference apps like Zoom at the regular working hours. But instead of traveling or dressing up formally, they logged into a video conference app like Zoom or Microsoft Teams from home and often dressed in casuals.
Work From Home Online 2021 created a new dimension in the work atmosphere. Companies suddenly found that they no longer needed to have prime real estate and thousands of square meters of office to get the work done. The fame of a “prestigious address” disappeared from the business lexicon.
The commercial real estate value fell in most cities, with companies canceling the lease agreements. Employees also realized that they no longer need to live in the cities to work for their companies.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns suddenly faced an increasing demand for housing, with most employees preferring to move out of the congested and polluted cities.
This shift in the demographics is likely to significantly impact the environment and economy in the future. This could even help the world in reducing the carbon footprint and improve the ecological balance.
WFH freed up the organizations to explore new avenues in business continuity plans. Many companies found working from home a viable solution, especially in service sectors and ITES
In some cases, the productivity was higher, and many companies have decided to continue work from home for the foreseeable future. For instance, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have given the option of working permanently from home.
Video Conference and Zoom “fatigue.”
It is estimated that hundreds of thousand video conference meetings are held every day on video conference apps, including Zoom.
Along with the Companies, the employees also found the Zoom cloud meetings productive, at least in the initial stages.
Video conference meant logging in from the home’s comfort without stress and not spending time to dress up formally for the sessions.
Working from home gave them a substantial amount of time to spend with the family, a luxury before the lockdown. Work from home also meant that the employees had more time to relax and spend time on productive and recreational activities.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
Very soon, the theory of “Unintended Consequences” stuck the WFH concept. What was perceived to be a ‘comfort’ and ‘convenience’ soon became a nuisance and stress.
This was common for all the video conference apps and became known as Zoom fatigue. However, it was the employees that were primarily affected by the latest technology pandemic.
The video conference or Zoom fatigue can be classified into
- Caused by Technology.
- Influenced by family and friends.
- Effect on health
Video Conference – Zoom Fatigue caused by Technology
The pandemic and the lockdown created an unprecedented demand and overload on the availability of data. Very quickly, internet service providers were inundated with calls during the downtime of even a few minutes.
With millions of people at home, it was natural that people spent time browsing, chatting and playing online games. And the number of people using video conference apps like Zoom also increased tremendously.
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This sudden demand choked the network capacity, and people often suffered sluggish data connectivity. Consequently, for those who logged in for work-related activity, it was frustrating and tiring creating the video conference or Zoom fatigue. vide
For instance, in a 60-minute call, more than 10 minutes was wasted because of poor network. “Can you hear me, hello, hello” or “Am I audible?” or “Is my voice clear?” – these sentences became standard throughout the call.
Many participants had to repeat themselves to convey their point of view. Naturally, this led to frustration and anger amongst the participant and the Managers. The interruptions meant that a 60-minute call stretched to more than 90 minutes.
How to combat video conference Zoom fatigue caused by Technology
- Choose a time that is likely to have less bandwidth usage. Usually, early mornings or late afternoons are the best.
- Where possible, switch off the video and use only the audio. This will help in better bandwidth usage and gives a more precise quality of the meeting.
- Where video has to be used, encourage only the speaker to have the video on.
- Avoid using the mobile phone for Zoom video conferencing, especially when traveling or moving in a vehicle. Traveling causes network dropping affecting the quality of the call, leading to an unsatisfactory meeting and fatigue.
Video Conference – Zoom Fatigue influenced by family and friends.
Covid 19 and the lockdown confined people to homes and gave immense opportunities to bond. Before lockdown, for many families spending time together was only on weekends or when they went on special holidays. Hence the time to spend together was limited, rare, and precious.
Since lockdown restricted people’s movement there was ample time to spend with the family. Consequently, families did not require designated time for bonding.
From morning to evening families spent time together. Initially, this was exciting and satisfying, but this continued proximity created stress in many.
Tempers ran short, and family members preferred the silence of their own rooms or corners. In many countries, the lockdown stretched on for weeks and even months, causing the stress to increase.
Added to the bonding stress came the problems created by video conferencing apps and Zoom fatigue. Whereas in the post-Covid era physical offices gave the employees privacy and personal freedom. Bosses rarely called employees after work.
Further, post-work time was spent going to the pub and hanging around with friends and family. But WFH scenario meant that the distinction between the home and work disappeared. Whereas now, the employees were always “on-call”.
In other words, this meant leaving the video conferencing apps open, often throughout the day. Regardless of what you are doing, now Managers could summon the employees ‘anytime’.
Interaction with the bosses
Another significant video conference or Zoom fatigue faced was when the manager or supervisor used harsh words against the employees. Earlier, when such friction between the boss and the subordinate happened, the employees could relieve their stress differently.
There were plenty of opportunities to meet their colleagues over coffee or a drink and ‘bitch’ about the bosses. Moreover, in many offices, they had the convenience of the water fountain to moan and complain.
But WFH removed all such stress buster avenues. Now the anger and the frustration had to be carried by the employee because very few preferred sharing the “office stress” with the families.
For many, sharing such stress with colleagues was better because the colleagues empathized better than family.
Many employees also expressed their anguish of being shouted at by the boss. Very often the heated interaction could be heard by the family members, leading to an embarrassing situation at home. In the past, the family hardly knew about such ‘dressing down’ episodes.
Another cause of Zoom fatigue was the challenge of creating a quiet and ‘office-like environment at their home. For example, people struggled to keep children screaming while talking to a client or stopping the spouse from interfering during a meeting with the boss, or even avoid sleeping off in a conference!
For many employees, the work from home was convenient, but it has also created fatigue.
Overcoming Video Conference – Zoom Fatigue by friends and family – Some Tips
- Despite staying under the same roof, keep timings separate for work, bonding and personal space.
- Ensure that everyone has a “Me time”, and no one should trespass that.
- Invest in good quality headphones, either wired or with Bluetooth. This will help in holding the work-related calls quietly and confidentially.
- If a quiet atmosphere is not possible, try to warn your host that there would be likely interference or disturbance. Try to mute your call to avoid disturbing others.
- Set up calls with your colleagues and friends at work to talk about the day and catch up with the office news. Having separate WhatsApp or similar chat groups where your views can be freely expressed will help.
Video Conference – Zoom Fatigue and Health
The WFH and the convenience of the video conferencing apps transformed every home into an office. The result was that people stopped commuting to work and could log in from their homes. Though the initial days were spent by most people eating healthy and walking the “10k Steps” very soon, the novelty wore off.
With the availability of the online delivery of foods, junk food consumption increased along with ‘overeating‘. Since people had nothing to do, the time was spent drinking and eating. This resulted in overweight individuals. Along with overweight other related health issues started cropping up.
Physical activity reduced to the bare minimum; most of the time was spent on a couch or at the worktable. Endless video conference either on Zoom or other apps, either for work or for pleasure, meant prolonged time on the couch.
Both the change in the diet and the additional time spent sitting resulted in health issues.
- Avoid junk food and try experimenting with food by cooking at home.
- If attending conference calls or other meetings, try participating in the call by walking around. Avoid sitting and talking.
- Arrange for a standing desk where you can work standing up
- Try intermittent fasting
- Vitamin D is known to be highly effective in the prevention and management of Covid 19. If possible, try to get natural Vitamin D spending enough time in the sun. If this is not possible, take supplements after checking with your doctor.
Stanford Study on Zoom Fatigue
Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab examined the psychological effects of these long meetings on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.
(Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behaviour, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030 ). According to this study, there are four consequences of prolonged video conferencing, which is now generically known as Zoom fatigue.
- Excessive and highly intense close-up eye contact: unlike in physical face-to-face meetings or conversations, our eyes have multiple things to focus on. It is not just the fact that we focus on physical discussions. We look beyond the subject, the surroundings, the non-verbal clues, etc. But in a Zoom meeting, the opportunity to look out for nonverbal clue s is extremely minimum.
- Staring at our own faces during video chats is stressful and creates fatigue. Professor Bailenson found that looking at our faces constantly during a Zoom video call can be quite stressful. Instead of focusing on the subject we are supposed to speak about, we could end up examining our face critically, for the invisible wrinkle or a black spot, etc.
- Video chats reduce our mobility: As discussed above, constant participation in video conferences reduces our mobility, and we get confined to the chair. Movement is essential to good health, and continuous video conferencing reduces our mobility leading to health issues.
- Video conference calls require a high cognitive load: There are plenty of verbal and non-verbal signals that our brains interpret quickly in a physical meeting. This helps us to manage the situation better. Take suitable measures when you find some of the audience are not paying attention.
Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale
This is an empirical study on the effects of prolonged video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. The study was conducted by Stanford University, and the results were published in February 2021 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3786329.
In this study, the participants were asked a set of 49 survey items spanning several video conference aspects. The five dimensions of fatigue were studied: general, social, emotional, visual, and motivational.
It was found that there was a high level of fatigue associated with the frequency, duration, and burstiness of the Zoom meetings and the participants, in general, had a negative attitude for such discussion.
How to combat Zoom Fatigue – 10 proven tips
- Limit the Participants: If you are the host, limit the number of participants. A call with more than 10 people would lead to glitches and frustration.
- Always use an earphone: It is advisable to use an earphone, preferably a Bluetooth device and walk around while attending the Zoom call. Make sure that you are not going outside the range of your Bluetooth device.
- Off with the camera: Switch on the camera only when necessary. This will not only help in conserving the bandwidth but also reduces the fatigue to appear “good” before your audience.
- Establish a protocol: It is good to pre-agree on the speaking hierarchy. When more than one person speaks, the brain finds it difficult to interpret the conversations leading to a cacophony on a video conference.
- Do not multitask: Avoid the temptation of multitasking or checking your social media, etc., during the meeting. This would ensure that your attention is on the discussions and will make them more productive.
- Agree with the family: It will be good to have an understanding with the family on your work schedule. Accordingly, ensure that there would be minimum interference during your meeting. When it is unavoidable (for instance, a baby crying), mute your microphone, close your video, and excuse yourself from the panel to attend to the baby.
- Dress for work: Work From Home does not mean that you attend the official meetings in your pajamas. Dress in smart casuals before the meeting starts. Psychologically this helps in giving seriousness to the Zoom meetings.
- Take scheduled breaks: Prolonged sessions of video conferences can be tedious and can lead to Zoom fatigue. Therefore taking short breaks helps. Use this break to indulge in relaxing activities like listening to music, spending time with the family, meditation, etc.
- Work-Life Balance: Work from home has blurred the distinction between work and office. Despite this, agree with your employer on the hours that you would be available for video conferences. There should be sufficient time to spend with your family and for yourself.
- Accept the new norm: Even if the pandemic fades away, the new working way is likely to stick around. Employers are finding this more cost-effective and want to encourage more employees to go with this model. Hence, we have no choice but to accept the new norm and re-design our lives around this.
Video Conference is here to stay
Video conference apps and Zoom fatigue are here to stay. Like the Covid 19, which is mutating and coming in new variants, the Zoom fatigue will also evolve. New variations of the fatigue will surface in the future.
We have survived much worse situations in the past, and our survival instincts will help us overcome this fatigue too.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. it is the one that is the most adaptable to change” – Charles Darwin.
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I am a professional Risk Manager and an Insurer. I have a PhD in Psychology besides degrees and qualifications in insurance and marketing. As an executive I have been managing companies and people for over three decades in different parts of the world.