Who would have ever guessed at the beginning of the year that the term “work from home” would become such a familiar and recurrent phrase? Who knew that operating with people through technology would be something you do daily, without having any physical contact with colleagues for months? Could you ever even imagine your workplace closing down for months, when even getting leave for some would have been difficult on a “normal” day? A lot of these adaptations in the work dynamic and the emergence of this “new normal” while living through a pandemic was a stark reminder that when the world changes, we need to change with it. An essential part of the new work from home culture was finding new ways of connection that was multi- faceted enough to be able to make optimal use of the working hours employees put in from home. This included finding platforms that could conduct polls, share videos, create breakout rooms, and many other such features to make your home workspace more engaging.
However, while everything moved online, the kind of stressors that people started facing changed as well. With an increasing number of video calls, workers realized that they were more exhausted at the end of their workday than they used to be while physically going to work, despite being in the comfort of their own home. After a lot of research into why video calls were taking such a mental toll on workers, multiple reasons were found for the same.
One of these reasons was the lack of non- verbal cues which are essential for communication. While we may often give them a miss, the way a person sits, gestures, and behaves is actually an important part of the way we perceive them and the environment. With video calls having a person shown only waist up and sometimes only shoulders up, emotional intimacy was close to nothing. Additionally, psychologists also proposed that we were engaging in “continuous partial attention” wherein we try to focus on too many things on a work video call at once, unable to really devote ourselves fully to a single task. This occurs since we are often struggling between trying to gauge non-verbal cues, wait for a single person to speak, and taking notes, while at the same time seeing our own face and making sure we look presentable ourselves. Since we are always looking back at our own face, which doesn’t occur in physical meetings, it often makes us conscious and anxious. In essence, working through a video call requires much greater mental processing than otherwise. Face- to- face meetings are a great way to develop bonds with co-workers and truly get to know them through the organic conversation before and after the meeting, which is also lost in an online platform which most likely sticks to an agenda. A secondary problem arises when video calls are essentially the only way to connect to others- outside of work as well. Because people were already mentally drained with work video calls, they were unable to give their best while virtually connecting with their friends and family as the tiredness would carry on into the rest of their day.
In light of all of this, the term “Zoom fatigue” was developed to explain the burnout, worry and anxiety associated with using virtual platforms for work purposes. This doesn’t only apply to Zoom as a platform in specific but is associated with all other virtual communication platforms that engage in video conferencing as well. However, it is safe to say that Zoom fatigue is not something exclusive to work, because we use video calls on a daily basis today as a pivotal means of social interaction to connect with loved ones, make an appearance at important events like weddings and graduations and even engage in learning in schools and colleges. Understanding how it can impact our lives in every area has been an influential factor in trying to find solutions to combat Zoom fatigue and overcome the perpetual feeling of tiredness and lethargy that follows after logging out of a video meeting.
A few useful tips that experts recommend include switching off your own video or taking self- view out of the screen so your own face is not visible to you. This can reduce anxiety and make you less likely to be conscious about your own appearance. Additionally, you can try to convert smaller video calls into phone call meetings. This is not only a great way to get things done quicker, but also makes it easier to focus your attention on only one aspect which is the opposite person’s voice. Moreover, listen to your body. Anne Lamott once said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you”. Understand when you need to take a step back and disengage before you burnout and can’t get out of a rut. At the end of the day, don’t forget to take care of your mind and give yourself what you need to feel rejuvenated and refreshed to take on another online work day.