The Slice

Zoom Fatigue: What Is It and How Can You Combat It?

October 14, 2022

If your once upbeat and energized remote team has been sluggish, disengaged, and downright bummed out recently, they may be dealing with a bad case of virtual meeting fatigue. Working from home is awesome, but that doesn't mean it's a non-stop pajama party. Remote work is demanding in ways we might not have anticipated, and it's worth stepping back and building strategies to combat issues like Zoom fatigue so your team can be happy, healthy, and fully engaged at work– no matter where they're logging on from.

It wasn't long after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the radical shift to a work-from-home format for businesses around the world that the term "Zoom fatigue" became increasingly prevalent on social media and in Google searches.

If your once upbeat and energized remote team has been sluggish, disengaged, and downright bummed out recently, they may be dealing with a bad case of virtual meeting fatigue.

Working from home is awesome, but that doesn't mean it's a non-stop pajama party. Remote work is demanding in ways we might not have anticipated, and it's worth stepping back and building strategies to combat issues like Zoom fatigue so your team can be happy, healthy, and fully engaged at work– no matter where they're logging on from.

What Is Zoom Fatigue?

Zoom fatigue is a phenomenon where people that frequently attend video meetings and conference calls experience burnout. Though there are countless benefits to being able to work from home, it's become increasingly apparent that constant back-to-back video calls leave us feeling completely drained.

With the coronavirus pandemic impacting every corner of the world, many people attended many more video conferences than usual. This can lead to a feeling of exhaustion that is very similar to our traditional sense of work burnout.

What Does It Feel Like to Have Zoom Fatigue?

Burnout and work fatigue aren't new phenomena, but our more recent reliance on video conferencing software to get work down has put a new spin on an old problem. In fact, people have been talking about burnout since the 1970s. 

The effects of Zoom fatigue can take a number of different forms, but many of them coincide with traditional burnout symptoms.

Some things to look out for in yourself and among your team include:

  • Low energy levels

  • Forgetfulness

  • Lack of patience

  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or lonely

  • Reduced work performance

  • Tension in relationships with both co-workers and loved ones

  • Physical symptoms like pain or muscle tension

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • A hard time following instructions

Many companies have learned from the crash course in remote work precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic that burnout symptoms can still emerge when we don't have to deal with all the stressors of an in-office job. By incorporating video meetings and additional screen time, we still manage to burn ourselves out.

If you find that your team seems to be avoiding or canceling Zoom meetings or has heightened anxiety during calls, they might be dealing with Zoom fatigue. If performance, motivation, engagement, and morale are down, the cause may be spending so much time in remote meetings.

What Causes Zoom Fatigue?

The fact that people attending video meetings are put under increased cognitive demand actually isn't new information– a study found this to be true as far back as 2008. Aside from the technical stressors of coordinating a conference call, Zoom meetings can put a lot of pressure on your brain by requiring that you process another person's words while creating the illusion of eye contact through a screen.

Even though research into this topic has been going on for more than a decade, more studies are necessary to fully understand why we find it so exhausting to attend so many remote meetings.

One recent study from Technology, Mind, and Behavior proposed four potential causes of Zoom fatigue:

  • It's super intense to be making so much close-up eye contact for so long.

  • It's exhausting to be able to see your own face in real time while interacting with others.

  • We don't move around nearly as much in remote meetings as during in-person interactions.

  • Interacting with people through a screen involves a lot more thought than IRL interactions, putting a much higher cognitive load on our brains.

Another potential cause of this exhaustion is that remote work and constant Zoom meetings can blur the lines between work and life. Practically overnight, workers around the world found themselves in a position where their colleagues and bosses were peering into their houses on a daily basis, which is stressful for just about everyone.

How Can You Combat Zoom Fatigue?

The last thing you want is for your team to deal with constant exhaustion and burnout due to frequent video meetings.

Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to combat Zoom fatigue and ensure that all of your workers are happy, engaged, motivated, and feeling their best when working, no matter where they are in the world.

Encourage Your Team to "Hide Self-View"

It can be seriously distracting to always see your face looking back at you when discussing an important topic with your team. It's pretty unnatural to be able to see yourself when listening or talking to another person, and the brain has a hard time processing this phenomenon.

Looking at ourselves during meetings can make us more self-critical and simply be stressful and taxing.

To help your team avoid the exhausting effects of being constantly presented with their own image, encourage them to use the "hide self-view" button after verifying that their face is properly framed in the video.

Take Regular Breaks

Taking regular breaks is important even when your team is working in an office, but it's particularly crucial when your team is distributed. When our workdays consist of staring at a screen, it's easy to get stuck there like a zombie while the day goes by. In an office setting, there are more natural opportunities to get up, move around, talk to co-workers, and get some fresh air.

Though productivity-minded managers might not like the sound of this at first, encouraging your team to take regular breaks can actually increase productivity. On top of that, it can boost job satisfaction, creativity, and attention.

Regular breaks help to support your team's physical and mental health, which is best for both the individuals involved and your organization as a whole. As the cherry on top, breaks can help your workers improve their learning abilities and consolidate memories.

Make sure that your team is taking the time they need to step away from the screen to refresh their minds. You'll likely find that encouraging breaks makes for a happier, healthier workplace and for Zoom meetings with far more engagement.

Take "Audio Only" Breaks

Many managers prefer that their team use the video function during calls; in fact, some even require that cameras be on during meetings. This is because they fear their team is multi-tasking or disengaged when they can't see them.

There are a lot of benefits to using cameras during meetings, but also a fair number of drawbacks. On the plus side, it can help everyone get in "work mode," reduce the sense of isolation that can come along with remote work, and increase focus, productivity, and accountability.

On the other hand, though, it can mean that your employees are worried about the wrong things (like what their living room/office looks like or that their hair is doing something weird today) and lead to virtual meeting fatigue.

One solution is to create a hybrid model where you still use the video function but encourage your team to take "audio only" breaks when they are dealing with back-to-back meetings.

Build in Some Fun

In an office, social interactions are baked into the cake in the form of break room discussions, water cooler chats, and inter-cubical banter. When your team is working from home, though, it's possible for workers to feel completely isolated from one another.

People who don't feel comfortable with their teammates or know them particularly well can make video meetings a lot more stressful.

Luckily, there are a lot of fun ways you can bring everyone together despite the distance between you all.

Our go-to remote team social activity is a pizza party– honestly, how cool is it that each of your team members can be delivered a piping hot, fresh pizza no matter where they are in the world at the same time and enjoy the meal together virtually?

If you're looking for team-building activities to help your team come out of their shell and get to know one another, a great option is a virtual escape room experience or a live trivia game.

You'll likely find that Zoom fatigue stops being nearly as much of an issue when your team has had some bonding opportunities to feel more comfortable with one another. They'll feel more connected to the team, more motivated to participate, and less uptight about their background being a little messy.

Be Selective With Meetings

Virtual meetings are an essential tool in the world of remote work, but it's easy to overdo them. Many meetings could be emails, and the more unnecessary meetings you hold, the less likely your team is to value them and take them seriously. In fact, having too many meetings is an easy way to create resentment and burnout.

Some companies have even started instituting "no meeting days," where certain days of the week are preserved as meeting-free. This can go a long way in preventing and combating Zoom fatigue. After all, people can handle remote meetings; they just can't handle them all the time.

You could start by having one day a week where you don't hold any meetings. You'll likely find that you can still communicate the same information just as effectively but that everyone has a little bit more energy when you meet up in the virtual world.

Set an Agenda and Stick to It

We've all been there– meetings that seem to drag on forever, ambling without any clear purpose or direction. To avoid this outcome, always set a meeting agenda ahead of time and stick with it no matter what.

This can ensure that your team isn't spending any longer on-screen than they need to and will reduce Zoom fatigue. On top of that, it means that everyone can return to their other work more quickly, which can add up to some serious efficiency and productivity gains over time.

Encourage Your Team to Speak Up

Some people might be more resilient to hours and hours of Zoom meetings than others. While it's good to incorporate some of these tips into your team's remote work practices, you'll likely find that some team members are more sensitive to the effects of remote meeting fatigue than the rest of your crew.

To help deal with this aspect of the situation, encourage your team to reach out if they feel burnout. You'll likely find that simply knowing that the telephone lines are open for communication in this regard goes a long way.

Remind Your Team of the Importance of Work-Life Balance

One thing that isn't often discussed when it comes to Zoom fatigue is the reality that we aren't just looking at screens during work. There's a good chance that your employees are also spending a good chunk of their free time online, playing video games, streaming shows, scrolling social media, or otherwise staring at a bright box.

The Pew Research Center reported that 31% of American adults reported they were online "almost constantly" in 2021, and other polls have estimated that the average American spends more than 6,000 hours a year staring at screens.

This means that your team might be rolling out of bed to check their social media, drink coffee, log in to work, and spend a day in video meetings, only to log off and unwind with some Netflix and gaming. Spending too much time on screens can lead to many issues like sleep problems, depression, anxiety, chronic neck and back pain, and more. So if your team is struggling with Zoom fatigue, it's possible that they actually have a case of digital device fatigue.

What your team does in their free time is entirely up to them, but encouraging them to create a distinction between their work life and personal life while incorporating wellness tips could go a long way.

Combat Zoom Fatigue With Food, Fun, and Team-building

Back-to-back meetings can be a drag for everyone, and a successful distributed team requires time spent together not focused on KPIs, deadlines, sales goals, or whatever it is that fills up your Zoom meetings daily. It's been a stressful few years for just about everyone, and providing some opportunities for your workers to socialize and hang out can be quite welcome indeed.

That being said, organizing shared meals and experiences can be a lot of work when you have team members located all over the globe. That's where we come in. If it's time your team got together to spend some quality, non-work-focused time, let us send food and drinks to your team, host a thrilling team experience, or better yet– both at the same time!

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Our team changed from being in the office to working from home permanently through the pandemic. So Pizzatime gives our team a reason to gather and have social time. We also use Pizzatime to get together for milestone celebrations. Everyone loves pizza, right!?!
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General Mills
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