Zoom fatigue is real, but it can be beaten

Stanford University study looked at the psychological aspects of Zoom fatigue and offered some solutions


It wasn’t long after lockdown began last spring before the phrase ‘zoom fatigue’ entered the lexicon. The sudden switch to home working sent many workplaces on to Zoom, MS Teams and all sorts of other video conferencing apps previously unknown.

In fact, for some it got so bad they identified as ‘Zoombies’! Driven into a trance like state from days spent looking at their screen.

While Zoombies might not be clinically recognised Zoom fatigue is. A recent Stanford University paper looked into the psychological impacts of people spending so much time in virtual meetings. It identifies four consequences of prolonged video chats which contribute to ‘Zoom fatigue’. None will be very surprising to those of us who have spent hours on meetings, often rooted to the spot.

These are:

  • Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
  • Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing – like looking in the mirror constantly
  • Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
  • The cognitive load is much higher in video chats as it is more difficult to read body language.

Solutions to avoid Zoom fatigue

The study suggests ways around the problems, including taking Zoom off full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimise face size, using an external keyboard and hiding self-view or allowing people to come off camera regularly so they can move around and don’t have to stare at themselves and others for long periods.

It’s not that video conferencing apps are not useful. They have not only enabled remote working, but also made all sorts of meetings more accessible than they have ever been. There are a whole host of meetings people wouldn’t get to in person which they can now attend and, if they can’t, they can often play back the recording at their own convenience. 

Professor Jeremy Bailenson who conducted the Stanford study, says, “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.”

The important thing is to manage platform meetings and develop best practice. The good news is that it’s very early days for all of this so things can only get easier. The bad news is that people may be so fed up with video conferencing that they will be longing for in-person contact and to ditch video platforms. That may only last for a while, though, before the negatives of commuting and rushing to pointless meetings kicks back in. Most likely, what will emerge over time is good hybrid practice which focuses on making the best use of our time.

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