What is Zoom fatigue, are we really fatigued, and how can we avoid it, if so?

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People. This one has me torn.

Are we experiencing Zoom fatigue? 

Or...are we...just...fatigued?

I 100% agree that attending a Zoom meeting is more taxing than going about the same interaction in-person. Plus, every interaction between co-workers now seems to have to take place over Zoom. 

What might have been a “walk and talk” in the normal days is now a Zoom video talk. What might have been a one-on-one phone call check-in in the normal days is now a Zoom video check-in. 

But, does all of this add up to being the main reason we are more exhausted at day's end, or is Zoom just our scapegoat?

I mean, we are all probably sitting at our desks and working a lot more than we did pre-coronavirus. We might be far more productive now than ever, which means we could just be more fatigued from the longer hours and increased focus.

Not to mention that office chit-chat is like fuel for some people, and trying to get a fix from taking a break and interacting with the significant other, kids, pets, or anyone else at home just isn’t the same.

(With all of this, it’s worth saying that, in a time where many are left without work, or in poor health, or both, there are far worse things than being fatigued from work. Being  able to work at all is not being taken for granted here by any means.)

What is Zoom fatigue?

Zoom fatigue is feeling worn out with having to be “on” all the time during the many virtual meetings we endure each day.

Thus, it’s not really Zoom-caused fatigue. It’s video/online meeting fatigue, but Zoom gets the label because Zoom is the go-to meeting tool for most. 

What might be causing Zoom fatigue?

I’ve already mentioned a few reasons why this phenomenon is being talked about more and more with each meeting that passes, but here is a brief summary of could-be reasons.

1. Everyone is online

Obviously, right? But my point is - and I can speak to this as a pre-coronavirus remoter - meetings were much different when a portion of attendees were remote/online and a portion were gathered in the office, and in-person. 

This in-person group would interact among themselves, and would occasionally “throw it” to those online, or, would turn their attention to those online only when those participants were speaking. 

Now, everyone is online, and everyone is always looking at each other, and it's the granddaddy reason responsible for the additional fatigue reasons that follow...

2. Everyone is expected to be “on” (literally)

Whether it’s explicitly stated or not within an organization, everyone is expected to be “on” in every single Zoom meeting. This literally means being present with cameras turned on so everyone’s face can be seen. 

And with that simple click of a button, we have unleashed a number of unintended consequences.

Cameras on means everyone on the call is scanning faces for probably 99% of the meeting’s duration. So, at any given time there is a very good chance at least one of your co-workers is staring directly at you. 

Think about when you look up from your notes in an in-person meeting and someone is looking at you. It can get weird. But in Zoom, it’s happening, and you know it’s happening, and you’re doing it to others. 

This leaves little window for you to break eye contact with the camera out of fear you’ll be seen and thought of to be not paying attention. I mean, I feel guilty taking a sip of water, sneezing, or even just looking at my notepad because it’s usually off-camera and can be mistaken for a phone glance.  

So, you do need to be “on.” Eye contact, head nods, and other non-verbal cues to communicate that yes, you are paying attention. 

Social exhaustion is in fact very real, and that’s a key contributor here. 

3. We are meeting more than before

One theory I have with this one is that anything we did in the office pre-coronavirus now seems wrong or incorrect. 

We used to gather together in groups? Now a no-no. We used to shake hands or hug? No-no. We’d share bowls of snacks? That’s no-no.

One other thing we used to do in-office is talk on the phone. And while doing so now doesn’t at all go against any recommended guideline or pose a health hazard, it just makes us feel like we aren’t adapting. 

So, as mentioned above, every interaction seems to now be a Zoom meeting. I could be exaggerating, so take inventory of your situation to gauge if this is true or not. 

4. Simply joining a meeting requires more energy

This might be the stretchiest of stretches, but there could be some truth to it depending on who you are. 

So, when in the office, a meeting reminder pops-up, you gather your notes and pen or laptop, and you walk into a conference room. Once there, you say hello to a group of people who you probably already saw and said hello to or at least passed by earlier in the day. You sit down, and congrats, you’re in the meeting, ready to roll. 

But in Zoom, no no no. Not the same. Meeting notification pops up, and the chain of events begins. Get the dog off your lap, turn your hat around, get the snack crumbs off your face, clear your background area, sit up straight, and then begin the process of joining the meeting. 

From that point, you open your calendar and click the Zoom link. You wait for the meeting to load. If you haven’t brushed up on your Zoom tips, once the meeting begins, you frantically click to mute and/or turn off your camera to ensure all is in order before you fully join. 

Then, finally, because there are no work hallways to walk or water coolers to post-up on, this is probably your first time seeing your co-workers that day. So, you go the extra mile to make sure your appearance is up to standards.  

Now, finally, you’re in. And this is all assuming there aren’t any technical difficulties along the way. 

It’s a new and different process. 

5. The mute button consumes us

OK, perhaps the most exhausting of the reasons? I’m kind of kidding, but not really. From having to strategically shield others from barking dogs or kids entering the office when not permitted, there are a lot of sounds to keep out. 

And then, of course, making sure to unmute before speaking is a whole other commitment on its own. 

And on a related note, you almost can’t really take a second to gather your mind bits and answer questions thoughtfully because any slight pause opens the “Ryan, I think you’re muted?” floodgates.

6. We are Zooming plenty outside of work hours, too

Last, anyone who is used to going into a work environment on a daily basis can attest to the fact that the separation between home and work life is welcome, on both ends. 

But in this new normal, everything just seems to blend together. 

One of those things is the fact that we have no social opportunity outside of work, and if we want face-to-face interaction with friends, we have to Zoom to get it. So, we are Zooming more at work, and now we are Zooming more at home. 

Tips to overcome remote work fatigue

Again, I think we can all agree fatigue, in general, is real. Call it whatever you want, whether it’s Zoom fatigue, meeting fatigue, new normal fatigue, etc. 

Either way, here are a few tips to put in practice to help you overcome. 

1. Embrace Zoom’s 40-minute meeting window

If you’re on a basic Zoom plan, you may have experienced frustration with the 40-minute meeting cap. But, if you’re fatigued, embrace the limit and use it to your advantage by allowing it to give you a much-needed break between meetings. Now even if you have back-to-back hour-long meetings, you’ll at least have a 20-minute break in-between. 

2. Get back on the phone

Or better yet, reevaluate your meeting commitments to ensure you’re only meeting when you have to. If a meeting is required, try to keep it to a phone call unless there is some benefit to holding the chat on Zoom.

You can also just simply use Zoom to talk without video, but you will have to play the “I wonder if their camera will be on” game with the person on the other end. 

3. Practice normal, in-office best practices

You hear it all the time, but probably fail to put much of it in practice. Treat your remote work day just as you would in the office. Take breaks, get fresh air, make sure you’re working ergonomically. All of these measures are still valuable. 

4. Don’t be afraid to turn off the camera

The option here is to get up and stretch, or slouch, or take deep breaths while your camera is turned on, or simply switch it off to give yourself a break. I’d think the latter would be less distracting to everyone on the call, and would allow you to maximize your break/relief both mentally and physically. 

5. Utilize Zoom’s many features

Meeting online can prove to be more difficult at times, but it also offers the ability to do things you simply can’t do in-person. 

For instance, have a little subtle fun with virtual backgrounds. Or, make collaboration and creative feedback less monotonous by using Zoom’s annotation tools. Last, get familiar with Zoom hotkeys and keyboard shortcuts to make muting and screen shares a breeze.

6. Hide yourself from yourself

For some, exhaustion doesn’t stem from constantly having to be “on” in front of others, but more so from repeatedly glancing at your own video to see how you might be appearing to others. This can easily be changed in your settings. 

But what about the kids?

To end, while many adults might be suffering from much of the above, what about Zoom for kids? Our children actually might welcome and benefit from deeper online interactions. 

Meaning, depending on their after-school routines, kids and teens could be home scrolling social media, feeling isolated, and just in need of something more than a phone call with friends.

And while you might think they are getting what they need socially from required distance learning through their schools, there is a difference between the many types of online education, and not all make an attempt to provide adequate social interaction. 

That's why some virtual after-school programs (and during the summer, Virtual Tech Camps) offer online education, but through live, active online learning in small groups of friends and like-minded students. This is opposed to students pointing and clicking on their own from screen to screen, or crammed in an online classroom with over 30 other kids. These are much different experiences. 

So, Zoomers, best of luck. My one parting tip is to not make Zoom the enemy. It’s a necessary and valuable tool, and many of us are just generally fatigued. Nothing will probably magically change, so try to actively care for your mind and body in order to achieve positive results. 

A photo of Ryan

Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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