Zoom Fatigue and Non-Verbal Overload

Video conferencing has become a major part of remote and hybrid working. The term ‘zoom fatigue’ quickly caught on during the early stages of the first 2020 lockdown. Being in meetings most of the day in the office had shifted to being in meetings most of the day on video calls. Some of us potentially increased the number of meetings they had each day. As someone recently commented to me “you’re now only 1-click away from the meeting, so it feels easy to be involved in every one of them”. 

As we know, video meetings are different from in-person meetings. There are no opportunities to have a quick whispered conversation about a point with someone, it is difficult to interrupt the speaker with questions, and you aren’t always able to see everyone who is in attendance at the meeting. In an academic article from Technology, Mind, and Body, Jeremy Bailenson highlights four potential (although hypothetical) causes of Zoom Fatigue. Below is a brief summary of the four points suggested by Bailenson in addition to some hints and tips on how to potentially manage zoom fatigue. 

Gazing up-close for long periods of time *

In face-to-face meetings, attendees spend a limited amount of time staring directly at the speaker or at every person in the room. In zoom meetings, attendees spend the majority of the meeting looking into the face of all participants on the screen for extended periods of time. The up-close, intense, and direct eye-gaze, normally reserved for family and close friends, but is now being employed for colleagues and strangers for extended periods of time each day.

Extra subconscious mental processing *

Non-verbal behaviour, such as body language, is a subconscious, complex and integrative part of face-to-face communication. With video conferencing, we need to make an intentional effort to both read and communicate these otherwise effortless non-verbal cues. Viewing only a face and upper body means we have to work harder to read and translate the reduced body language cues. Moreover, more mental work has to go into interpreting eye and body movement that may differ on a video-grid screen to that in face-to-face interactions.

The 'mirror effect' *

Although there is always the option to ‘hide self-view’ on zoom, the default for video conferencing software is the ability to constantly see your own reflection during a call. Research has show that this self-focus and evaluation of their reflection, can lead to more pro-social behaviour, but can also lead to higher stress levels and can prime women (more than men) to experience depression.

Physically less mobility *

In face-to-face meetings it is acceptable to move in the chair, stretch, get up or even refill a glass or cup. In these meetings participants can generally see everyone else in the room. In a zoom call, there is a very narrow ‘cone’ of view that participants need to remain in for the duration of the call. Being forced to sit in a camera’s view reduces movement. Additionally, excessive movement does encourage visual attention from others, so it is often ideal to remain as stationary as possible.

A few hints and tips:

Individuals:

  • Try turning on the ‘hide self-view’ option on your camera once you have positioned yourself in the correct place in front of the camera.
  • If you use a laptop, use an external keyboard, allowing you to distance yourself from the faces on screen.
  • Blocking out sections in your diary that allow for breaks between zoom meetings can give you time and opportunity to move around more. 
  • Attending only the meetings you need to, rather than attending just because you can, will reduce the possibility of you being expected to attend more meetings than you really need to participate in. 

Teams: 

  • Allow participants to turn off their camera’s (in addition to muting themselves) if they are not actively talking. This will give them the option of getting up, moving around and writing notes without feeling ‘watched’. 
  • Setting out explicit video conferencing norms and keeping track of changes in implicit norms will help employees and managers to create a much healthier relationship with video conferencing tools. 

Although there are some behavioural norms around video conferencing that will naturally evolve and become part of how we do remote working going forward. Some of these norms have become nuances across various business cultures, depending on company and team policies. It will take time to develop a uniform video conferencing culture. In the meantime, it may be that teams (or even companies) need to develop and implement explicit ‘rules’ and norms that help to manage video meetings and reduce employees’ resulting fatigue levels. 

* Source: Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behavior, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *