Individual Differences and Impact

Lessons from Lockdown – Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue

One of the terms that was bandied about a lot during Lockdown 1 was Zoom Fatigue. This was because many of us were experiencing higher levels of emotional and cognitive exhaustion after spending large portions of the day on Zoom calls. 

In his research on this topic, Nick Bloom of Stanford University found a few reasons why we experience video meeting tiredness: 

  1. The Mirror Effect – with the camera on, our peripheral vision catches our movement, our facial expressions, the way we’re sitting, the fall of our clothes, etc, and we are constantly adjusting and readjusting our appearance, which subconsciously weighing up how we see ourselves and how others see us. It is tiring having to constantly self-adjust both posture and facial features – especially when we are spending most of the day on video calls
  2. We all have Personal Boundaries – our brain doesn’t differentiate between physical and virtual distance. Faces on a laptop that feel too close to us, infringe on the personal boundary space normally reserved for close friends and family. It can subconsciously feel like those on the screen are invading our perceived personal space. The psychological desire to counteract the physical boundary infringement takes its mental toll
  3. We physically move less – unlike actual meetings where we generally move more and tend to walk to a meeting room. In physical meetings we are often also looking around the room, subtly engaging with others close to us and sometimes getting up to get something to drink etc. In video conferencing, we sit still, staring at the screen. If we move, others notice it and we feel too self-conscious to do so in order to avoid attracting too much attention, so we try to minimise all movement during the call. Then we switch to another meeting, sometimes without even getting up to stretch, refill a glass or take a natural break. 
  4. We often only see the faces of meeting participants. This means we cannot read other body language cues, requiring greater mental energy to process and interpret the conversation by filling in the gaps of information otherwise given through non-verbal behaviour.

‘Zoom fatigue’ played, and continues to play, a large part in why we feel exhausted at the end of the day – especially if we spend too much time on video calls.