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Zoom Fatigue: Why video calls are wearing you out, and what you can do about it

Are you webcam weary? New research shows that more and more people are experiencing video conferencing burnout and ending their online chats feeling drained.

Since many people started working from home a year ago, we’ve spent a great deal of time interacting through Zoom, Skype, Messenger or some other online video conferencing software. It’s not a natural way to communicate, and it is wearing us out.

Researchers have dubbed the phenomenon Zoom Fatigue, after one of the more popular platforms to rise to prominence during the lockdown.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University has identified some of the main causes of people feeling exhausted after their video calls, and he has some suggestions for combatting the effects.

Excessive close up eye contact

While in a face-to-face meeting, people tend to look towards whoever is speaking at the time, on a video chat, everyone is facing their own webcam. So, when you look at your screen, this can give the impression that everyone is looking at you all the time.

“Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

The fix: Reduce the size of the conferencing platform. You don’t need to have the chat software open to full-screen the whole time you are in a meeting. If nothing is being presented visually, you can shrink the size of the app and also therefore all of the faces that appear to be staring at you.

Seeing yourself on screen for extended periods

Most video platforms have a square that shows you as you appear on the webcam to others. This helps you to know that you are well-lit and in-frame. It can also be distracting to have a real-time video image of yourself on your screen while you are trying to communicate with others.

The fix: Hide yourself. Most platforms offer the option to remove the image from your own camera from your display. So, once you’ve verified that you are in the frame of the camera for others to see properly, use the ‘hide-self’ option.

Lack of mobility

Most of us like to move around a fair amount. We stand up and even pace during conference calls, we move about in our chairs at meetings, lean forward and back. On a video chat, however, we feel the compulsion to stay in place in order to avoid going out of frame or out of focus from our webcam. This prolonged stillness, holding a single position for extended periods of time is unnatural. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said. So, staying in one spot is not only fatiguing, it is impacting your brain function.

The fix: Set up your webcam a decent distance away from where you are sitting. Not being in extreme close-up will allow you greater freedom of mobility while still remaining in the frame of the image. Also, consider shutting your own camera off and going audio only when other people are presenting or when you won’t be speaking for a period of time. Then you can stand up and move about while still hearing the call – without it appearing on camera as though you have ducked out of the meeting.

See more about this research from Stanford here.

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