It’s been almost a year since he first experienced this video call-induced exhaustion – a first glimpse of what millions of other people may have faced since they started working at distance. He has now published an article explaining why video chats can have such a mental impact and suggesting how you can reduce fatigue.
“There’s been a transformation in that we’ve gone from video conferencing to video conferencing very frequently and not really knowing the metrics of what the costs and benefits are and how to really think about it,” Bailenson said in an interview. He is professor and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University.
The peer-reviewed article, published last month in the American Psychological Association’s journal Technology Mind and Behavior, draws on existing academic theory and research and indicates that there are four possible reasons for the self. – saying “zoom fatigue”. The document, Bailenson writes, should not be seen as an “indictment” of Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
“I’m a huge fan of what Zoom has done,” he said. “I Just think about asking yourself, “Do I really need to be on video for this?” is a good way to approach a moderation strategy as you approach your media day. “
The document was circulated widely on social media and reactions poured in in response to Bailenson’s analysis. Some have suggested his article basically called for a return to phone calls.
Why video calls can be exhausting
On the one hand, according to the article, there is the excessive amount of direct gaze when people look at other faces up close. It’s unnatural, and it’s not what people typically would do in a face-to-face meeting. During a video call, everyone is often looking at the speaker and listeners, while in person, some people may glance at their notes or lean towards a colleague for a side conversation.
“Now listeners on a Zoom call are viewed the same way speakers are viewed in the real world,” he said. highlighting public speaking as “one of the greatest sources of anxiety”.
There is also constant self-assessment. Seeing our own faces and gestures for hours a day on video is stressful and overwhelming, Bailenson said. Imagine if someone followed you around with a mirror during the work day “and made sure that whatever you do, you are looking at your own face in real time.”
“You couldn’t live your life this way, right?” he said. “It sounds crazy.”
He said this happens in large part because the default setting on video platforms is to show people their own image.
Video chats also reduce people’s ability to be mobile. Instead of walking and talking like you might during a phone call, video chats primarily require participants to stay in a fixed position.
“The problem with video – because culturally it’s a little offensive if you’re not sitting in that frame and looking into the camera’s field of view – people just sit there,” Bailenson said.
In face-to-face meetings, people can be more active, getting up and pacing, going to a whiteboard, or doodling.
On top of all this, participating in video calls can increase cognitive load, which means more mental effort is required.
“In a real conversation, you just talk. You make gestures. It’s the most natural thing in the world, ”he said. “Now things like taking turns have to become deliberate. You must be thinking, “When am I going to turn the sound back on and click this button?” And you have to be thinking, ‘Well, I want to make sure they see that I like the idea, I have to pretend to slowly slap in front of the camera.’ “
All of those non-verbal communication gestures – which are automatic during in-person interactions – now require extra mental effort for some people. Accessibility experts say the toll can be even higher for people with disabilities.
Accessibility advocate Sheri Byrne-Haber says her own disabilities have exacerbated her “zoom fatigue.”
Byrne-Haber uses a wheelchair and also suffers from moderate hearing loss, among other disabilities. Because she has to focus more intensely on people’s faces during video calls to lip read, it increases her cognitive load, she said.
When there is automatic captioning on the video, the punctuation can be erratic, the words can be poorly transcribed, and the caption is not always attributed to the speaker.
“Even when the captioning is good and you can keep up with the beat, all of these factors add up to higher levels of cognitive load, leaving less working memory to focus on the topic at hand,” she told the Post in an email, adding, “I’m literally so exhausted at the end of the day having thirteen 30-minute meetings that I sometimes go to bed at 7 a.m.”
By identifying the potential causes of “zoom fatigue” affecting the general population, Bailenson’s article validates people’s experiences and shows them that they are not alone, said Suzan Song, associate professor of psychiatry at the ‘George Washington University, which was not involved in the research. . Suggestions for simple changes to video conferencing habits, she said, can help increase the power to take action.
“It was a really cool and practical article that draws on current scientific theories around the phenomena that so many people are currently experiencing with the relentless pandemic,” she said.
While Bailenson’s points are “useful for the here and now,” Song said she would like to see more studies build on the document, which provides a “really solid foundation to work on.”
Andrew Bennett, assistant professor of management at Old Dominion University, has an upcoming article with his own research on videoconferencing fatigue. His study, which will be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Psychology, found results that differ from the arguments made in Bailenson’s article on the causes of fatigue after these calls.
“I think that’s the nature of science, we do it in different ways,” he said. “At the end of the day, we always find that videoconferencing fatigue occurs and we’re still trying to figure out why.”
The next step for Bailenson is to study the psychological impacts of videoconferencing practices. He and other researchers have developed a “Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale” questionnaire and are collecting responses on people’s experiences with video calling. About 10,000 people have already responded to the survey, Bailenson said.
Bailenson also said he heard from Zoom’s chief product officer and plans to speak to the company to suggest possible interface changes.
In a statement to The Post, Zoom acknowledged that the transition to regular video conferencing has been seamless for some and a challenge for others. “We’re all learning this new way of communicating and adapting to the blurred lines between work and personal interactions,” the company said.
Tips for reducing “ zoom fatigue ”
In the meantime, Bailenson’s article offers some ideas on how to tackle the potential causes of fatigue. He and other experts say people, especially managers who have more control over meetings, can try various changes to make video conferencing less painful.
Two easy potential solutions are to hide the self-view and minimize the video call screen, Bailenson said. On Zoom, for example, you can right-click on your video display and select the “Hide Me” option, which removes self-view but allows other meeting participants to see you. again.
Hosts of the meeting should also give people breaks to look away from their screens during video calls, Song said. Whenever she makes a group call, she says she asks participants to take 30 seconds or a minute to look around the room they are in and count the number of corners they see. The activity, Song said, can provide respite from the intensity of staring at the speaker or other meeting participants and can reduce cognitive load.
Likewise, Bailenson said it’s important to remember that you can move around “like you would in a real meeting.”
For those who may feel disconnected, Bennett suggested finding time for “casual chatter” or smaller side conversations that organically occurred during in-person situations. “Creating a sense of shared belonging and shared connection with people is really important,” he said.
While these tips may help alleviate the effects of “zoom fatigue,” Bailenson urged people to remember that video calls aren’t the only effective way to communicate.
“We have to take a step back and realize that just because you can participate in a video conference doesn’t mean you have to,” Bailenson said. “There have been many decades in this world where the telephone worked great, haven’t there?”