Remote teams know best: Zoom Fatigue is real. Our brains know it too. It’s estimated that our brains take up 20% of our total body energy.
So no — you’re not crazy when you feel physically exhausted after a long day of Zoom meetings. It’s natural. And while this is a new problem brought on by the global pandemic, we’ve learned a lot in the past few years. Specifically, we’ve learned a few ways to manage Zoom Fatigue and keep companies productive without keeping everyone on camera.
In a recent podcast episode Allocations COO, Kendra Kinninson sat down with Shonté Jovan Taylor, a Neuroscientist and Success Trainer to talk about the neuroscience of remote work. Shonté explains how moving from the 3D in-person experience to the flat screen 2D experience forces the brain to adjust.
But our brains can’t do it alone. Organizations that adapt well to remote work understand the effect of Zoom Fatigue and how to mitigate those effects. In this article, we’ll tell you what Shonté recommends to combat Zoom Fatigue.
But first, we need to understand what Zoom Fatigue is and why it happens in the first place …
5 Dimensions of Zoom Fatigue
Researchers have found there are 5 dimensions that determine how much and with what intensity we feel Zoom Fatigue:
- General Fatigue
- Social Fatigue
- Emotional Fatigue
- Visual Fatigue
- Motivational Fatigue
Let’s break those down further:
The reality is, screen time will make us tired and drain our energy regardless of what we’re doing.
We all have a social battery. And we all lie on a spectrum of introvert vs extrovert.
When you’re introverted, it means you get energy from staying in, reading books, and being alone. You might recharge your social battery by reading a book in the coziest spot in your house. When you’re extroverted, it means you get energy from other people, socializing and connecting with friends. You might recharge your social battery by meeting a few friends for a spin class after work.
Depending on your personality type — introvert vs extrovert — Zoom meetings will cause different levels of social fatigue.
We were all at different points in our life when the pandemic hit.
Take a minute and think of this: what was going on in your life in March 2020?
With that in mind, imagine Zoom amplifying those emotions while your brain tries to decipher information through a video call. No wonder you feel emotionally drained after a day of Zoom calls.
Our brains are a strange, complex system. For example, there’s a whole part of our brains dedicated to emotions: fear, anger, joy, and love all co-exist in the same space. Now add Zoom to the equation, which could be the source of panic and joy in the same day and you have an emotional brain center that’s overloaded. We just aren’t equipped for this rollercoaster ride.
During in-person conversations, we naturally break eye contact but stay engaged with our peripheral vision. This is our brain taking a break.
On zoom, we are expected to keep looking in the camera or at the screen to show effort and attentiveness. We often go into a state of trying to show hyper interest, exaggerating our nonverbal cues like head nodding and eyebrow raising.
This overloads our prefrontal cortex because the conscious effort and pressure to perform takes up a lot of mental energy.
- takes deep breath in exhaustion*
There’s another aspect of visual fatigue: we’re constantly looking at ourselves. When we’re in-person we’re not looking at ourselves. But on zoom, it’s like a mirror. This can trigger self-conscious and overly-critical feelings and thoughts. This is called “Mirroring Anxiety”. It takes cognitive resources because the emotional brain activates fear and danger, which just causes further fatigue.
Finally, let’s talk about motivation. As in: how motivated are people to get on Zoom?
You know the feeling.
You’ve got that Zoom call at 3:30pm on Wednesday. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re trying to get back in the gym or start cooking more meals at home.
Getting psyched up to go to the gym or make your own meals is no different than getting psyched up for a Zoom call. It’s all exhausting. This motivational rollercoaster tires us out. With all those dimensions making us tired, is there anything we can do to make us less fatigued?
Shonté says: YES. Here’s how …
Preventing Zoom Fatigue starts from a leadership level
Before scheduling a meeting, leaders should ask themselves:
- Do we need to have so many Zoom meetings?
- Does this Zoom meeting need to be on camera?
- Can this Zoom meeting be shorter?
Shonté says: “Once people become aware of the impacts of Zoom Fatigue on productivity, on being able to manage emotions on top of everything else, I think people will be more open to making sure Zoom meetings are more effective and not hindrances to the employee dynamic”
She emphasizes that it is a company’s responsibility to take the pressure off showing up on camera. Not the employees.
Keep meetings focused — and flexible
Setting expectations helps keep meetings focused and reduces Zoom Fatigue. As a leader, Shonté encourages you to figure out: will employees be participating or watching?
If employees will only be watching, does the meeting have to be in real time?
If not, Shonté encourages making asynchronous meetings more common in your organization. Instead of requiring attendance in real-time, leaders can record the meeting and instruct employees to watch later. This has two positive benefits:
- Employees have the freedom to fit the meeting into their day
- Reduce Zoom Fatigue
Don’t forget: these brain-energy-saving policies start with leadership. By instituting even a few of these policies, you’ll drastically improve your employees' wellbeing. Along the way, you’ll reduce Zoom Fatigue and increase productivity.
To learn more about the effects of Zoom Fatigue and how to improve your employees wellbeing, listen to the full conversation.