Zoom fatigue: Is video calling the enemy?
Lucy Cohen shares her experience of coming to terms with Zoom fatigue – the exhaustion associated with overusing virtual platforms for communication – and offers her points of action to combat the BlueJeans blues.
Last week, I spent an entire day interviewing for a new role in my business. I’m an extroverted introvert, generally. I don’t actively seek out new conversations and engagements, but when they happen I enjoy them.
If I’ve been busy with social engagements, I need a couple of days to decompress and get my mojo back. I’m not a natural people person – but I quite like them when I get started.
So a day full of interviews, whilst not necessarily my favourite thing to do, is usually pretty fun when I get into it – especially when we’re recruiting for a brand new position in the company rather than replacing someone.
In the normal world, or before 2020 at least, these interviews would be done face to face. On this occasion we had 7 people to interview in one day – so roughly seven hours of interviews. Tiring? Sure. But nothing I hadn’t handled before.
We’d usually order a buffet lunch at half time and maybe pop to the pub afterwards to cogitate on the day. This time, however, we had to conduct everything via Zoom, because it’s 2020 and none of us leave our homes any more.
“No biggie”, I thought. In fact, it’s even better because I don’t have to commute to the office and I can wear jogging bottoms unbeknownst to all the candidates. And as for missing the pub, I’ll just pop red wine into my mug and no one will be any the wiser (kidding, obviously).
How wrong I was. Whilst the technology worked brilliantly and we were able to interview and select a candidate from that day, the whole process was absolutely exhausting. By the time I had finished the last interview, I could barely form a coherent sentence. Over dinner with my husband I just mumbled monosyllabic answers into my pasta as my sore and glazed eyes stared into the distance.
I was wiped out.
But why? I hadn’t done any more “work” than I would have during a normal day of interviews, I hadn’t endured my usual commute and I’d been wearing 50% loungewear plus slippers throughout. Why was I so tired?
Naturally, I did what any good Millennial would do and Googled the problem.
It transpired I was suffering from something called Zoom fatigue.
Zoom fatigue “describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. Like other experiences associated with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Zoom fatigue is widely prevalent, intense, and completely new.”
Yep. That sounded about right. Another successful Google diagnosis
Zoom Fatigue – what causes it?
In short, there isn’t one definitive answer. There is a theory that virtual interactions are less rewarding than real face to face interactions, so our brains don’t release the endorphins we usually get that counteract the fatigue we feel.
Or maybe it’s because during Zoom calls we can also see ourselves, so we expend energy in monitoring our own facial expressions and gestures that we otherwise wouldn’t in a normal face to face situation.
For me, I think it’s the extra energy you have to expend to get your enthusiasm (or otherwise) across and the lack of “feel” of a person. I know that’s not very sciencey, but during a face-to-face meeting, you definitely get a sense of a person from all of the subtle non-verbal communications that accompany our speech. That is somewhat lost over Zoom and it makes the overall experience more tiring trying to replace it with words.
Time for action
That seven-hour Zoom stint plus a backward glance at my fatigue levels over the last few months have made me take some action. When I look back over the weeks that I have been most tired, or grumpy, they’re inevitably linked to weeks that have had heavy Zoom demands. And to be honest, life is tough enough at the moment without making myself more tired with Zoom.
So here’s the plan:
Keep at least one day per week without any Zoom calls. I have literally put a block into my diary that says “no Zooms”. I am my own worst enemy and will constantly bend or break my own rules to try to accommodate everything, so blocking out my diary keeps me at least a little accountable.
No more than two hours on Zoom per day. During the normal course of a week, eight hours of Zoom should be plenty.
Avoid unnecessary meetings. Remember in the old days when we all joked about meetings that could have been emails? Same principle here. Just because you can Zoom doesn’t always mean you should.
Pick up the phone. Could this be a normal old phone call instead? As the pandemic has stretched on and on I’ve noticed that the default communication seems to be a Zoom, even with people outside of your organisation. So I’ve started opting for bog-standard old phone calls in scenarios where we don’t need to share screens or speak with more than one person at a time.
It’s early days in my plan but I’m already noticing that I’m ending the days with a little more energy than I was previously.
And who knows, maybe I am a people person after all.
Now more than ever before accountants are under tremendous stress as they work tirelessly to support their clients as well as keeping their own businesses running. Tune into People Matters | It’s OK not to be OK: Tackling mental health head-on 9 November at 9am, when Lucy Cohen turns the spotlight on to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.