So far this month we’ve talked about adjusting to new technology in a general sense. Depending on the industry, “technology” can mean a wide variety of different things, so advice around it is kept purposely broad. However, there is a new technology change most industries are now familiar with: virtual meetings.
Whether it’s Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, or any of the other many video-chat platforms, many of us have become familiar with at least one of these over the past year. Virtual meetings kept companies connected when their workforces were spread apart. They went further than a classic conference call and allowed coworker to see each other and share their computer screens for presentations. Many businesses would have suffered greater losses during the height of the pandemic if it weren’t for virtual meeting platforms and their ease of access. So why does everyone hate Zoom meetings?
Despite all the clear benefits and necessities of virtual meetings, it’s commonly understood that videoconferencing can be mentally draining. The term “Zoom fatigue” was coined during the pandemic to describe this exhaustion, and it continues to be used as companies struggle with proper virtual meeting management. This term has merit, as scientists have stated that we spend more mental energy on virtual meetings than we do in face-to-face- or even telephone meetings. Research has shown that zoom fatigue develops from these four factors:
Eye Contact: In a face-to-face meeting, we make some eye contact, but our eyes are free to wander between the speaker and various other things in the room. In a virtual meeting, all the faces of the attendants are staring at the screen at once, creating an unnatural feel. Everyone is expected to appear attentive, so they stare into the camera. All this staring and “close up” eye contact causes a stress reaction in the brain, which interprets the event as a stressful situation.
Seeing Yourself: Have you ever caught yourself staring at your own video rather than the other participants? Seeing yourself on the computer screen is like having a mirror held up to you throughout the whole meeting. We tend to be our own worst critics – especially when it comes to looks – so seeing ourselves in the mirror while we’re trying to participate in a meeting can be distracting at best and detrimental at worst.
Mobility: In face-to-face and telephone meetings, attendants are able to move around the room, stretch, grab a drink of water, and generally do what they need to do. However, with virtual meetings, everyone is limited to the view of their camera. This can lead to more fidgety behavior and wear down a person’s ability to concentrate.
Cognitive Burden: Non-verbal body language plays a big role in how we communicate. Normally, we don’t have to think about all the small signals and cues we silently give, but in a virtual setting everyone needs to work harder for this language to be “heard.” Participants tend to exaggerate these non-verbal cues in order to be understood. With all this extra work to communicate, our minds become taxed mush faster than with an in-person discussion.
Zoom meetings have now become part of the corporate landscape and they don’t seem to be going anywhere, so how can we make them better? For the eye contact stressor, try taking the meeting out of full-screen mode and adjusting the settings so everyone’s faces don’t appear as large. This will reduce the feeling of being stared at. For the mirror issue, the simple solution is click “hide self view” or whatever the equivalent is on your preferred platform. Settings can also be adjusted so that only the person speaking is visible. For the mobility stressor, try putting your camera farther back so you have more room to move around in the frame. It’s also worthwhile to make short camera breaks a regular practice among your team – especially during very long meetings. Taking brief audio-only breaks also helps with the last stressor, the cognitive burden. This gives your brain a rest from being in “presentation mode."
Of course, all this advice is given with the assumption that all your technology is functioning properly. There’s nothing more frustrating than a virtual meeting full of lag and garbled audio. Every company using video conferencing tech should make sure they have proper IT support. Proper tools such as headphones, mics, and speakers should be provided to employees who are expected to participate. These are the bare-bones elements of the meeting. If this stuff isn’t working, everyone will be working 10 times harder in order to participate.
While virtual meetings have quickly become a necessary evil of corporate life, there are some ways to make them more bearable. By studying our own human behavior, we can make adjustments and save our brains from the dreaded “zoom fatigue.”
By Aubrey Dion
Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.