If this isn’t the most 2020 thing I’ve ever heard, then what is?

So hey, 2020. When I thought you were gonna be my year, maybe I shouldn’t have said it out loud because apparently, you can be such a b****. From plans of celebrating my quarter life crisis by the beach to resigning and applying to be a slave of another corporate which shall provide me with the independent urban lifestyle, you have managed to sabotage. And now here I am, sitting on my bed and stressfully waiting for another zoom meeting.  

I’m exhausted. 

I’ve jumped from one Zoom call to another which honestly could be discussed more efficiently over email. The way I see it is that Zoom conferences have been a desperate and clingy yet poor attempt of companies and management to recreate the office setup. The meetings have been so overabundant that it actually begs the question whether it’s needed or are we just overcompensating. 

Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are getting exhausted from the constant and consistent virtual meetings and not only has it manifested physically, many people like me are also subjected to unnecessary stress which affects our mental health. 

Scrolling through twitter, I’ve seen people calling this “phenomenon” as Zoom Fatigue.  

So I did the most millennial thing. 

To my surprise, zoom fatigue is not just a fancy word that social media has come up with. It’s real and typing into google, I’ve been met with 46,800,000 results and the first page was basically just telling you what zoom fatigue is, what are the signs, why zoom is draining, and what are the ways to help you combat it. And that is what this article will also try to cover. 

Crunching Numbers: Here are the Zoom Statistics 

If there is any business that boomed during this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the telecommunication industry. With the implementation of strict lockdowns and shifts of school and work into a virtual landscape, there has been a surge of demand for video conferencing tools like Zoom Communications. 

Zoom Video Communications, Inc. or Zoom was founded by Eric Yuan, former Cisco engineer and executive, in 2011 and was launched two years later. The software with its perceived ease of use and reliability has launched it to success reaching $1 billion valuation in 2017. Early on the company’s history, its official launch with Zoom version 1.0 attracted 400,000 users and by the end of March 2013 had grown into a community of 1 million users. 

In December 2019 before the world was not yet shaking from the pandemic, Zoom recorded 10 million daily meeting participants. But with the sudden shift to virtual platforms due to the pandemic, in just 4 months, Zoom recorded more than 300 million daily meeting participants using Zoom. 

Zoom also calculates its annualized run rate for meeting minutes and the number in January 2020 was at 100 billion minutes and based on April’s annualized rate, the number dramatically jumped to 200 trillion minutes! 

Definition: What is zoom fatigue?

Zoom fatigue is a very prevalent, intense, and an entirely new type of fatigue described as “tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication”. People who experience zoom fatigue usually feel anxious and stressed before a video call and also show the same level of anxiety and stress with an additional occasional feeling of despair after the call. 

Looking at the numbers and the sudden uptick in the number of users and exponential growth in runtime of Zoom shows us the image and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was first seen as a convenient solution in managing individuals and teams remotely became a toxic system of overabundant meetings that cause work burnout. 

In an office setup, a schedule jam packed with meetings is already known as a common stressor and introducing this stressor onto a new environment with idiosyncratic issues definitely leads to more stress. On top of that, the work from home setup is already challenging on its own especially when you don’t have a private work space or you have kids to take care of. 

Hayes Drumwright, CEO of POPin which is a pioneer in the business transformation solutions industry noted that, “People are burned out on recurring conference calls that don’t feel productive. Anyone who has participated in a 20-person conference call can attest to it.” 

He also added that, “Being connected doesn’t mean video streaming all day with your colleagues; it means understanding your role on the project, or in the business, and having clarity around your contribution to the team goal.”

Drumwright also pointed out one thing that most of us would probably agree to, “A lack of key decisions or clear deliverables following team meetings results in employees feeling like the meeting was a waste of time and could have been handled in email or other communications.” He added, “These early signs point to larger failures as projects stall out or encounter problems the team has difficulty overcoming. When I hear things like ‘I need time to do my work,’ it signals a leader who is desperate to keep the team ‘connected’ through Zoom.”

Why is Zoom draining?

With the work from home setup, individuals experience certain pressure of being available all the time. Zoom is one tool that also adds to the accessibility and has made unplugging from work and resting more difficult. 

In summary, there are three reasons why Zoom is draining. 

First is that it requires extra attention. On a normal setup of a meeting, there is less focus and attention required from us. That is because we can depend on both verbal and non-verbal cues for context. On the other hand without the social interaction, video calls or conferences force us to focus more intently on the content to absorb it. Being distracted is a luxury we cannot afford but this is the very irony with video calls or conferences. 

Being at the comfort of your own home, you can do many other things simultaneously and no one would bat an eye at you or police you for multitasking during a call. Additionally, there is the “logistics-related” distraction. As much as the work from home setup of most companies now gives employees more freedom in movement, it also presents obvious challenges. 

Being a family man or woman, working from home proves to be a very daunting task in terms of juggling work with your kids screaming and crying. It is very hard to reach that balance and we have seen these stories online – parents on a call while their toddle is launching the new episode of tantrum. There is also the question whether you have enough space to make a private mini working space. 

Second is that communication in video conferences can not be technically labelled as synchronous. 

Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, a clinical psychologist, also provided some explanation to this zoom fatigue. She noted that in video conferencing, the communication isn’t in real time and for students enrolled in an online class the “so-called” synchronous learning like mimicking the school learning setup over a computer isn’t really that all synchronous. And there is brain science to explain this phenomenon. 

“Our brains are used to picking up body language and other cues, not to mention increases of dopamine, that are experienced during face-to-face communication,” explains Wiederhold. “On a video call, something is off, and our subconscious brain is reacting to that. Communication isn’t in real time, even though we may think it is.”

And despite the high speed internet connections we have, a millisecond delay can already trigger the brain to look for ways to overcome the lack of synchrony which causes the brain to begin to fatigue. Therefore, we feel more tired, worried, and anxious. 

Here is another thing: One study published in 2014 discovered that a “delay of just 1.2 seconds can make people perceive you as less friendly.” For example, you’re telling a joke and normal on time reaction would be people laughing or at least you see some nonverbal cues on a physical setup but with video conferencing, you will experience some lag and as much your brain is rationalizing the delay due to connectivity, it still fosters a false lack of empathy. 

It’s not just the delay. The lack of personal social interaction also plays in the connection.

“There’s more biochemical bang for our buck during face-to-face contact because it offers a richer stream of social signals,” says psychologist Susan Pinker.

Third is that video conferencing feels “too intimate”. 

Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory, stated that videoconferencing resembles an interaction or having a conversation with someone that is just 2 feet away from you. 

Anthropologist Edward Hall explained the significance and impact of this 2 feet distance. He said that this is the “intimate distance, where “lovemaking, comforting, protecting, and playing football or wrestling” typically occurs.” Therefore this feels like someone is invading your personal space, someone that you have not given permission to invade that space, triggering your fight-or-flight response. 

Getting this close also makes you very anxious about your environment or situation with feelings of being consciously watched all the time which makes these virtual meetings more stressful than your regular social interactions. 

Health 101: How do we combat zoom fatigue?

Today, we are living in a world that instead of working ways to get us back to normal, we are forced to live with the virus. There is no going back to the days before the COVID-19 pandemic. What we have now is the normal and part of that process is equipping yourself with gears that will help you combat the normal virtual meeting setup.

# 1: Keep your workspace well-lit

Just like in any office setup, the mood of your workspace helps in alleviating stress. This is also one of the easiest (though admittedly privileged way since, again, not everyone has a private workspace or even just a simple workspace to begin with) ways that you can combat zoom fatigue. 

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, appropriate lighting on your workspace without glare or shadows can reduce eye fatigue and headaches. Staring at your computer for a lengthy amount of time can definitely make you prone to these kinds of eye strain and other related health concerns so it’s a good course of action to get yourself a space with a good amount of lighting at least. 

And of course, as the aesthetic millennials that we are, decorating your space with plants can also be very beneficial. We might be all very familiar with this but according to All About Vision, when your work required you to sit down in front of a computer all day long, try to look away from the screen every 20 minutes and focus on another thing for at least 20 seconds. The most beneficial thing to stare at is our green buddies! Research studies conducted by many scientists prove that plants can significantly lower workplace stress as well as enhance productivity. Although we are dealing here with a new type of stress or fatigue, this classic tip always helps!

# 2: Use blue light glasses

This might not seem like a very handy tip but it is. And most of the time, little details like this can help significantly improve our physical and mental health disposition. Blue light glasses are special eyewear used to block or filter high-energy blue light radiating off digital screens. The benefits of blue light glasses include less eye strain, improved sleep habits, and prevention of eye disease. 

Now that you are equipped with the gear, here are some effective ways of reducing the Zoom fatigue that you should make into a habit. 

# 3: Avoid Multitasking

In a Stanford research, it was discovered that singular focused individuals are more likely to remember things well than those who are trying to do simultaneous tasks. As mentioned earlier, part of why Zoom is draining is that it requires more focused attention and most of us are usually always distracted not only with our environment but also with the plethora of pending tasks. 

We are sucked into a phenomenon wherein since it’s a video conference, we would like to do more with less by answering emails and chats at the same time. The rationale is that zoom conference calls are already draining by itself and adding multitasking to it amplifies the stressful experience. Not to mention that you are costing yourself 40% of your time with just trying to switch on and off from certain tasks. 

Not only are you stressed, you are also being counterproductive. Sit down and focus on the task at hand, that colleague can wait for your response. 

#4: Build in breaks

Also, try to make a conscious effort on streamlining your meetings and encouraging your colleagues to do as well so that you minimize the need for Zoom meetings. Part of building in breaks is not only applied to an individual level but to a larger social group — that is, trying to switch in between other forms of communication like phone calls and emails to create a break from the norm of video calls. 

# 5: Reduce on screen stimulus

One of the many tips of the fibrous root of Zoom fatigue is that there is a “constant gaze” which requires people to stare at the screen to reassure attention but that also leads to hyper awareness of your environment and yourself. 

You will find that you are more prone to trying to read microexpressions from your colleagues but the barrier of virtual meetings restricts you from doing so thus inducing stress. There is also the on screen distraction which diverts your attention from the speaker to another screen stimulus like your colleague’s kids running off on the background or some plant that feels misplaced. 

You can encourage your colleagues to have the same background on Zoom while in a meeting or turn off video when they’re not speaking in order to reduce the number of on screen stimuli. 

There is also this phenomenon wherein you are highly likely to be more aware yourself. According to scienceofpeople.com, “Studies show that viewing your own negative facial expressions, such as anger and disgust, can lead to more intense emotions compared to viewing the same facial expressions in others.”

And for every one person who likes looking at themselves in front of a mirror, nine don’t. So to alleviate that cause, hide yourself from your own view to prevent you from reading too much of your own expression and overthinking how these are interpreted by people from the other side of the screen. 

Adapting to the new normal is not only challenging but also very exhausting. Make sure that you don’t lose yourself in the process of changing by taking these active steps. It’s difficult to change the system but every change that we need always starts from ourselves. 

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