By: Ber Leary on January 15th, 2021

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Remote Meetings Are Causing Zoom Fatigue, But HR Can Help

HR Tech

Video meetings have been commonplace for years, and the pandemic made them indispensableAlmost overnight, people had to get used to the Zoom meeting format: a Brady Bunch-style tableau of their colleagues’ faces, with speakers battling for control of the micAfter a while, it got exhausting.  

To be clear, Zoom is not the culprit. If you’ve been using Teams, Google Meet, Skype, or any other service, you’ve probably experienced the same feeling of fatigue after a long day of meetings. This fatigue can start to eat into productivity if left unchecked. And that makes it an HR issue.  

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Is Zoom Fatigue a real thing?  

There’s not a lot of research on the topic yet, although behavioral scientists and psychologists suggest some reasons for Zoom Fatigue, such as:  

  • Video calls force you to stay in a single position in front of the camera. During in-person meetings, people tend to move their neck and their body much more.  
  • In-person conversations are heavy in non-verbal conversational cues. Without such cues, people expend more energy on trying to figure out when to talk and when to listen.  
  • The sense of maintaining eye contact can create a sense of anxiety over time. Video meetings don’t produce precise eye contact either, as most people are looking at a point slightly below their camera.  
  • Compressed, low-quality sound can act as an irritant. Beeps, whistles, and glitches tend to distract and annoy people 
  • The turn-based conversation system can turn a group chat into a panel discussion. When people are only listening and not speakingit’s harder for them to stay focused. 
  • Staring at your own face for a long time can be stressful (especially if you have Covid hair.)  
  • On-screen distractions such as email can divide your attention.  External distractions, such as family members moving around nearby, can also cause distraction 

All of these are very small things that cause a minor amount of cognitive load. Over the course of a one-hour meeting, however, they can start to add up. And when you’re taking three or four meetings per day, five days a week, it can drive people into severe Zoom Fatigue.  

Video meetings aren’t going away, which means that HR teams need to think about ways to support people. How can you help staff to enjoy the benefits of video while supporting their wellbeing?   


5 Ways to Stave Off Zoom Fatigue for Employees

HR’s role here is to develop a set of best practices to prevent Zoom Fatigue from becoming an issue. Here are a few guidelines you might choose to implement:  

1) Don’t make video the default
Video calling is a fantastic luxury. It’s a wonderful tool that’s allowed teams to stay together during the most challenging times. But that doesn’t mean that every call needs to happen over Zoom. Video calling should be reserved for occasions that will benefit from video, like important team meetings. 

Voice calls don’t create the same kind of cognitive load, and therefore don’t lead to the same kind of fatigue. Encourage people to use old-fashioned phone calls where possible, that includes external parties such as partners or even clients.  
2) Follow video meeting wellbeing practices 

Most HR teams have had to create a new set of health and safety principles to support remote workers in home offices. If you haven’t already done so, you might adjust these rules to include some guidelines on video calls, such as: 

  • Test all audio equipment, such as microphone, headphones, and speakers 
  • Verify that your internet connection can support a high-quality video call 
  • Arrange your chair and webcam so you’re in a comfortable position 
  • Allow regular pauses so people can stretch and walk around 
  • Make the meeting moderator aware of any call quality issues, such as background noises 
  • Set a maximum time for meetings and always ensure break time between consecutive sessions 

Encourage people to check their setup at the start of each meeting to ensure that they have a comfortable and rewarding experience.  

3) Encourage employees to take camera breaks 

Using a platform like Zoom can be like staring in a mirror for an hour. It’s stressful to look at yourself for that long, and it can make you hyperconscious of how other people see you. Some platforms allow users to hide their image on their own screen so that they can see everyone else but not themselves.  

Some people may prefer to switch off their camera entirely for a few minutes now and then. Where possible, it’s good to encourage that people take this kind of short break, which will give them time to stretch, stand up, or  move their neck without feeling self-conscious. 

4) Try to minimize distractions 

Cognitive load is one of the major causes of Zoom Fatigue. Video calls require a great deal of focus, but we’re often dealing with a number of other distractions. Best practice is to make video calls in a quiet room where no one can disturb you, although this isn’t always possible. 

Users have a greater deal of control over their on-screen distractions. Encourage people to log out of email, Slack, IM, and other communication channels while in a meeting. Even a small notification can drag your attention away, and it’s hard to refocus afterward 

5) Encourage everyone to be understanding 

Everyone has different feelings about video calling. Some neurodivergent people say they find Zoom easier than in-person meetings, as they don’t have to process so many social cues. Other people find video calls a source of tremendous anxiety, one that can ruin the rest of their day.  

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to video meetings, we should encourage people to understand that everyone has a different experience. Encourage collaboration between people and teams to find the communication channels that lead to productive conversations for everyone.  

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