Switching to working remotely rapidly typically comes with a sudden increase in Zoom meetings.
Zoom meetings (that is, video calls) are different in that you can’t read body language in the same way and you spend a lot of time over-compensating for that.
Your intonation gets a little more exaggerated, the way that it would if you were on stage, or you focus a little harder on the ground dynamic and interactions because it’s much more difficult to avoid interrupting people.
Casual conversation and small talk feel more forced and harder to get through. Awkward pauses where no one knows what to say feel even more awkward. It definitely calls for a different way of communicating and that’s more mentally taxing because most of us are used to in-person interaction a lot more.
What causes Zoom fatigue?
Zoom fatigue is a type of mental exhaustion that can occur after spending extended periods of time on video calls. It is characterized by symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, feeling drained, and having headaches.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to Zoom fatigue, including:
- Increased cognitive load: Video calls require more cognitive effort than face-to-face interactions because you have to process more nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language. This can lead to mental fatigue, especially if you are on multiple video calls in a single day.
- Constant self-monitoring: When you are on a video call, you are constantly aware of how you look and sound. This can lead to increased self-consciousness and stress, which can also contribute to fatigue.
- Lack of mobility: Video calls can be physically restrictive, as you are typically limited to sitting in one spot. This can lead to muscle fatigue and stiffness.
- Unnatural eye contact: On video calls, everyone is staring at each other all the time. This can be unnatural and stressful, especially if you are not used to it.
- Increased distractions: Video calls can be more distracting than face-to-face interactions because there are more things to look at, such as other people’s faces, your own face, and the background. This can make it difficult to focus on the conversation.
How to battle Zoom fatigue
The best solution to Zoom fatigue is shaking up your methods of communication across your company and making them more suitable for remote work. That means:
- Letting people report to you without necessarily having to sit in a meeting for it.
- Looking at every video call you set up and really asking yourself if it’s necessary. Could you achieve the same outcome by having shared project management tools that you work to keep updated?
You can’t get rid of all meetings and that’s fine. Some aspects of work will always be more efficient or more fun with synchronous communication.
Being successful at working remotely means leveraging the unique aspects of remote work that are actually helpful for people. You can’t take advantage of the freedom it offers you if your environment is so heavily regimented.
Investing in asynchronous communication and reducing the need for video meetings, to begin with, will always be the best, long-term solution.
That doesn’t work in all scenarios though.
If you’re onboarding people remotely you should invest heavily in video calls because that will help you build relationships in a way that just isn’t the same in pure text or asynchronous communication.
It’s incredibly hard for someone to feel like an integrated member of the team and like they have the opportunity to ask questions continuously if you don’t dedicate that time.
You might have some weeks or months that will just always include a ton of time in Zoom meetings and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. These are some of the ways you can manage that.
Recognising the symptoms of exhaustion
Zoom fatigue can be characterised by any of the following signs:
- Plain and simple exhaustion.
- Feeling burnt out and worn down.
- Struggling to focus during the meetings themselves.
- Struggling to focus after meetings because you feel harried or rushed like you’re getting pulled in too many directions.
- Losing your ability to interact with your full presence and attention or feeling like you have to force yourself to speak up during those meetings.
- Tiredness of your eyes or tension headaches.
I barely notice the symptoms when I’m actually in a meeting.
Depending on how engaging the meeting is, I tend to have an easy time ignoring my tiredness and focusing on the meeting itself, which works as a good distraction.
It really sets in afterwards, when I notice the number of Slack pings I have, when I find myself staring at my screen and struggling to make progress, or when I turn off my computer at the end of the day and just want to close my eyes for an hour.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that these symptoms will build up and get worse over time.
If you start feeling like this and don’t see an end in sight, that’s a red flag that you should try to change something about your environment.
Spend time outdoors
This is by the far the most underrated way to manage not only Zoom fatigue but any other source of stress in your life.
Spending time in nature, getting as far away from your everyday routine, breathing in the fresh air: all of these are incredibly simple and incredibly powerful ways to reduce your stress levels across the board.
There’s something about spending time outside that feels like a balm on very raw nerves after spending a longer period of time over-compensating in your tone of voice and body language over a video camera.
To make this very effective, try to go outside during your workday.
Exercising here isn’t about exhausting yourself even more.
Some people might find high-intensity exercise energising after a hard workday but most people will find that piling on physical exhaustion on top of mental exhaustion isn’t the best solution.
Movement is incredibly soothing for your body though and will make you feel better.
Look for activities that you can do lightly, with focus and concentration and spend that time exploring your body and different aspects of a movement.
Take regular, short breaks
Short breaks throughout the day will definitely help, especially if you can pair it with either of the above.
It’s easy to feel like you need to just power through and it’s easy to underestimate how much taking a break can help. Sometimes just having ten minutes in between meeting marathons where you don’t have to talk, engage with anyone, or look at a screen is already enough to let you recover just a little bit before you switch back on.
Cluster meetings together
In a day with multiple, spread-out, shorter meetings, the most you can get done is replying to some emails in between or small, menial tasks. That generally makes Zoom fatigue worse.
Clustering meetings together instead means you can maximise the time you spend outside of meetings.
This assumes that you’re able to prepare for those meetings comfortably in advance or that those meetings aren’t the type to require a ton of preparation. If that isn’t the case, spreading the meetings out and just focusing on having great, productive meetings might be a better solution for you.
Create blockers for focus time
The ultimate secret to breaking up an endless streak of meetings is to block out time in your calendar.
If you’re so busy that you can assume gaps in your calendar will be filled up by your colleagues, consciously block out time for yourself to focus on other tasks.
This generally prevents Zoom fatigue from even setting in because it forces you to limit the amount of time you spend in meetings.
Blockers are a great way to indicate for other people that you simply aren’t available for a video call. Events in your calendar tend to be respected in a way that empty space just isn’t, although this perhaps depends somewhat on your company culture. If you are in the lucky position where you can generally tell when you’ll have a hard week, you can already try to schedule a couple of these blockers as a commitment to yourself to limit your time in meetings.
Dealing with virtual fatigue
Reducing your fatigue will increase your productivity, and your sense of connection and motivation towards work.
The extra effort to mitigate and reduce those symptoms can make you (and your team!) happier at work.