Many people are on video calls and have embraced a work-from-home culture on a scale that has never before attempted since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Yet, many also find video calls so draining. The screen freezes, a dozen head staring at you, and audio problems are only some of the common issues encountered during video conferences or webinars. But why do video calls drain our energy?
University of Kansas’ professor of communication studies Jeffrey Hall said via Psychology Today that it is because we don’t have a lot of information on good practices that will help keep our relationships nourished through technology. While there are studies that focus on relationships or on technology, very few focus on both. For instance, the previous work centers on the potential problems of using technology but not on ways that it might be helpful.
Pre-pandemic data on social interactions
Pre-pandemic, Hall already has some data that compare the use of video chats versus other ways of connecting with people, including Skype, text, or phone call. Participants in the said study also named the person with whom they were communicating and shared how much energy the interaction had required and their sense of connection with that person.
Energy use during Zoom call
Hall found that compared to face to face, social media, and text, the energy use during a Zoom call is higher. Thus, the words Zoom fatigue. Interestingly, the professor also found that video calls seemed to heighten loneliness instead of lessening it. Participants said they felt less connected or lonely on video chat. These findings align with previous studies on long-distance relationships. Although people rely on video calls to stay in touch with their loved ones, it is also a reminder of how far that individual is and how long it would take until they got hold of them again.
Zoom fatigue is real, Hall said. It is lonely and exhausting because people have to be so much more aware of what is going on and have to be more attentive than they do on phone calls. If they have not turned off their camera, they also watch themselves speak, which can be both disconcerting and arousing. The cut-off sentences, delays, and blips can also create confusion. By comparison, phone calls are less demanding as you can be in your own space while making dinner or taking a walk.
Hall believes that the mode of connection we should choose should depend on what we need to say. Texting can work for simple messages and basic information sharing. If it’s something that requires playfulness, more nuance, or the message is more substantial, a different mode of connection can convey a different level of benefit.
Just as in life, we also have layers of intimacy in technology. It is not that the more is better. “We can only maintain so many relationships at a time.”
The constant gaze
Video calls are also draining because we have to engage in a constant gaze, Harvard Business Review reads. Doing so makes us tired and uncomfortable. In-person, we could use our peripheral vision to glance at others in the room or out the window but this is not the case on a video call. Everyone is sitting in different rooms and if we do try to look out the window, it may appear that we are not paying attention. Most of us are also looking at the screen that makes us hyper-aware of every expression and how others may interpret it. The brain grows fatigued without the visual breaks that are needed to refocus.
What if the kids run in?
Video calls can also be off-putting because we may feel anxious about our workspace and events that may make us appear bad to our colleagues. Some worry that their Zoom background will suddenly fail and leave behind their hoarding tendencies in full display. It is also a challenge for parents working from home. What if the kids run in? Political science professor Robert Kelly is a reminder of this. While he was explaining South Korean politics live on BBC, his children gatecrashed his TV interview. The clip went viral as a family blooper. “It’s nice to think we made people happy, but it’s not really the kind of thing you’d ask for,” he said.
A zero-break schedule
Before coronavirus, we can go from one room to another and we have at least a few minutes of quick mental break and physical movement. But with videoconferencing, people literally have no time between Zoom meetings to go from one call to the next. This is why it saps our mental batteries.
As of April 2020, Zoom has surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants, a 50% increase from the 200 million the company reported in March. For comparison, Zoom only has 100 million daily meeting participants in December 2019. The top countries used by total meeting and IM participants include the US (230,454), China (20,366, United Kingdom (9,739), Netherlands (9,384), and Australia (6,678).
Sensor Tower, a platform that provides analysis for millions of apps worldwide, shares that total Zoom mobile app downloads for Zoom were 48million, including 13 million iOS app downloads and 36 million Android app downloads. Their top-grossing app in July was Zoom Cloud Meetings (12 million downloads last month) among their 11 apps, which include Zoom for Intune (200,000), Zoom Rooms (40,000), Zoom for BlackBerry (30,000), and Zoomtopia (<5,000)
Protecting your energy during Zoom meetings
Some of the ways to overcome Zoom fatigue includes using a standing desk or place your laptop or computer on a bureau to elevate it. In between calls, do some gentle stretching of your back, arms, shoulders, and neck or walk around. This will help get our blood flowing and reduce mental fatigue that is caused by physical fatigue.
To avoid eyestrain and visual overload, practice the 20-20-20 rule. This means take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. Another recommendation is to take a break every two hours for 15 minutes so that your eyes can rest.
Most of our social roles occur in different places but such context has now collapsed with social distancing policy. However, we can still build transitions and boundaries, like creating buffers in between video meetings. It’s tiring but these boundaries can help us adapt to new normal a little easier.