Video conferencing is leaving us feeling more tired than productive.
By Callie Verderosa
Over the course of the last few months, we’ve converted in-person interactions to virtual experiences – work meetings, classes, birthday parties, happy hours, church services, graduations, and even weddings. Developments in covid-19 have demanded that we stay home, but many of us have found ways to still engage in our work and scratch our social connection itch.
Whether teaching a course, or catching up with friends, there are two things that are true about our newly packed calendar of virtual interactions: we are connecting through video conferencing technology, and video conferencing is leaving us utterly exhausted. But what, exactly, about video conferencing is so tiring?
There are a few reasons why connecting for work and for social connection via video conferencing takes a toll on us and leaves us fatigued (on top of the stress the uncertainty of the pandemic has caused). The lack of non-verbal cues, our focus on ourselves, and technological delays on video conferences create stress and anxiety that leave us mentally and physically depleted after a video call (or four).
Nonverbal cues are incredibly important when we talk with others in person; the body language shared in a conversation gives us cues into others’ feelings and helps us understand how messages are delivered. While on video calls, the strongest non-verbal cue available is eye contact which, if prolonged, can feel intimidating and uncomfortable (Sklar, 2020). We do not get the same expected nonverbals in a video call that we would in an in-person interaction because we typically only see an up close (and maybe grainy) version of a person’s face in a one-inch square on our computer screen. The lack of non-verbal cues in video conferencing can cause anxiety for not only those leading the conversation but those participating, as well. We can’t really read others, therefore, we’re unsure if messages are being received the way they’re intended. When non-verbal cues aren’t available to us, our brains are working overtime trying to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
Not only are we hyper aware of the lack of non-verbal cues from participants, but we’re simultaneously hyper aware of our own image (and our own lack of non-verbal cues). We don’t do this in an in-person interaction, but since video calling provides, quite literally, a mirror of our own image, we spend time worrying about our own non-verbal cues, how they’re perceived (and maybe even, how long it’s been since our last haircut). Once people realize that their non-verbal cues are not obvious, they’ll over exaggerate them to help others along in the conversation, or to appear more engaged (Supiano, 2020). Spending sixty minutes worrying about what we say, how its perceived, and what we look like on screen is exhausting and distracting.
Some video conferencing applications, like Zoom, have a feature that identifies who is talking. The red outline on the square of the person speaking is a great way to focus in on the speaker but can feel more like public speaking than just sharing a passing opinion in a team meeting. The feeling has been equated to an intense job interview, which leaves people feeling overly exerted and self-conscious (Murphy, 2020). People are less inclined to speak up because it feels more like a risk, which then diminishes collaboration, and, therefore, leaves participants feeling as though the whole call was unproductive.
Technological delays in video conferencing happen frequently. Someone’s internet goes down and they disappear from the meeting, someone was muted but didn’t realize it, and even lags in the images so the non-verbal’s or images of those in the call are delayed or grainy. The disruptions that technology causes in the flow of any conversation, make it feel disjointed and disconnected (Murphy, 2020).
Video conferencing has connected us with one another in a time where we physically cannot be together. It’s allowed us to continue moving forward in our work and seeing the ones we love. But somehow, the tool that’s connecting us, is the thing that’s leaving us even more tired, stressed, and anxious, during an already stressful time. There are a few things we can do, however, to mitigate the fatigue and give ourselves a much-needed mental and emotional refresh:
- Turn off your video. If you’re on a call primarily to listen, turn off your camera. Take the call as you would a regular phone call, or go on a walk while you listen. Movement is known to enhance creativity and eliminate anxiety and stress. Save the video calling when you need to see non-verbal cues (Sklar, 2020).
- Allow time between calls. If you’re leading a video call, allow at least ten minutes before the next one. Give yourself, and your participants time to get up and mentally prepare for the next meeting. Don’t move right into a meeting and assume everyone is mentally prepared to do so – their brains and cognition are already working overtime just by being on a video call. The ten-minute breaks mirror the time in the office, moving from location to location. If you’re hosting a longer call (over 60 minutes), build in 5-10 minute breaks (Nehaus, 2020).
- Mentally prepare for a video call, whatever that looks like for you (Nehaus, 2020). This might be working out, grabbing a glass of water or tea, or meditating for a few minutes. And, if you need to, take time to recharge after a video call. If video conferencing is causing anxiety and stress, it’s important to take time to do what you need to do so you can show up the best that you’re able.
Video conferencing technology has allowed us to replicate, and, if not, supplement a lot of what we are missing in our physical office spaces, classrooms, and social circles. It’s a tool that allows us to continue to carry on a version of normalcy in work and in life. But it’s also adding to our stress and anxiety if overused, and if we’re not doing what we need to do to recharge.
Murphy, K. (April 29, 2020). Why Zoom is Terrible. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/sunday-review/zoom-video-conference.html
Neahuas, J. (April 29, 2020). Remote Teaching While Introverted. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Remote-Teaching-While/248661
Sklar, J. (April 24, 2020). ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-zoom-fatigue-is-taxing-the-brain-here-is-why-that-happens/
Supiano, B. (April 23, 2020). Why is Zoom So Exhausting? The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Is-Zoom-So-Exhausting-/248619