Over the past year, virtual meetings have taken a toll on our lives.
Despite no commute and a good home office setup, we are often exhausted after a few video calls (even with awesome meeting notes)
According to a new study from Stanford University, this 'Zoom fatigue' is real - here's why:
1. People staring at you, non-stop
In face-to-face meetings, people look at many things: people, screens, whiteboard, their notes, etc.
In virtual meetings, they look at their screen to see everyone. From your screen however, you seem them looking at you and only you.
This phenomenon creates a state of 'stressed hyper-arousal' generated by excessive stretches of close-up eye contact.
2. People's faces are too close to yours
According to Landmark research, interpersonal distance has an effect on emotion and behaviour.
The intimate space of someone has a radius of roughly 1 meter.
Interaction within that radius is often reserved for family and close friends.
Faces in a video call often fall in that radius, invading our personal space and creating discomfort.
3. Video needs more brain cells
An older study from Stanford University discovered the following: video communication carries heavier cognitive loads than audio communication.
Video calls need extra mental resources from us as we naturally interpret visual cues we're given: how someone smiles, grins, etc.
Audio calls don't have that problem. This explains why podcast's popularity is surging (and more recently Clubhouse). It's much easier to listen to a 30min podcast than watching a 30min YouTube video.
4. You see yourself all the time
For many years, researchers have looked into the effect of seeing oneself in a mirror.
Their work suggests there may be a negative effect created by seeing oneself too often, causing self-evaluation and negative affect.
In a video call, you often see yourself among the faces of the attendees, creating the above effect.
5. You don't move much
In face-to-face meetings, people move: turn their seats, stand up, use the whiteboard, get a glass of water.
There are many studies that show that motion causes better performance in meetings.
In a Zoom call, etiquette says you need in front of the camera ie. your screen to be 'present'. Mobility ends up being dramatically reduced.
Because of these factors, video calls can be emotionally draining, despite their simple setup.
How to fix it
Armed with this knowledge, we've come up with a list of tested practices for virtual meetings over the last few weeks. We felt less exhausted and our productivity improved:.
For your next meeting or call, try the following:
- Unless you have a good reason to see the faces of everyone, dump the video and make the meeting audio-only.
- For audio-only meetings, have them on your phone with earphones and move around.
- If the video is on, move your laptop screen 20-40cm further away from you (use an external mouse & keyboard so it's easy).
- Hide your own video from the screen without turning off your camera (you can in most video conferencing tools).
- Look at people's face for a few seconds, then open a different window on your screen for a few minutes (like your Meetric meeting notes). Repeat.
- Take meeting breaks, every 30-45min and move away from the screen, grab a drink, breath some fresh air for 5min.
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